After a whirlwind weekend and trying to get back to “real life”, I finally have a chance to sit down and give my take on the Convention this past weekend. Now, keep in mind, I went to the Convention with my 13 year old son who lives and breathes baseball, so this weekend was to be more about him than seminars and Q&A sessions. I would have loved to get to more of the seminars, but I wasn’t going to drag my kid to a sit down to listen to the big wigs talk about things they would like to do to the field or Theo and Jed’s thoughts on botched trades and hear the elderly fans tell them they are running out of time. Especially when there was a ballfield and batting cage set up in the kids zone.
As far as the Convention goes, I think I can compare it to Kerry Wood’s career. After his first big game, the 20 strikeout game, which was amazing, it was hard to go up from there. Same thing with my convention experience. This was my second one. Last year was incredible! Amazing! This year, it was okay, but it just couldn’t compare to last year. There were positives, but there were a lot more things that frustrated me.
A little rundown of our weekend: (okay, so maybe not so little, but here it goes! )
We got to the Sheraton about 1pm on Friday afternoon. There were already Cub fans swarming the place. We walked into the lobby and right away there were Cub employees there with signs that said “I can help”. Nice touch. They directed us to either the hotel check-in or the convention check-in. We definitely got in the first of many lines this weekend to check into the hotel. We got up to the desk, I look to my right and there is Fergie Jenkins checking in right next to us!
I’m proud of Cub fans, as the Lobby seemed to be the “danger zone” for any player the whole weekend. If one was spotted, and immediate rush to create a mob around them took place, but for Fergie, they left him alone to check in! (Well, minus a few pictures being snapped ). We got our rooms and went over to the convention check in, which was very painless and quick. (Positive) No lines, we were in and out within just a few minutes and on our way to the 19th floor.
The room, compared to the Hilton was nice. It was a lot bigger than our room last year, but nothing fancy. However, I did like, at the Hilton, they had a computer in there that had a directory of local food places, hotel directory, etc. This would have been helpful in a later event that happened.
We decided to head down to the Bistro and get some lunch. We were greeted warmly at the door, sat at a table and given a menu with just a couple of dozen choices on it. Now, when you have a 13 year old kid who just wants a burger, and he sees things such as “avacado” and “goat cheese”, he kinda gives me the look like “Really?”. We ordered the classic burger and figured we found what we would be living on this weekend! There was not a lot of ”Kid Friendly” food choices to eat in the hotel all weekend, unless you wanted to pay $5 for a hot dog that sat over a warming plate for who-knows-how-long at the table set up in the hallway by the ballrooms. (Big Negative) While we were waiting for our food, my dad looks at me and says “Is that Lee Smith?”. I turned my head to the table just to my right, and as soon as he said something, I knew it was him! Someone else noticed him, ran up for an autograph, and he politely said “Not while I’m eating dinner”. Can’t blame him there! He was more than accessible all weekend, so I’m thinking those kids probably ended up with his autograph anyway. Shortly after they sat down, Bobby Dernier showed up to say “hi” to Lee Smith! Pretty cool!
After our meal, we kind of wandered around the hotel with our maps on hand trying to figure out what was where. We headed down to where the shops were set up. In our packet was a scratch off card for one of the booths set up. We had each one a free sample of popcorn and a Ron Santo baseball card, so we went down to redeem them. Good ole’ Gary Pressy had his organ set up in the corner of the room and provided some festive ballpark organ music to set the mood. We weaved through the crowds who were signing up for a chance to win free rooftop tickets, people searching for their favorite Cubs, Bulls, Blackhawks, and Bears players’ autographs on various things, the minor league clubs’ booths, people selling their own Cubs-related items, trivia challenges, and clothing stores. (On a side note, if you ever get a chance to look at the artwork of John Hanley, please do! It’s amazing! He does prints Chicago sports stars and they are breathtaking! I ended up with 2 prints and a book of his.) This is one of the Ron Santo ones I got this weekend:
After filling the Cubs cash registers with lots of sweatshirts, t-shirts, books, etc, I had to drop my goodies off or my arm was going to fall off, so back up to the room we went. By this time, I knew it was getting time to head down to get in line for Opening Ceremonies (if there was one, but from last year, I knew we sat in line for a long time before they let us in). We got to the ballroom on the 4th floor where the Opening Ceremonies were being held and found we got right in. We actually were right toward the front, but I could tell this was going to be a problem all around, as even though we were only about 3 rows back, we couldn’t see the “red carpet” where the players were going to be, we couldn’t really see the stage, and definitely couldn’t really see the 2 large video boards set up on either side of the stage. I didn’t help that there were quite a few super tall people standing right toward the front that blocked the view of all of those behind them, but that’s going to happen. I already missed the balcony at the Hilton. (Negative).
