Cubs Convention kicks off new season

By JeffGraveline

It might have been a full month before pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Ariz. for spring training, but that didn’t stop the Chicago Cubs from selling out their 25th annual Cubs Convention Jan. 15 – 17 at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave. Drawing thousands of people from throughout the state and nation, the Cubs Convention was all about the fans.

“Cubs baseball is just part of our lives,” said Don Phillips of Lincoln Park. “There’s two seasons: baseball season and offseason. It’s just kind of nice to come and recharge your batteries this time of year.”

To open the upcoming season and kick off the convention, new owners of the Cubs, Tom Ricketts and his siblings, Laura, Peter and Todd, threw out a ceremonial first pitch from the balcony overlooking the Grand Ballroom in the Hilton. Tom Ricketts went on to open the ceremonies in an awestruck fashion before the gathered crowd.

“How cool is this?” Ricketts said. “Words cannot describe how excited we are to get this season started.”

As former and current Cubs players were introduced to fans in attendance, both crammed into the Grand Ballroom while others watched on closed circuit television in other areas of the hotel. New Hall of Fame outfielder Andre Dawson received the loudest cheers of the players introduced to the hoards of fans.

After the rousing opening ceremony, fans were able to take part in an autograph treasure hunt throughout the hotel, following a map handed out by Cubs employees. Cubs bingo followed and drew a raucous crowd.

“It’s good to see all the players and all the people with the team in the middle of the winter,” said Dave Phillips, son of Don Phillips, who has been attending the convention with his father for the past seven years. “It’s just really, really refreshing.”

On the second day of the convention, the players, staff and management of the Cubs were on full display for the fans. From the opening panel entitled “Meet the Owners” to the closing “Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue,” fans had enough to keep them busy.

With 15 panels spread out from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., fans could listen to and ask questions of management, owners and players on a range of topics, from bullpen use to why a double switch was used during a specific game in the 2008 – 2009 season. Open signings were also held throughout the entire Cubs Convention.

The biggest names in Cubs history—Andre Dawson, “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks and Ryne Sandberg, along with current stars Derrek Lee, Carlos Zambrano and manager Lou Piniella—were made available only to lottery winners, which made tickets to see the fan favorites a hot item. Fans could be seen selling winning lottery tickets near the lines that snaked throughout the hall.

For some lucky fans, such as Cindy Kost and Mike Barnas, lottery tickets weren’t necessary, as they bumped into Ernie Banks after the opening ceremonies.

“We were just standing here and then it was like, ‘Oh, it’s Ernie,’” Barnas said. “It’s not uncommon, just two minutes ago we saw Gary Matthews too.”

The final day of the convention gave fans a glimpse into what it means to be a Cub and what the future might hold for their team. One focused on the minor league teams of the Cubs, while the other was about the essence of being a Cub.

As the convention ended and fans filed out of the hotel back to the winter to wait another month for their Cubs to take the field, Kost summed up what it meant to be a Cubs fan.

“I was born a Cubs fan, I was raised a Cubs fan and I’ll always be a Cubs fan,” Kost said.