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Convention Report, Day One

Neither Nomar Garciaparra nor Sammy Sosa were in attendance today, nor are they going to be there at any time during convention weekend.

But their presences loomed large over the gathered crowd of 15,000 squeezed into the Grand Ballroom at the Hilton for the opening ceremony this afternoon.

Before I start on convention logistics, the biggest news announced today was no big surprise -- Ryne Sandberg's #23 is going to be officially retired sometime this season, date to be announced. This brought a huge roar, naturally.

There were a lot of people squeezed into the basement of the Hilton in midafternoon waiting for the convention to open, but this time, the registration lines (at least for people like me, who are not staying at the hotel) weren't ridiculously long. You take your convention pass, they punch a hole in it, and you receive a calendar, a convention program, and a scratch-off card for autographs.

This is a different procedure from previous years, where they had cards for the prime autographs in the program, you filled out a card, and they had drawings at various times during the convention. At least that way, you could pretend that you had a chance to get a Ryne Sandberg, or Kerry Wood, or Greg Maddux signature.

This way, and I didn't get a winning card, you're done after that. Kind of a letdown, in a way.

I bought a "grab bag" of stuff -- this is usually some of the leftover giveaway items from the previous season. The price went up from $10 to $20; despite that I saw people walking away from the table with TEN of them. The representative sample of stuff, which was in my bag, was: one Hubert Cubs lion doll; one Cubs Office Depot notebook, a Sports Illustrated with a picture of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior on the cover, a yellow Cubs poncho sponsored by Swedish Covenant Hospital, a Cubs pen, and a Cubs squeeze bottle.

Oh, well. At least the proceeds go to Cubs Care, as did the $6 I spent on the new blue "Cubs Believe" wristbands (one for me, one for each of my kids).

I haven't had a chance to look at a lot of the memorabilia booths yet, but will tomorrow -- if I don't get stuck at work due to the winter storm that is even now hitting our area, with a possible 6 to 10 inches of snow overnight and into tomorrow morning. You can find good deals if you look around. Example: the Cubs official store had the "dugout jacket" on sale for $99 (down from $129). But walk 20 feet south and another booth has the same jacket for $80.

At the opening ceremony, the largest applause was held for Sandberg, naturally -- he was introduced last, even after the current Cub players, and also for Ron Santo, who has in recent years, I think, become more beloved among Cub fans even than Ernie Banks, who also got a rousing ovation.

But it was what happened after the introductions that was so telling. WGN-TV producer Pete Toma puts together, every year, a highlight montage of the previous year set to music, to show to the assembled multitude (and they made us squeeze really tight into the Grand Ballroom) at the convention.

Every time Sammy Sosa appeared on the tape, there were loud boos from the crowd. Every time Nomar Garciaparra appeared, there were loud cheers.

Sure, there were cheers for others, particularly Carlos Zambrano and Greg Maddux (who, I learned, was making about a three-hour appearance before flying back to his Las Vegas home tonight), but the Cub fans assembled today spoke loudly:

It's not your team any more, Sammy. It's Nomar's.

If Sosa is still a Cub on Opening Day, running out to right field on April 8 could get ugly.