The Ceremonies began, and just what I suspected, we couldn’t see anything. It was frustrating. I had’ to hold my camera up in the air, focus on the video screen and watch it through my camera. It didn’t help the mood that I was standing next to a grandmother who had already taken advantage of the MANY alcohol bars that were set up around the hotel and you could tell she had been helping herself for quite awhile, as EVERY time Tom Ricketts said something, or a player was announced, she gave a “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” and laugh uncontrollably. (Even if it wasn’t an appropriate time for a cheer!)…. frustration growing quickly. The alumni, announcers, and coaches were all announced. No big surprise that Kerry Wood got about as big of a cheer as Mr. Cub, who, really REALLY looks super frail lately! Some notables that weren’t here this year that were last year: Mike Bielecki, Bill Buckner, Andre Dawson, Shawon Dunston, Todd Hollandsworth, Vance Law, Bill Madlock, Gary Matthews, Rick Monday, Dwight Smith, Eric Young and I don’t remember seeing Rick Sutcliffe there, but I may have just missed it.) Then came the minor league players announced, all in one group. Must have been pretty awesome for them! The players got announced one by one, with the new ones being first. Typical polite applause, with maybe a little more enthusiasm for new pitcher Edwin Jackson. One thing I thought was quite odd was Tony Campana got just as loud of an applause and cheer as Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo! For someone who is going to have quite a hard time making the team in a few weeks, he sure is a fan favorite! This is when we realized we were going to see nothing. This is a picture of what we saw, even with the camera above my head (if you look closely, you can see the top of Carlos Marmol’s head). We would have been able to see more if we had stayed in our hotel room and watched it on ComcastSportsNet! They showed more one more video after the players were announced and then that was it. Whoa…. WHOA….. No Wayne Messmer? No National Anthem? HUGE FAIL! That was one of the things last year that gave me goosebumps. It got me pumped for the whole weekend and baseball to be here. (Negative).
The Opening Ceremonies are supposed to be what sets the mood for the weekend, and for as frustrated as I was when I when it ended, it only got worse on Friday night. We looked at the things we could do after the ceremonies. I learned last year you couldn’t do it all. Our choices were to go on the autograph hunt, stay in this room for Cubs Bingo, or go watch the live broadcast of WGN Sports Central in the ballroom down the hall. We did the autograph hunt last year, and learned you found a line and just stand there, not even knowing who you are in line for, and since they only sign for about a half an hour, you aren’t guaranteed an autograph anyway. We decided to try the Cubs Bingo. We can sit down (after standing for a long time for the Opening Ceremonies, that sounded like a good idea.). They kicked us out of the ballroom that had the Opening Ceremonies and made us form lines in front of the 4 doors that led into it, as they had to set up the tables and chairs for the bingo thing. We did and were toward the front of our line. We’d definitely get in! We stood in line for about an hour. It came time to open the doors, and they realized as they opened them, that the door we were behind had a table and chairs set up right in front of it! So by the time they moved it so we could get through, we got in there and the entire ballroom had already filled up! In the matter of just a minute or two. The frustration continued. My dad and brother decided to go to the WGN thing so they could sit down, and I took my son over to the kid zone. We walked in there and I couldn’t believe how much they had downsized it from last year! As we were looking around, we could hear things starting up in Bingo in the ballroom right next to us. We heard Wayne Messmer say how he needed to make sure he got this in, and he needed to start out the activity the right way, he asked everyone to stand, kindly remove their hats, and join in with the singing of the National Anthem. Really? REALLY? (BIG FAIL, AGAIN!) We wanted to be in there in the first place, and then the one thing I was looking forward to during the Opening Ceremonies was taking place in BINGO? Ugh
