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Last week my Cubs fanaticism went to an entirely new level. Jen, baby girl, and I went to the 2013 Chicago Cubs Convention. “What on earth is a Cubs convention?” you may ask. Basically, imagine a whole bunch of Trekkies getting together, and then replace Vulcans, Klingons, and Picards with Banks, Williams, Santo, and Sandberg jerseys. Thanks to the generosity of our family at Christmas, we were able to book a room and passes for the Cubs Convention this year in Chicago at the Sheraton Towers (very fancy). Immediately upon our arrival to the hotel, I realized that getting there 2 hours early for check-in was still too late. The entire lobby was teeming with Cubs fans, and the line encircled the entire lobby.
Within half an hour of being in line, I had my first crazy-fan-paparazzi moment. As I’m getting near the front doors in the line, in walks Mr. Cub in his suit and fedora. I get super-excited, because Ernie Banks is one of the main reasons I wanted to come to the convention. He seems to be in the midst of conversation, and no one is interrupting him for autographs. So, I surreptitiously took a very-fuzzy cell phone picture.
He’s the one with the fedora/halo. I decided that this might be my only shot at meeting him. So, I dug out a baseball and a sharpie from my backpack, but when I looked up, he was gone. I guess for an 81-year-old man, he still has some of that youthful speed. Oh well, I still have a few days.
So, I get up to the front desk and meet a really nice associate who hooks us up with a King-size upgrade and a free refrigerator for my baby’s formula/meds. Great day thus far.
Shortly thereafter I discover that I parked in a parking garage that the bellhops do not travel to. So, I had the pleasure of making three trips to the parking garage. On our first trip up, Jen and I each have about 3-5 bags and baby girl in her stroller (BTW…when you have a baby, your luggage needs do not increase 33%, more like 300%). As we negotiated our way through a labyrinth of hallways, I bump into another Sheraton employee and ask for directions to the elevator. We must have looked exhausted from our 5 hour drive and long hike with sundry luggage items, because he ushered us into the staff elevator. So here we are, Jen, me, a ton of luggage, a bay in a stroller, and a whole heap of staff people on a staff elevator. On the next floor, the doors open up and in walks Dioner Navarro and his wife. He and I had a moment of me thinking “Dude, you play for the Cubs” and him thinking “Oh crap, I’m stuck on the elevator with a fan,” but then we just exchanged head nods and our wives talked about how cute Lily is.
After we got settled into our room, we rested/recovered from our long drive. Then, we made our way down to the Opening Ceremonies of the convention. It was a lot of fun. There was an insane amount of people in Cubs jerseys and a little brass band entertaining the crowd. The Opening Ceremonies began with a video (narrated by Cubs fan Gary Sinise) about the history of the Cubs and where the Cubs are headed under the ownership of the Ricketts family (classy folk). Then, all of the former players, minor-league prospects, and current players present at the convention were announced.
Each player was cheered loudly, but the place practically exploded for Kerry Wood, Ernie Banks, Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, and Anthony Rizzo. Each player was announced with a short list of their career highlights, which for some guys was a bit of a stretch.
Immediately after the Opening Ceremonies, there was an Autograph Hunt. Each fan was given a map of the first four floors of the hotel, and there were little Cubs logos marked for where a player would be signing. There was no indication as to what player would be where, so it was quite a gamble/adventure. We left a little early, picked a line, and waited. Shortly thereafter we realized that we had picked the line of a bench player, and we decided to seek a line with one of the hall-of-famers. Turns out the only Hall-of-Famer signing that night was Fergie Jenkins at his booth. (FYI – if you go to a convention in the future, Fergie Jenkins has a booth supporting his charitable organization, and he – and other former stars including Lee Smith, Gaylord Perry, and Rollie Fingers – sign stuff for a donation to the charity. So, don’t spend Autograph hunt time at his booth, because you can meet any of them all weekend). We didn’t know how this all worked, but he was handing out free signed 8x10s for the autograph hunt. I was very excited to meet Fergie Jenkins and Lee Smith (and so was our baby girl).
After meeting these two insanely good pitchers, we wandered around checking out the other lines. Most all the other lines had prospects or former players that I didn’t know much about. We happened to wander back past our original line only to discover that Kerry Wood was signing beside that bench player. We had jumped out of line and missed an opportunity to meet Kerry Wood! ARGH! We got back in line and waited. Kerry signed for an extra 30 minutes, but he had to leave for his charity event that night….when we were about 20 people away. Sadly, Kerry didn’t sign any the rest of the weekend. This is my one regret of the weekend.
Following the autograph hunt, we returned to our room to discover that 8:30pm felt like 11:30 pm. We ordered an authentic Chicago pizza from Lou Minalti’s (excellent), and we relaxed in the room the rest of the night – as I schemed about how I could meet Ernie Banks on Saturday.
