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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.

Sheraton Towers Chicago Lobby

This lobby was full of Cubs fans

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.

Ernie Banks Phone Pic

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.

This is the view from the hotel.

This is the view from the hotel.

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.

Cubs Convention - Current and Former Players

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).

Lee Smith - 7x All Star and 3rd All-time in Saves with 478Fergie Jenkins - Hall of Famer and Cy Young Award Recipient

Lee Smith – 7x All Star and 3rd All-time in Saves with 478
Fergie Jenkins – Hall of Famer and Cy Young Award Recipient

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!

Ernie Banks Autograph Voucher

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:

Cubs Convention Line for Ernie Banks

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.

Ernie Banks and Me

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.

Billy Williams and me

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 HuntPick 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…

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My Cubbies are doing pretty awful this season. Currently they are sporting a record of 43-64, and they are sitting 22 Games Back of 1st Place.  Yet, for all of the bad this season, there have been some exciting developments.  The Cubs have debuted a lot of young talent this year.  Chief among these is our future-star First Baseman – Anthony Rizzo.

Cubs First Baseman Anthony Rizzo

“Since making his debut June 26, Rizzo was second among NL rookies with a .314 average behind the Rockies’ Jordan Pacheco (.327), but led in home runs (eight) and RBIs (20)” (source).  Rizzo has been a blast to watch.  I haven’t been this excited about the promotion of one of the Cubs’ prospects since this kid named Starlin Castro got called up.

Starlin Castro 2x All Star

Starlin has been to the All Star Game twice already.  I predict Anthony Rizzo will join him there next year.  While they are no Tinker, Evers, and Chance, I expect great things from Castro, Barney, and Rizzo.

All of us (Cubs fans) knew this season was not going to be great.  It was pretty obvious it was going to be a rebuilding year.  This was confirmed by our abysmal first half of the season, and left no room for doubt at the trade deadline.  Thus far this season, we have traded away Marlon Byrd, Reed Johnson, Paul Maholm, Geovany Soto, Jeff Baker, and Ryan Dempster for a heap of minor league players.  It was hard to see most of those guys go (even though Marlon Byrd has subsequently fallen from my graces for testing positive for PEDs).  I was a huge fan of Reed Johnson, Paul Maholm, and Ryan Dempster.  All three of those guys were super classy.  I am thankful that the Cubs traded them to the Braves and Rangers respectively.  The Braves are my second-favorite National League team, and the Rangers may be my favorite American League team (close contest with the Red Sox).  I’ll admit…it’s a little difficult to see a bunch of quality players traded for players you’ve never heard of.  But then, I remind myself that players like Ryne Sandberg and Fergie Jenkins came to the Cubs via trades.  Maybe one of these anonymous minor leaguers could be the next Cub legend.

As a result of all of this trading (and an unfortunate injury to Ian Stewart – a very classy player in his own right), the Cubs made a big move on Sunday.  They called up two of their prospects that Cubs fans have been begging to see in the MLB for years: Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters.

Josh Vitters (3B) and Brett Jackson (CF)

I am excited about these guys.  I am especially excited that they get to play 50+ games this season without any pressure of a playoff run.  I personally don’t think they’re ready to shine at the MLB level yet, which was evidenced by Jackson’s 4 strikeouts yesterday.  People are worried about Jackson’s strikeouts and Vitters’s defensive play.  I think calling them up now is great.  Let them work on those things at the MLB level, and then they can produce like crazy next season.

Overall, in spite of the fact that the Cubs are terrible this year (and will only get worse since we traded our best pitchers and Matt Garza is hurt), I am enjoying the developments of this season.  An infield of Vitters, Castro, Barney (who just broke Sandberg’s single-season errorless game streak), and Rizzo is very exciting to me.  The influx of young talent (14 rookies debuted this season) on this Cubs team has me hopeful for the future.  It makes me feel like we are getting back to our winning roots, because the Cubs earned their name for having so many young players back in the day when they dominated the National League.  Here’s hoping

 

Until later friends…

News just in: the Cubs have announced that Mike Quade will not be the manager next year.

Mike Quade

I like Mike Quade. He is a stand-up guy. He shoots from the hip when talking with the media, and I like that.  He is a great bench coach/assistant coach.  He was, however, not ready to manage at the Major League level.  Happy Trails Mike. I hope you find a great job elsewhere in baseball.

It is now time for Ryno-Watch.  Dear Theo and Jed, please hire Ryne Sandberg now.

Ryne Sandberg Signing an Autograph for me

Ryne Sandberg is exactly what the Cubs need.  He is a superb baseball player and manager.  He has done exceedingly well managing in all levels of minor-league ball, and he is ready for the MLB.

Ryne Sandberg HOF

Ryne Sandberg Stats:

10x All-Star

9x Golden Glove

.989 Career Fielding Percentage (Number 1 all time of Second Basemen)

7x Silver Slugger

1984 NL MVP

2005 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee

To quote an earlier post:

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.

