This weekend, I attended the Cubs Convention with my girlfriend, Stephanie. It was the first convention for both of us, and I had a blast. What follows is a long, overly detailed summary of the weekend. Most of this is just going to be about my experience as a fan — I’ll have a few separate blog posts for larger topics that I want to comment on in the coming days. If you’ve been following me on Twitter, what follows isn’t really new. I was tweeting a lot this weekend.
First and foremost, it was an awesome experience. I certainly plan on making #CubsCon one of my yearly Cubs stops alongside #CubsSocial. I’ve mentioned before that 2014 is going to be a fun year for me as a baseball fan because for the first time ever I can watch baseball all summer long, and the convention was a great starting point for the season ahead.
Chronology is the easiest way to do this, so I’ll start with the Opening Ceremonies. Tom Ricketts opened the weekend with a long speech, reiterating everything great that’s going on with the franchise while mostly ignoring what happened on the field in 2013. Baseball Prospectus’ ranking of the Cubs farm system as the second best in baseball was referenced many times. Pat Hughes (I love hearing his voice) introduced the players, prospects and alumni in attendance, with Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly, Kerry Wood, and, interestingly enough, Mark Prior getting the biggest ovations outside of the Hall of Famers. Anthony Rizzo got a few shrieks amidst his cheers, and people were pretty stoked to see Javier Baez. No boos for anyone, from what I could tell.
We stopped by David Kaplan’s panel with Rizzo, Darwin Barney, and Nate Schierholtz, where at one point Kap ripped former Cub Alfonso Soriano and how he “robbed” the team by signing his mega contract. Rizzo and Barney defended their old teammate, with Barney stating Soriano was a “great teammate” and a “Hall of Famer” in his book.
Our night finished up at Lizzie’s, where I said hello to Brett Taylor and Danny Pancratz, and met guys like Sahadev Sharma, Harry Pavlidis, and Andrew Denny for the first time. Drinks were had, baseball was discussed, and it was a good time.
Saturday morning came early. Not much came from the Ricketts Family Forum. Some fans used this as an opportunity to complain about tailgating, Amtrak lines, etc. I like the fact that fans are allowed to ask questions during the panels. I think it’s a great opportunity and a good experience for fans to interact with the team they follow. But some people just like to use this opportunity to hear themselves talk, like this one woman during the Baseball Operations panel:
Epstein zings inappropriately long question on when Cubs will reach World Series: “I think by the end of your question.” #CubsCon
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) January 18, 2014
It was incredible. Hilarious and awesome. She kept talking about her iPad app that everyone should buy, and ended by asking something like “when will we win the World Series?” Another awesome Epstein reply came from someone who was angry about the poor product on the field, and essentially asked why he should renew his season tickets for a losing team.
His (paraphrased) response: I would never tell you how to spend your money. That decision is yours. If you want to leave and come back when we’re winning 95 games, that’s your decision. But if you want to be here when the light finally clicks for Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, if you want to be here when that top prospect makes his debut, then come out to the ballpark.
Essentially, Epstein was selling the journey, and rightfully so.
I stopped by the Scouting and Player Development panel, where someone asked about Tanaka, and the Rookie Development panel, where pretty much every top prospect you could think about was in attendance. Next up was the Business Operations presentation. Nothing groundbreaking came out of it, although there were a few interesting tidbits slipped by Crane Kenney. Literally everything I want to say about the session has already been clearly and eloquently stated by Brett over at Bleacher Nation. Seriously, click the link and just read it. Among the bullets I want to highlight: the third bullet answering “why are the rooftops holding up renovations like player facilities?”, the eighth bullet about renovations happening in four years instead of five, potentially, and the ninth bullet about the jumbotron coming in 2015.
“Meet the Skipper” was an awesome panel that I will talk about in more detail in a future, less ranty post. Same with the “Wrigley Field 100th” session.
Saturday night ended with Cubs Bingo, which was surprisingly pretty fun. The prizes were insane: Chicago area gift cards in $50 to $100 increments, signs baseballs, and flags flown over historic Wrigley Field. The biggest prize (in my eyes) included a Jeff Samardzija autographed ball and a “KW — 20K” flag for Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game. Needless to say, Stephanie and I did not win anything.
I missed most of Sunday’s “1984 Team” session (mainly because I was -8 years old when that happened), but I’m glad I attended “Down on the Farm” with Jason McLeod, Jaron Madison, Blake Parker and Justin Grimm. It wasn’t the first time I heard from Jason and Jaron over the weekend, but I enjoyed this session more than the others. When we walked in, everyone was given a preview of the next Vine Line with great write-ups from Sahadev on pretty much every need-to-know prospect in the system. Most of the questions for the panel were of the “hey, I saw Prospect X play this season, can you comment on him?” variety, which was awesome. Hearing Jason and Jaron talk about guys like Dan Vogelbach, Javier Baez, Dustin Geiger, and more was a ton of fun.
The baseball collector in me couldn’t pass up an opportunity for a few autographs. On the outset of the weekend, I told myself that I wasn’t going to stand in huge lines for autographs if there was a session or panel that I even had a slight interest of seeing (which was pretty much every one, except for the 1984 team). The only autograph I stood in line for was Ernie Banks, because, ya know, Mr. Cub.
Instead, I elected to approach some less-popular guys after their panels and scored an autograph nearly every time. That technique got me autographs from Rick Renteria, Chris Bosio, and Len Kasper (!!). Stephanie and I found a short line during the Autograph Scavenger Hunt and met top pitching prospect CJ Edwards, and Brooks Raley was randomly sitting at a table in the hallway on Saturday. I also indulged in some Cubs Charities mystery ball action and got a Shawn Camp auto.
So yeah, #CubsCon? Definitely worth it. It was a great time and I’m looking forward to going next year.
Stay tuned for some Tanaka / Renteria / Wrigley 100th blog posts in the coming days.