Saturday of the Chicago Cubs Convention consists largely of two things: Autograph lines and Q&A Sessions. Up until this year, there was a lottery system in which you would have a scratch off thing on your pass with the opportunity to get a voucher for a line featuring the best players (e.g., Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Starlin Castro, etc.). This year, the tried a new system that was supposed to be more efficient and give people a better chance to get autographs. Each person would sign for 1 hour. 10 minutes before he began signing, 125 vouchers would be handed out with those people guaranteed an autograph, but the player would also sign for anyone else after that that would fit in the hour slot. Supposedly, once the vouchers were handed out, the line for the next hour would form and so on and so forth. Thankfully, for me, what this turned out meaning was that if you camped out early enough, you could could be first in line for a later signing.
Ernie Banks was supposed to sign from 10:00am-11:00am. Gary Matthews, Sr. was before him form 9:00-10:00. I got in line at 6:45am, and I waited. At about 9:15am I got my voucher to meet Ernie. It was going to happen! I was so excited!
In case you don’t know why I was so excited about Ernie Banks, let me tell you a little bit about him. If you take away the guys that did steroids, Ernie Banks is number 15 all-time in home runs (512). He won the NL MVP twice. He was an All-star 14 times, and he was a first ballot Hall of Famer. Ernie Banks is the best player to have ever played for the Cubs. He is also 81 years old, and I was not sure how much longer her would be coming to Cubs Conventions. Here is a picture of the line I waited in to meet Ernie:
Ernie was supposed to sign from 10:00am-11:00am. I did not get to his table, however, until 11:10am – and there were still several voucher holders behind me. He was very kind to everyone he met. He talked with a boy in front of me for a few minutes about golf and showed genuine interest in the boy. As someone who used to be a little boy, I’m sure this will be one of his coolest memories as a young Cubs fan. When I got up to the table, Mr. Cub commented on my beautiful baby that had fallen asleep in her mother’s arms about 15 feet away. He was a true gentleman, who showed kindness and grace to every fan.
Needless to say, meeting Mr. Cub really made my weekend. Afterwards, we sat in on a Q&A session for a bit with some Cubs draft picks talking about making their way through the minors. Then, we decided to hit the town for lunch/coffee. That night we checked out the various exhibitions in the hotel and spent some time playing with our baby.
After waiting 4.5 hours in line for Ernie Banks, I decided to get an earlier start on Sunday to meet Billy Williams. Who is Billy Williams? His nickname was “Sweet Swinging Billy Williams,” because he had one of the best swings the sport has ever seen. He was the NL rookie of the year. He won the NL batting title in 1972, and he was an All Star 6 times. I went down to get in line at 5:45am for his 10:00am signing. Ernie Banks was also signing again at 10:00 in the same exhibition hall. I was number 65 in line (apparently some people got there at 2:30am!).
People get a little crazy when they are in line for hours on end. At one point someone from the end of the line came over and told the people in the front (that had been there since 2:30am) that they were lined up at the wrong door, and that two sets of doors would be opened at once. I feared a riot would start. People got really agitated, and they hounded every Cubs Convention worker that came near them. Finally, a supervisor came down and gave us the common sense answer: “Of course we’re only going to open the doors where the line starts.” Crisis averted. Thank you dude with the walkie-talkie. The doors opened at 8:00am, and the vast majority of people headed for Ernie. I hurriedly made my way to Billy Williams’s line, and found that I was now number 11 in line. Booyah. By 10:05am, I was talking with Billy Williams.
While I was waiting in line for Billy, Jen was able to sleep in a bit. After the girls were rested up, they made their way down to the ballroom and got in the kids-only autograph line to meet Anthony Rizzo. Jen got him to sign a ball for baby girl (and daddy), and we met up after I met Billy. We got to spend some more time walking around the exhibits and talking with people. Then, we got packed up and headed back to the Commonwealth.
We had a great time at the Cubs Convention, and I would love to go again. If you are planning on going in the future, here are some pointers.
How to Attend the Chicago Cubs Convention
- If there is someone you really want to meet (e.g., Ernie Banks, Starlin Castro, Billy Williams), camp out hours in advance. You can bring a book or your iPod. I brought both, but just ended up talking to people the whole time. (This advice is assuming that they don’t reinstate the lottery system).
- Friday Night Autograph Hunt – Pick a line and stick with it, then jump from line to line (or else you might miss Kerry Wood like me). Also, don’t go for Fergie Jenkins during the autograph hunt. You can get him at his booth almost anytime during the convention.
- Don’t be that guy. Don’t stand outside the bathroom or the hotel restaurant just waiting on players. Definitely DO NOT follow around any of the players’ wives. That is just weird and creepy, and I saw it a lot. Don’t corner players (or their wives) in elevators and interrogate them. Don’t try to get convention workers to cheat the system for you.