Until later friends…

I have lived in Louisville for over three years now.  Yet, this weekend was the first time I have been to the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum.  As an avid baseball fan, I am a little ashamed of that.  In my defense, I have been to several Louisville Bats games.

Louisville Slugger Factory and MuseumWe had a great time at the museum.  It was my dad, Jen, my friend Bryan, and me.  When you purchase a ticket, it has a time for the factory tour.  While waiting for your tour to begin you are able to walk around the museum, which was super cool.  They have bats in the museum from Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Joe Tinker, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ken Griffey Jr., Cal Ripken Jr, and many others.

Bats at Louisville Slugger Museum include: Ruth, Wagner, Tinker, Jackson, Griffery Jr, and Ripken, Jr.Most all of these bats were under glass, but they did have bats you could handle.  They had a section where a guy with white gloves would allow you to hold one of four game-used bats (once you put on gloves) from: Cal Ripken, Jr., Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, or David Ortiz.  (I don’t really know how David Ortiz slipped into a group with those three, but it was cool.)

After looking around the museum, the tour guide called for our 2:15 tour.  The beginning of the tour included a video talking about the trees used to make the bats, which were white ash and maple from forests in New York.  They made a big point to say that these forests are in great shape, and more trees are planted every year than are harvested.  I think they said they get around 60 bats per log.

Next, the tour went to a guy at a lathe.  He talked about the history of Louisville Slugger.

Bud Hillerich - Founder of Louisville Slugger

Up until 1980, each bat was made personally at a lathe.  Each bat took around 30 minutes to make.  The batmaker would receive an order from a player (like Lou Gehrig or Ernie Banks), he would go to the bat vault (which I wish I could step in there for 5 minutes!) and get the master copy of that player’s bat.  Then, he would carve a new bat based on the master.

Louisville Slugger Bat Vault

The next section of the tour introduces you to modern bat-making.  There are machines that crank out commercial Louisville Slugger bats every 30 seconds.  These automatic lathes were very impressive.  Then, they showed us the machine that makes the MLB bats.  It looked like that cylinder in the old Hulk movies in which Bruce Banner transformed.  They also had some MLB players bats you could handle.  I was excited to hold one of Starlin Castro’s bats.

Starlin Castro

Afterwards, we were shown the process in which they dip the bats in finish and dry them.  I was a little surprised at the lack of finesse the drying machines exhibited.  It was basically a metal frame with a bunch of box fans you can buy from Wal-mart mounted on it.  I like to see that they are fiscally responsible at Louisville Slugger.  At the end of the tour we each received a free Louisville Slugger mini bat.  To which my dad said, “I bet crime went down for a three-block radius once they started handing these things out.”

Louisville Slugger Mini BatAfter the tour, we enjoyed visiting the Norman Rockwell exhibit they are currently featuring.  It had a cool video about Rockwell, as well as several original sketches and paintings.  I really enjoyed seeing the original sketch of a game called due to rain.

Game Called Due to Rain

So, if you ever come to visit Louisville, I heartily recommend the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory.  Tell ’em For Aslan sent you, and maybe they’ll cut me a deal on a sweet bat or let me in the bat vault.

Until later friends…

Related Links:

This will not be a coherent post, but some are just more fun that way.  So, here we go:

  • Roy Halladay is ridiculous…in a good way.  I mean, that guy has to be the best pitcher I’ve ever seen.

Roy Halladay is a beast

Jared Weaver Pitching

  • Brian Wilson = very funny.  I usually am not a huge fan of people straying from the respectful tipping of the hat during introductions, but his Jim Carrey-esque look at the camera made me laugh out loud.  Plus, his breakdown of the National League roster was Harry Carey level funny.

Brian Wilson Hat Tip

Lance Berkman Kinda Looks Like Vince Gill

  • As much as I hate the Yankees, I love Curtis Granderson.  That guy is just classy.  He seems to really enjoy the game, and he seems down to earth.  Plus, the whole snippet about him being a fan of Pro Wrestling was pretty classic.  Everybody loves the Macho Man.

Macho Man Randy Savage

  • Cliff Lee has a spectacular breaking ball.  I also loved the clip of him hitting his first home run followed by him saying, “Hey, Babe Ruth started as a pitcher.”

Cliff Lee Home Run

  • Adrian Gonzalez kills it in both leagues.  People said he couldn’t handle the transition to the AL, but he is a machine.  Wait to go Gonzo.

  • Starlin Castro is the hope of the Cubs.  Those two stolen bases were awesome.  The strikeout and error…not so much.  Yet, this kid is going to be something.  I’m excited to see him continue to grow into the best middle infielder in the league – there, I said it.

Starlin Castro

  • To finish, I’m super-excited that the National League has put together a two year streak now.  Let’s keep it going and get the Cubs home field advantage next year!

Until later friends…

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