For the first time in several years, I attended the festivities of the CubsCon this weekend and experienced some new stuff. I’m back in my hotel room overlooking the river and the buildings shaped like massive corncobs and relaxing now, so I thought I would take a little time to reflect on the Cubs portion of my planned weekend in Chicago.
Cubs Social Event
I didn’t attend the Friday night portion of the convention as many others did, but that’s because I’ve been there before. I know what this is all about; it’s a pep rally for Pat Hughes/whoever is the emcee for the event to get up there and rah-rah the Cubs and introduce the current and former players and coaches attending this year. I can only imagine the massive reception for guys like Jay Johnstone and Mike Borzello.
However, I thought I would make a little note about what I heard from the introductions that will put into perspective what kind of group of fans attends this stuff, for the most part. According to our own Evan Altman, Kris Bryant was cheered as though he’s just some other faceless minor-leaguer and Edwin Jackson was introduced to boos. Stop and digest that for a second. I understand booing a guy at a game in which he gives up six runs, but at the Cubs Convention? He’s not required to be there, folks.
But I digress. I skipped all that because it turns out it was exactly what I expected it to be: weird and uncomfortable. I got into town, checked into my hotel, and went straight to Lizzie McNeill’s pub to meet up with a group that included a list of Cubs bloggers, Cubs twitterers, and Bruce Miles. Getting to share a few drinks and some popcorn with my Cubs brethren was worth the trip in and of itself. If you didn’t attend this year, you should strongly consider doing it next year.
The Morning After
I wasn’t in full hangover mode, but after staying out late drinking and waking up before 8am on a Saturday, I was fairly tired. I Uber’d my way to the Sheraton to meet up with Evan and hit some of the forums. On tap was the Ricketts family, the Management team, and the coaching staff. The Ricketts family forum was moderated by Len Kasper, who legitimately seems to enjoy being there.
After an opening speech by Tom Ricketts, Len opened up questioning from the crowd to commence. This was the true gold of the convention. It took probably five solid minutes and three people deep into the line before we got the first actual question. But I have to back up a little bit and explain further why you really need to experience the convention at least once in your life.
I wrote just the other day about the weirdos you’ll meet at the convention, and they were out in full force Saturday morning. The first guy to the mic didn’t ask a question, of course, but just wanted to speak for about 45 seconds and thank the Ricketts for owning the Cubs and making all the changes they’ve made. Okay, that’s cool buddy. Now, on to the questions.
The next man also did not have a question, but a prepared statement that brought groans from the crowd. I’ll save you the details, as they’ve been shared on twitter and other places, but I found that this was the most uncomfortable two minutes of the convention (probably because I was sitting right next to the mic, and I knew people were staring in my general direction).
The next lady is the one I referenced in my previous writing with all the crazy pins in her hat. I never turned to look at her hat because I was afraid of melting, like I had opened the Ark of the Covenant. But I would suppose she was somewhere around 70 years old. She expressed concern with the Wrigley renovation and, according to her, how the brick wall had been torn down and the ivy ripped out.
Of course, Tom Ricketts (with the help from Todd, who chimed in to remind everyone he was there) soothed her fears. The ivy is taken out and replanted before the season to save the integrity of the wall. This is not the first time they’ve done it, either. There is no reason to believe that the outfield walls won’t have vines on them in April, even if there won’t be leaves on the vines and the seats above them contain no butts, but instead a big sign that says “Under Cubstruction.” No, that wasn’t a joke.
The Ricketts answered a few other questions (or attempted to, at least). One was a fairly well prepared question from a 6-year-old in a Tony Campana jersey about the concern over Wrigley turning into essentially a polished turd, being neither a brand new stadium nor an original stadium anymore after all the renovations. His dad gets an A+ for writing a good question for his kid to go up and read by himself, but an F for not having the stones to go up himself and for buying his kid a Campana jersey.
Theo, Jed, Randy, and the other guy
Next was the forum that we all came to hear. The place was packed like crazy, with all the seats filled and somewhere around 200 people standing to get the opportunity to ask Theo Epstein and the management team questions. This forum was moderated by the team of Ron Coomer and Josh Liss, whose name I had to google to get correct.