- Research ahead of time. Know what people look like without their uniforms. You just might run into them in the lobby, but remember – don’t be that guy.
- Be respectful. The players are people just like you. Show them respect and don’t be creepy. Once again don’t be that guy. Don’t be like the middle school girl that asked me loudly in front of a minor league player: “Who is this?” and then responded with a disgusted “Oohhhhh” when I said he wasn’t Brett Jackson.
Until later friends…
It became obvious in June that my Cubs would not be playing in the playoffs this year. While the Cubs are my favorite team by far, there are several teams I regularly cheer for unless their games negatively effect the Cubs: Braves, Red Sox, Rangers. This dumb new Wild Card playoff knocked out the remaining two of my top 4 teams. So, here are my thoughts on the current state of the MLB Playoffs.
Billy Beane is still not going to win the World Series anytime soon
Billy Beane’s Moneyball tactics are now being used by all the teams with more money than the A’s. The A’s are currently two games behind the Tigers. I don’t see his boys making a comeback against Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder. Although, it would make for a good sequel.
I Really Do Not Like the Reds
Both Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto have no class. Dusty Baker ruined Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. I have no love for the Cincinnati Reds. It looks like they’re going to beat the Giants, but I hope the Nationals mop the floor with them in the NLCS.
I’m Pulling for an Orioles vs Nationals World Series
As a Cubs fan, I typically cheer for the underdogs/historically bad teams in the playoffs. I think this would be an amazing series. These are regional rivals, and they both have been terrible in recent years.
How I want the Playoffs to Go
How I think the Playoffs will Actually Go
What do y’all think? Who do you think will win the World Series?
Until later friends…
In case you haven’t heard, Jim Hendry was dismissed as the Chicago Cubs General Manager. In other words, Jim Hendry got fired. Why did Jim Hendry get fired? Because the Cubs have royally stunk for the past two years. Jim Hendry did some great stuff in his career with the Cubs. The Cubs won three division titles under him, and he signed such players as Kerry Wood, Derrek Lee, Starlin Castro, and Darwin Barney. However, he also signed Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley. Between Sammy Sosa storming out under his lead, Soriano being the most lazy player in the league, Milton Bradley being Milton Bradley, and Kosuke Fukudome never living up to his hype, Jim Hendry had awful luck with outfielders. Other than that, and the atrocious record the Cubs have had the past two seasons, Hendry was a decent GM. I met him personally in Boston, and he was great. Everyone in the organization has a lot of respect for him. The team just didn’t win enough games under him. He finished with a 749-748 career with the Cubs. I’m glad he got to leave with a winning record (that’s better than the Cubs are going to do this season). He also left with class. After receiving notice of his dismissal, he stayed with the team long enough to trade away Fukudome (thank you), and sign some great young talent from the draft. So…Happy Trails to you Jim. Thanks for the good memories. Good luck with some American League team.
The question remains…So, now what?
Here are my suggestions to make this team a playoff contender, and eventually, a world series champion team.
1. Hire Andrew Friedman as General Manager
Remember when the Tampa Bay Rays were awful? That was before Andrew Friedman. He has made them what they are. He does not blow money on stupid contracts (like Alfonso Soriano’s). He builds a good team around good young players. This is exactly the kind of guy we need in Chicago.
This is not just me being bitter about my childhood hero getting passed over last year. Quade did ok at the end of last season winning games that didn’t matter. He has proven this season though that he does not have what it takes to manage a professional team. He’s a great assistant coach. He’d make a great bench coach, but not a manager. He does not have a good grasp on how to manage a pitcher. He alternately leaves pitchers in three batters too long, or takes them out an inning early. His hiring was my biggest problem with Jim Hendry, and now that it is time for a new GM, I think it is time for a new manager.
Ryne Sandberg is the perfect candidate for the new Cubs manager. They should sign him for ten years and let him work his magic. Ryne Sandberg is one of the classiest guys to ever pick up a bat. This picture is when he signed a ball for me while coaching for the Tennessee Smokies. He should have been hired as the manager last year, but Jim Hendry went with the emotional decision…Mike Quade. Ryno has proven that he can manage – and manage well. He is the best second baseman of all time, and Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro would quickly stop making errors under this .989 lifetime fielding percentage player. He also has a thing or two to teach these modern players that don’t want to sign autographs and are more concerned with making money than playing ball. He is a fan favorite, and his hiring would rejuvenate the Cubs team and fan base. Mr. Ricketts, make Ryne Sandberg the manager now. Thank you.
