Let me take you back, back, way back. The year was 2010. The Cubs were coming off of their first string of back-to-back-to-back winning seasons since the Taft administration (not really, they had winning seasons from 1967-1972), but 2009 was an overwhelming disappointment. And although 2010 was great for the Blackhawks, it was decidedly bad for the Cubs. The Lou Piniella era was coming to a close and it went out with a whimper.
The Cubs went 51-74 under Piniella before he finally took his fruity cocktail to a beach somewhere in Florida. They destroyed their draft position with a 24-13 finish under Mike Quade, landing him the job as manager for the following season and missing out on the chance to draft Archie Bradley, Anthony Rendon, or Francisco Lindor (they got Javy Baez instead, though).
But backtracking a bit to January before all that, I recall memories of my first (and to date, only) Cubs Convention. Emotions were high at CubsCon that year, as Jim Hendry was preparing to take a roasting over the failed experiment that was Milton Bradley. I can recall the cast of guys in their mid-to-late 40’s wearing personalized Cubs uniforms and standing patiently in line, waiting for their chance to tell Hendry that signing Bradley was a bad idea and ask why he hadn’t signed Adam Dunn instead.
But overall, it was a blast. Sure, the people there are weird. The crowd skews heavily to the older side and it’s sort of a chicken-and-egg scenario with the fact that they cater to that demographic. Does the pandering bring the crowd, or do they pander because that’s the primary audience? In any case, the people I met there were often the previously-mentioned guy with his young kids, older fans in their senior years with pins lining a 1960’s Cubs hat, and the occasional nerdy blogger.
My initial memory, for those who have never been, was standing in this sort of pit in the Sheraton hotel, staring up at Pat Hughes on a balcony while he introduced the current and former Cubs that would be attending the convention. It was a pep rally of sorts, and had I not lived in Chicago at the time, I doubt I’d drop the money on a hotel room just to go to the Friday introductions. I’d just skip the Friday stuff altogether and do something more interesting (like drink myself stupid).
Saturday, I remember getting a bag with some stuff in it. Nothing truly important, maybe a program with a list of “who and where” for the events of the weekend. There was also a lottery style scratch card in the bag that, as luck would have it, was my golden ticket to the right to stand in a line for over two hours to get Ernie Banks’ autograph. Despite being dreadfully boring, it was made worthwhile by my awesome replica retirement flag with Mr. Cub’s “Herbie Hancock” on it.
I got a cool opportunity to meet Fergie Jenkins and chat with him (about what, I do not recall) and also got an autograph from Randy Wells, which is a good story in itself. I had purchased a magnet of a weiner dog wearing a giant novelty hotdog bun to give to my wife as a gag, and when I saw that the line for Randy Wells’ autograph was relatively short, I decided to hop in. Having nothing else for him to sign, I asked Randy if he could “sign my weiner for my wife.” He happily obliged, and I still have the magnet on the fridge as proof.
If you have never been to the Cubs Convention, I strongly suggest you experience it at least once. I’m fortunate enough to be going this year, alongside Cubs Insider writers Tom Loxas and Evan Altman (as well as many others from various Cubs blogs). It’s turning into a pretty cool social event for those of us entangled in the interwebs by our love of the Cubs. There’s even an annual Friday night get-together at Lizzie McNeil’s where you could meet all your favorite Cubs writers (and Evan, too!).
I understand why many are jaded by the events of the Cub Convention and I fully expect that I’ll be struggling to keep my anxiety disorder in check this Saturday. The crowds of weirdos and fanboys can make me feel like I’m watching an episode of “Battling Seizure Robots.” After all, it’s a convention designed to appeal to the largest segment of fans possible.
It’s going to be hokey, there are going to be 1969 Cubs references, and someone will likely put together a Ron Santo tribute video. But if you can get past the hoopla, it really is a good time to meet new people, throw on your favorite Cubs jersey in January, and let your inner meatball lose for a weekend.
Hope to see you there.