Back to the KidZone. There was 3 tables set up at LegoLand, last year they had a HUGE area set up with legos everywhere. Last year, there was a whole gaming system set up in half the room with Xbox, Playstation, Wii, iPads, DJ booth, laptops, any kind of gaming system you could think of, and a phone charging station set up where Moms and Dads could charge their phones up while the kids played. This year, just about 6 TV’s set up with just the PS3 and MLB 12 The Show set up. NEGATIVE on the whole downsizing! The batting cages weren’t even open. So, unless your kid wanted to build with the few legos they had, do the “bozo buckets”, or wait in line for a PS3 game to open up, the Kids Zone was not really offering much for the kids. There was a ball field set up on the far side of the room, but no bats or balls available to do anything but run the bases and slide into each base. It would have been nice, too, if they offered some chairs along the wall for parents to sit on while the kids played, but those didn’t exist either. We got bored quickly and headed over to the WGN broadcast to just sit down and hopefully get entertained a little while getting to sit down. We did get entertained. I did find out that the new pitcher, Scott Feldman may be giving Matt Garza a run for his money as far as being the prankster of the team! Also, learned what an “Upper Decker” is when it comes to practical jokes! Don’t ever let Feldman near your toilet! It was an entertaining session… and I’m pretty sure Garza is still somewhere laughing hysterically!
That ended about 10pm. It had been a busy night of doing nothing in particular. We were very hungry. I took my son upstairs to the room and went to go find something to take back to the room to eat. But wait! It’s 10pm… the restaurants are closed. The makeshift hotdog/hamburger stand had been taken down! Not a vending machine in sight! I searched the hotel high and low and nothing but hundreds of fans in the lobby gathered around boxes of pizzas delivered by various local pizza places. I hurried up to the room as by this time, it’s close to 11pm and hoping it’s not too late to order something. When I got up there, no phone book in the room. My phone was dead and on the charger, so as soon as I got enough “juice” in it, I pulled up pizza places around the area. Time was ticking away and was afraid I wasn’t going to get an order in on time, not to mention, what time it would actually get delivered, but when you have a hungry kid, you gotta do what you gotta do! I called place #1… closed. Place #2…rang, and rang, and rang, no answer (not sure if it was closed or just swamped with phone calls from the hotel with other people in the same predicament I was in). Finally, got a hold of place #3 at 11:15pm. Ordered a large pizza and 6 pack of soda. $50!!!!!! Really? It would have been cheaper to eat in the overpriced hotel, but he’s hungry. ”We’ll be there in an hour”. So, at 12:15pm, we would finally get to eat! Just kind of how the day was going.
So, about midnight, I made my way to the lobby to wait for the pizza guy. There were still hundreds of fans loitering in the chairs, floor, and standing outside. Then I realized why! As soon as one of the many players were making their way back to the hotel after actually going out for dinner, the fans would swarm to them. In just the 15 minutes I was down there, I was able to see Jody Davis, Trey McNutt, and Todd Walker (actually got my picture taken with Trey and Todd, so I guess the day wasn’t a total fail! ). Took the food up to our room, tried to get some ice from the ice machine on the floor, but go figure, it was out of ice…. we each ate a piece of the pizza and decided it was time for bed, each of us hoping for a better day on Saturday.
Woke up bright and early on Saturday. Got ready and headed down for breakfast. Knowing that we wanted to try to get the most out of the day, we just opted for a muffin and some Starbucks coffee (BIG POSITIVE)! We were going to attempt to get an Anthony Rizzo and Darwin Barney autograph, but when we got to the ballroom floor and saw the lines, we forgot that idea quickly. The lines were sooooo long, you couldn’t even tell where the line ended! My dad and brother were going to the seminars, so between them and the Twitter updates I was getting from my phone, I figured I would find out about the Wrigley Renovations and the Rickett’s family forum updates through that, so, to the Kid Zone we went. There was a little more activity going on in there than there was Friday night. MLB Network had a giant inflatable pitching thing set up that the kids could try to throw a strike (a little circle cut out in the back of it).