3. Do Whatever We Have to do to Get Rid of Alfonso Soriano and His Ridiculous Contract!
Alfonso Soriano has the worst work-ethic in all of professional sports. OK, that might be a bit harsh, but he at least makes the top 5. He does not care at all. He is fast, can knock the cover off the ball, and has a great arm. Yet, he misses routine fly balls, and he averages 1 less base per hit than he should (Come on dude, you’re being paid 18 million. HUSTLE FOR GOODNESS SAKES!!!!!). His contract his hamstringing this organization. To quote Ted Williams, “If I was getting paid $30,000 [or 18 MILLION!!!] a year, the least I could do is hit .400.” Let’s find a way to get rid of him, even if we have to eat a chunk of his contract. We have Brett Jackson, and I’m sure we can afford another decent outfielder that hustles like Reed Johnson.
4. Teach Carlos Marmol to Throw Strikes or Trade Him to Someone Who Believes He Can.
When Marmol is on his A-game, no one can touch his slider. When he is not, he can’t throw a strike to someone with the strike zone the size of Andre the Giant. Someone either needs to teach him to throw somewhere near the plate, or we need to trade him when his trade value is up. Sorry Jim Hendry, but you never should have deemed him “untouchable.”
5. Build Around the Young Guys – Especially Castro and Barney
These kids are going to be great. Sign them to long contracts, and let’s build the team around them. Don’t be concerned with all the errors they’ve made this season, they’ll get better defensively if Ryne Sandberg is their manager. These guys have the potential of being a double-play combo on the same plane as other Cubs greats Tinker and Evers or Sandberg and Dunston.
6. Do Whatever We Can to Make Greg Maddux our Pitching Coach
Maddux is one of the best pitchers of the past 50 years. He was dominant and brilliant. Please bring him in. If he were to coach the Cubs’ pitchers, I bet even Jeff Samardzija could be good. The Cubs’ two greatest deficiencies this year are defense and pitching. Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux could fix both of those in under a year – fact.
7. Do not go after Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols is an incredible player. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but I’m begging the Cubs to not spend $30 mil/year on him. With our luck, he will get injured and his numbers will decline – just like Alfonso Soriano. Let’s take that $30mil/year and go after three (or four) young and talented players that have their best years ahead of them.
If my beloved Cubbies follow my advice, we will have winning seasons for the next ten years and at least 2 World Series appearances. Let’s go Cubbies! Until later friends…
Today, I will continue on with my Fields of Dreams blog series. In my last post in this series I talked about the first Cubs vs. Red Sox game we went to, and what a shellacking it was. Friday night after game 1, we didn’t get back to the hotel till around 1:00am. On Saturday, we got up and went on a Duck Tour of Boston, which was a lot of fun.
After we finished riding a duck around, we met up with my friend Matt. He gave us a walking tour and took us to a cool coffee shop called Thinking Cup (where I had a nice cup of Kenya from a Bee House). After that, we went to Fenway for a tour. The tour was fun, and we got to watch some of the Red Sox batting practice. After the tour, I looked for a t-shirt for Jen. While walking down Yawkey Way, I ran into Bill “Spaceman” Lee. He was very friendly – even though I was wearing all Cubs gear.
Once again, I waded my way through the crowd to get close to batting practice. This time I changed my strategy and went to left field. I was really hoping to get Kerry Wood to sign a ball, but he never came close. I did, however, get to meet 1984 Gold-Glove winning Bob Dernier. He was super friendly, and he signed stuff for a lot of people (would you really expect any less of a teammate of Ryne Sandberg?).
Now onto the game. The game was great. They decided to celebrate that this was the first series these two teams played at Fenway since 1918 by wearing throwback jerseys.
Carlos Zambrano started for the Cubs and Alfredo Aceves started for the Red Sox. We were seated in center field for this game, and it was great. Whereas Boston had jumped out to an early lead the night before, this game started off pretty even. The first play worth noting was an awful HBP. In the second inning, a fastball got away from Aceves and hit Marlon Byrd right below the eye. It hurt from where I was sitting. It was a really scary moment, and Byrd got taken to the hospital immediately (he is ok now, and hopes to return to play in a couple of weeks).
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the third, but then the Sox went up 2-1 in the fourth and 3-1 in the sixth. I thought for sure the Cubs were going to hand this one in too, but then the 8th inning came. The Cubs scored 8 runs in the eighth inning to make it a 9-3 game. It was beautiful. The Cubs held on to win, and I was very pleased.
One interesting feature of the night was all the references to the 1918 World Series. In honor of that series, Fenway Park regressed to 1918 technology for two innings. That meant: no broadcaster announcing names of batters, no digital pitch count or mph for all to see, and the only ball/strike counter was on the Green Monster. I was keeping score throughout the game, and I became really popular at this point in the game. It was amazing how quiet the whole park got. Everyone was intent on watching the game, because they had to in order to know what was going on. I really liked it.
Overall, it was a great experience. I loved Boston. The Boston fans were still friendly, even after the Cubs laid it on the Red Sox that night. I like Boston as a city, and I recommend that you visit if you haven’t already. Stay tuned for a post on my first trip to the Bronx.
Until later friends…