Liss spent the first ten minutes doing a one-man-commercial for WBBM, his employer. He and Coomer also did a fantastic job of robbing us of the fan questioning, which was replaced by about 30 minutes of back-and-forth questions like “What is it like to work for Theo?” Despite the compulsion to continue to hear himself talk, Liss finally allowed about 20 minutes of Q & A.
There were a few decent questions, but I’ll be honest in telling you that I don’t recall most of them. The same guy brought his second prepared statement to read to the group, and there were the obligatory “I want Kris Bryant right NOW!” and “How did you get Jon Lester to sign?” Most of the answers were the cookie-cutter stuff you hear from Jed and Theo. The only thing of note was that Jed went out of his way to say that they’re perfectly fine with rolling with three catchers, which is a big fat lie and he knows it. But whatever they can do to salvage trade value for Welington Castillo, I guess.
The only stuff of real interest that was said at the baseball ops forum was a story about how Jed and Theo had to stop at a Publix in Florida to get a $5 bottle of wine because they forgot to bring a gift when they went to court Joe Maddon, followed up by a similar story about courting Curt Schilling in Boston and having to stop and get some store-bought cookies because they forgot to bring a gift then, as well. Keep it classy, boys.
Lunch, vendors, and shirseys!
The rest of the time was kind of a mesh of aimless wandering and checking out the stuff for sale. Lunch was becoming necessary, and we knew that the massive crowds were going to make it difficult to cram into the coaching staff forum. Shula’s offered a decent lunch of blackened mahi mahi and steak fries at about the same price as a damn turkey wrap with a bottle of water in the actual convention area. Although, shout-out to my man Evan who picked up my tab because it happened to be my 29th birthday.
After refueling, there was some browsing of the merchandise. I ended up with an Anthony Rizzo shirsey because, well, I suck at buying apparel of players that stick around long-term (in no particular order, I have jerseys/shirseys with Garciaparra, Alou, Theriot, Soto, and Garza on them, as well as Baez and Castro who are no sure bet to be around long term). But there was some decent stuff for sale that was worth giving a look. The Cubs seemed to have a lockdown on the vendors, and the word around the place was that over the last few years fewer and fewer vendors were being allowed to attend.
I have a few amusing anecdotes from the event. I did find it fairly humorous that, while attending the baseball ops forum and listening to a young fan complain to Theo about keeping Kris Bryant at AAA for a few weeks in April, an old man to my left (probably between the age of 70-75) let out a loud harrumph and said “That’s right idiot, two weeks of a rookie in April is worth losing a year of Bryant in his prime.” It’s proof that age isn’t a factor in whether fans “get it” or don’t. Even someone that was brought up in the old school traditions of baseball can understand common sense. He strikes me as the kind of guy that, once his grandson reminds him of how to get on the internet, will probably first stop at Fangraphs.
The other good story I have is that, while waiting in line at the coat check, one of the guys in line behind me says “hey, aren’t you a writer for a Cubs blog?” Feeling some pride and a little bit of ego, I respond with “Yeah, you read my stuff?” To which he responds “No, I just recognize you from twitter.” D’oh! I can now safely tell that man to try washing his hair and move up to a more appropriate shirt size, because I know he won’t see it.
This was my second Cubs Convention, and it was a really enjoyable experience. This thing really is for the fans, and as I’ve said in writing before, it’s a place to go and let out your inner meatball. If you try to take your analytical mind with you, you’re going to want to pull your hair out by the end. Despite little hiccups and issues, the Cubs do a pretty good job of making this event a lot of fun.
I want to thank everyone that met up on Friday, because it was great getting to put a face with a twitter handle. As a form of humblebrag, I’d also like to thank the small handful of readers that came up to Evan or I at different points to introduce yourselves and comment on our work. It’s extremely gratifying to be able to associate actual people with the comments and post-counts. I appreciate everyone that takes the time to read my work, whether you like or agree with what I write or not.
While I doubt I’d make a routine of dropping a significant amount of money to attend CubsCon or bring my entire family, I’d go again. I certainly will make an effort to be at the Friday night social event in the future, even if I’m not actually going to the convention itself. Hopefully I’ll see some of you there next year, and even let you buy me a beer.