That got old quickly. The batting cages were finally opened, so my kid chose that over getting some coaching from the coaches Dave McKay and Jamie Quirk on the Walgreens Baseball Field. However, after they were done, he did want to take part in the Strength and Conditioning workshop with Tim Buss and Mike Borzello… so, at 11:45 we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally about 12:15, a half an hour after it was supposed to have started, the guys showed up! (There were some angry parents who had finally given up waiting and headed over to the Kids Only Seminar. One lady told me she was flat out embarrassed that she had talked her friends and their kids into joining them at the convention this year. She said she felt bad that they had wasted their money on this! That was a bit brutal, but I could see she was frustrated as well!). It was well worth the wait, as they put on a very informative workshop for the kids, putting them through the drills they put the players through to warm them up, explaining why they were doing things, and the importance of doing these drills everytime they play.
Afterwards, they pulled the parents in and asked us if we had any questions. I did! For the next 45 minutes, I talked to Tim Buss about various things! He was very very nice and told me if I had any more questions to email him and he would be more than happy to help! What a nice guy! POSITIVE
Funny story here, he was talking about making sure that the “butt muscles” are conditioned. Those are extremely important to pitchers. He pointed out Kerry Wood. He said “Now, Kerry has a little butt, not anything against him, but if you compare him to Zambrano, he has a BIG BUTT and has more power coming from his lower half…” right then, James Russell walks up to us. He say, “No worries, Russy, I wasn’t talking about your butt.” James Russell comes back, “But I have a nice butt”. Buss: “Yes you do, Russy”. Russell turns around and shakes it at us then walked over to the Playstation area. He picked up one of the controllers and he competed against the kids there for a good hour!
The entire time I was chatting with Tim Buss, my son had joined in Travis Wood’s session on how to pick guys off first base! He is a pitcher on his little league team, so I could see him just soaking everything this major leaguer was showing him! He came running over to me and said, “Mom! He said my pitches have some real zip to them! He likes my pitching!” For all of the stuff that was frustrating on Friday, THIS is what the weekend was about. THIS is why we were here. He was having the time of his life. He could care less about the autographs and who it was in front of him, he was there for the baseball! I just sat back and enjoyed watching him play ball with Travis Wood!
Finally, it was time for him to have some batting cage time with a player. Tony Campana was one of the first ones in there, but the kids were in for something different. Tony works with a wheelchair baseball league in Chicago, and one of them was there with his specialized wheelchair that allows them to play ball. Tony had the kids sit in the chair and he pitched to them (Tony really CAN do it all, including pitching LOL). As much as the kids seemed to be annoyed that they couldn’t just get in there to hit, it really did teach them a few things, such as how hard it is to have to use your entire upper body to just swing a bat when you can’t use your legs, but more importantly, that even under adversity, you can still do things that others can do if you put your mind to it!
He also took some batting lessons with Todd Walker, an outfielding lesson from Dave Sappelt, a pitching lesson with Scott Sanderson, and a catching lesson with Wellington Castillo. I could only sit on that floor for so long, so while he was doing all of this, I went to check out the Not For Women Only session with Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza, and James Russell. I used to listen to this session on the radio with Kathy and Judy and it was one of my favorite segments to listen to. I loved Kathy and Judy when they were on the air. I was very disappointed that it wasn’t offered last year, but after sitting in this year’s, they can do without it. It wasn’t NEARLY as funny as it was with Kathy and Judy. Perhaps the guys were unaware of how that segment used to be, as they were somewhat dumbfounded at some of the silly questions asked and really didn’t provide any entertainment in their answers. It was almost like a re-play of the WGN sports Central show we had sat in the night before. Kudos for the lady for trying, but it just wasn’t the same and was quite boring. After that session was over, I j
After that, it was time to break for a late lunch/early dinner. Honestly, that was pretty much the end of our excitement for the weekend. After we ate, we headed back to the Kid Zone and most of the instructional things were done with for the day. There were some kids with energy to burn just running around in there. One of them eyed one of the big, puffy softballs in there. Okay, so they had a ball. They had a field. They had about 20 of them standing around, and it was as if they all read each other’s minds. They organized two teams and decided in just a game of good ole’ “arm ball”. (They used their arms as bats)! They quickly learned each other’s names. But those didn’t matter, they called each other by the name of the players that they had on their shirts/jerseys. There was a 3 foot tall Darwin Barney out there. There was a blond haired Anthony Rizzo. It was like watching a live rendition of Sandlot! When one kid would have to leave to go follow Dad or Mom to another autograph signing, another little Cub would join in. The ages ranged from 4 or 5 to 14. It was fun to watch, but not so fun to sit on that cold hard floor. Very cold. The air was cranked up so high in there, that I had to run back up to the room for a sweatshirt! On my way back down, I made a stop in the Sports Central Saturday broadcast and watched it for a bit. My son had really wanted both Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo’s autograph, so I went and pulled him away from his game (much to his dismay) and explained to him that it was going to be easier to get an autograph in here during the commercial breaks than it was going to be to get up at the crack of dawn on Sunday to get in line and HOPE to get one), so he tried it, until the intoxicated adults had no sympathy for the kids wanting to get an autograph and pushed and shoved them out of the way to get their bats, jerseys, cards signed. (Did I mention that alcohol was much more readily available in this hotel than the Hilton? Many adults took advantage of it) My son gave up and refused to even try to get one. He sat next to me for the remainder of the session totally bummed out.
