I sit here in Southern California in the 80-degree sunshine, 24 hours (and 60 degrees) removed from my visit to Chicago and the Cubs Convention. I wanted to post some reflections and comments.
I purchased the hotel "package" and stayed on the 14th floor of the Hilton. The hotel is nice, museum-like, but dated. The room was comfy. Didn't spend a dime on food at the Hilton, though - Caribou Coffee, Jewel-Osco and the chicken place behind the hotel got my business.
The conference facilities, compared to other events I have been to and with the crowds as they were, was adequate for the most part. That said, I can see it being a miserable experience if the place had been sold out. The Hilton is a beautiful hotel, but I wasn't there to look at pretty wood paneling or fountains.
The staff of the Hilton was impressive as well. The pros who work there day to day did a great job, especially in the crush of Cubs and Bears fans. The Cubs people.... well, some of them were lacking (see below).
As for the BCB folks, I got a chance to talk to Al a couple of times (the first time I waved to him, I got the expected "who the hell is that guy courtesy wave back. Of course, we had only met once before in person, this past spring training). Jessica walked past me twice, the first time at bingo, the second time with an aggravated expression after Hendry didn't and Quade kind of answered her question. The lack of wireless in the hotel made connecting with others very difficult, which was a bit disappointing. (To be fair, there was wireless - it was just $25 a day, or $7.95 per hour.)
So here we go.
The Good and Great
Locker Room sale - Loved it! I bought stuff that I really didn't need (a pair of Micah Hoffpauir's pants,) stuff that I wanted (a hoodie that just happened to belong to John Grabow.) and a couple of BP jerseys just because of the numbers (BP catcher Corey Miller's 99 and current Yankee Brian Schlitter's 51). I managed to stop myself from buying one of the locker room chairs, due to the logistics of getting it home and thought really hard about the buying the "bullpen bag" grab bag. But the best part was getting to chat, briefly, with the clubhouse guys, particularly Tom "Otis" Hellman. It was fun to watch these guys interact with each other. Heard a few stories, too.
Carlos Pena - What can I say about this guy - he impressed me every time he opened his mouth. Articulate, well-spoken, bi-lingual - he seems to be able to take everything in stride. During the Dominican Way session, somebody asked him a loaded question, telling him how impressed he had been with his performance at the convention and then, basically, asking him what he was going to do to not have crappy stats in 2011. The crowd made an ominous sound after the question, but Pena just smiled and said "I am so glad you asked that question," then talked about what he was looking to do to improve next year. I still don't expect huge numbers from Pena, but I like what he could add to the team, particularly behind the scenes and working with the younger guys.
Tyler Colvin - Not that he needed to do anything to further burnish his reputation, but the young man won points in my book for sticking around and signing autographs for an extra half an hour or more at the end of the convention. He was the final signing and the line was, predictably, long. The ushers did a good job of cutting off the line, and Colvin volunteered to sign to the end. I made sure to thank him for it (since I was in the final third of the line).
The Cause - All proceeds went to Cubs Care. That made it a lot easier to spend money in certain areas.
Bingo - Even though Wayne Messmer refused to call the number I needed in the penultimate game (C9 WAYNE! C9), it was still a fun event. Since the cards are customized, perhaps a drawing of some sort could have been fun as well.
"John the Pin Guy" - Met him at Kitty O'Shea's on Saturday and he bought me a couple of rounds as we watched the jersey chasers, old and new, flock around Tim Stoddard, Bob Dernier and Randy Hundley. Also had a nice chat with Robin, a woman who is going to the Hundley camp this weekend for the 13th time. Sadly, she obeyed "the code" and wouldn't give up any really good stories. I did suggest she join BCB and write about her experiences, though.
Most of the Fans - I made a point to talk to as many folks as I could, to find out who they were, where they were from, what they liked about the Cubs, and I met some great people. It was a lot of fun chatting with them.
Things That Could Have Been Better
Signage - Perhaps my biggest frustration was getting oriented in the building. Really wish there had been more signage with directions, arrows, etc. It was for this reason that I had to watch the opening ceremonies from the overflow room. I simply couldn't get to the Grand Ballroom, and once I did find it, it was closed. It didn't help that many access points were closed off, forcing folks to walk halfway around the building to get to a room that was just next door.
The Schedule - Al mentioned this in the one of his earlier posts, so I won't dwell on it other to say but the timing of the sessions left a lot to be desired. I, too, left the Ricketts' one early so I could get good seats for the management session. Not good planning. There were a couple of other examples of this. Hopefully, someone took notes and this will be avoided in the future.
Underused space - There were seven autograph stages, but there could have been more. Better yet, there could be two or three guys signing at each table during the peak of the sessions (they did this with Jay Jackson and DJ LeMahieu and it worked fine. More sessions would have been nice, as well. It might spread out the crowds a little bit, perhaps lead to shorter lines.
Underused Sunday - The whole thing ended at noon. After getting Colvin's autograph, I hoped to swoop through the vendors one last time, maybe pick up one or two more things I didn't need - but it was too late. The place was shut down and packed up. Sunday's session ought to go to 3, to make it worth the while of people to go down there.
Overly Officious Ushers - I met a large number of Cubs game day staff who did a great job and did it with a smile. But there were some that let it go to their heads. Yes, it is cool that you are an usher. Yes, it can be a challenging job. No, that doesn't give you carte blanche to be a prick.
The batting/fielding/throwing room - This was really disappointing, and it seemed like an afterthought. I imagine that most of the kids didn't care.... but it could have been better. Though I did get to briefly talk to Jose Cardinal about hitting there, so that was a plus. Their radar gun was also way off - either that or I can really throw 96 with no warmup.
Autograph and Memorabilia dealers - I know nothing can be done about these guys, but there were a few instances where I saw some the dealers in the lines, buying stuff up, then turning it for a profit at their booths. Capitalism is wonderful, but this still bugged me a bit.
Suggestions - Neither Complaints or Accolades
Simulcasting - It might be cool to broadcast the seminars up to the folks in lines in the autograph rooms.
Roundtables - This is a tough one, because of all the autograph hounds, etc. But having some more opportunities to interact with players during the day would be nice. Maybe roundtables, where you can just chat with the guy for an hour or so. There would be some logistic challenges. Perhaps this could be a lottery-type drawing for people as well (with 20 or 30 people getting in the room for the session, and everybody getting something signed at the end.)
More Access to the Older Guys - I had hoped to get an autograph from Ernie Banks, but didn't win the lottery. The closest I got to him was watching him walk off after his session. Never saw Gary Matthews, aside from seeing him on the screen in the overflow room during the opening ceremonies. The players are shuffled around the hotel from their guarded floor to the stage areas via the service elevators and back stairs, so the only way you may see someone is if they decide to go out the front of the building - and of course, most do not. I did see a few folks in the bar, but didn't want to pester them - they were on their own time visiting with family and friends. I really didn't know what to expect, but I would have liked to have 30 seconds of being around these guys, even just seeing them or saying hi.
Al for Moderator/Panel - Seriously. If they do a panel on new media in baseball, or something similar, I nominate Al Yellon as a panel member or moderator.
That's it. I welcome your comments and thoughts.