We were getting tired. We headed back to the Kid Zone for another hour of Arm Ball, until they kicked us out at 7pm to shut it down for the night. We decided to skip the Rookie of the Year movie because it was so cold in the ballrooms, and we were tired, and there was a Bulls game on, we stocked up on some of the warmed hot dogs and pretzels and headed back to our room for the night.
Sunday. I was more than ready to go home. Slightly disappointed that the weekend didn’t live up to last year’s convention. But again, last year’s was AMAZING. That’s why we saved our money all year long to make sure we could go again. We headed down early to try to get in line to get Anthony Rizzo’s autograph. Again, the line was so long we couldn’t even tell where the line ended. Forget that. We went and got breakfast at the Bistro (which, was AMAZING!) POSITIVE! The buffet was incredible and made-to-order!
We spent the last few hours left in the Kid Zone while my son and brother played with Legos. There wasn’t a whole lot going on. My dad came down and told us that the elevators were jammed packed both going up and down, so we figured we had better make our way up to get our stuff and check out. Boy were they! We got our stuff and waited in line to get on the elevator… the last line of the weekend! While standing there, an employee came up to us and tapped us on the shoulder and whispered to follow her. She took us to the service elevator where we rode it down with bullpen catcher, Andy Lane and a minor leaguer (who I wasn’t sure who he was), but we bypassed the incredible line and got checked out. Last year, we were bummed that it was over. This year, I was somewhat relieved.
Don’t get me wrong, we had a good time. It just didn’t have the excitement level it had last year. The whole thing was downsized so much, and I’m sure it was to accommodate to the new hotel. I’m also sure the hotel didn’t have a clue as to what was really going to happen with the thousands of passionate Cub fans flooding their hotel. I’m sure both the Cubs and the hotel realize they have some major “kinks” to work out for next year. One thing I would suggest is not having all of the autographers in one area. Spread them out a bit throughout the hotel so that the lines don’t clog up the hallways. I know the players are more than generous with their times, but having them sign for more than a half an hour would be nice, as well. More people might get a chance to get what they are standing in line for if they even add just 15 more minutes per autographs. I liked how all of the forums were close together where you could bounce from one to the other pretty easily, as long as you could dodge the autograph lines. Another suggestion, keep the restaurants and food options opened until after the last of the activities are finished. Everything is so jam packed with the schedule, especially on Friday night, you have to choose to either eat or take part in the activities. Last year, one of the Cubs-sponsored pizza places had a place set up in the hotel where you could get a pizza right there in the hotel. Not this year
I do REALLY appreciate the players who were more than accommodating with their time and signed autographs, posed for photographs, and just chatted with fans without an ounce of sounding annoyed, tired, or frustrated.
So, as the Convention is now behind us, the one thing it did do for us was get us pumped up for the season to start as we watch this team slowly come together. Talking with other fans, we were all in agreement that after last year, it can only go up from there! Most seem to be willing to be patient for a little while longer as they right this ship.
Are we going to the convention next year? Don’t know yet. I just have to accept that the 2011 Convention will be my 20K game, and future conventions may be fun, but they will never be able to live up to that first one!