I broke my toe last Monday while packing up the apartment where I've been cat sitting for six months while Airbnb'ing my own apartment out. It's how I paid for playoff tickets last fall and the accompanying beer. So walking around the Cubs Convention, not to mention to and from the train a few times was not the most pleasant experience. I had felt no pain the evening before, but maybe that was because of the bloggers beer fest at Lizzie McNeill's after Day 1 of the Cubs Convention which you can read about here. Beer can act as liquid Advil at times. However, after four hours of sleep and a 9 a.m. Ricketts Family Forum to attend, my toe wasn't in the most tip top shape. But then again, what do I really have to do anyway? Sit and listen to Cubs brass? That seems doable enough.
Cubs podcaster Corey Fineran from Ivy Envy had stayed at my joint the night before, so together we hopped an Uber downtown. The extra expense was well worth not having to climb the Wilson Avenue El platform at 8 a.m. We arrived under caffeinated, sleep deprived and unfed for the morning Cubs business sessions which I've documented here. The crowd was buzzing and alive with families of fans starting their day of autograph hunting and memorabilia shopping, but I'm certain most of us who were "buzzing" the night before were nestled behind the blackout curtains of the Sheraton.
I say "most of us", because one fan, my friend Crawly, who was still at Lizzie's when I left at 1 a.m., was in the main ballroom at 7 a.m. on Saturday. And he has the selfie to prove it.
Crawly said he was kicked out shortly after this photo was taken as the staff had to get the room ready for the day's events. This Cubs Convention business is not for the faint of heart (or liver).
When I walked into the Ricketts Forum at five to nine, Crawly was back. Also in attendance was my high school friend Matt who I have reconnected with after years without seeing one another. Matt has become disabled and planned to ask the Ricketts a question about accessibility at Wrigley. There have been problems with parking, ticket availability, and problems being able to sit with his wife and son. But those issues were not what Matt's question was going to be about. His query was: "When are you going to make Season Tickets available for disabled people?" I found that fact unfortunate and unfair but Matt's attitude to be hard core. Even though he outlined the problems and hassles associated with accessibility at Wrigley, he still wants to come every day. Now that's a fan!
I had a half hour to kill and my stomach was seeking some nourishment to replace the beer dousing I had given it the night before. Matt saved my seat and I went in search of food. With an English Muffin Breakfast Sandwich running $9 at the Sheraton's Grab-N-Go station, I opted to hobble outside to Ohio Street where just north and west of the Sheraton lies a Dunkin Donuts, a 7-11, and a Burrito Beach. A #6 at Dunkin' Donuts will be two-thirds the price of the Sheraton's Grab-N-Go heat lamp special. Plus the beer is as overpriced as at Wrigley. If you'd rather spend your limited resources on autographs and Cubs gear, my advice would be to bring a cooler or flask, and walk up to Ohio Street to eat.
The next session with Theo and Jed was a bit livelier. Not only because of the Dunkin' Donuts coffee I had procured, but because of one particular woman, who asked a question to the Baseball Management panel and was quickly dubbed #CrazyHatLady. The following video, shot by my man Crawly is difficult to hear in parts but that's because of the crowd's booing.
I don't mean to pick on #CrazyHatLady in particular, but her long and winding "question" was not a question. She eventually asked Theo Epstein, "If the Cubs win the World Series are you going to trade all our best players?" But that "question" does not appear until half way through this two-minute video and she doesn't even let him answer. She wasn't the only one guilty of grandstanding. There are many fans who read a novel before they get to the point of their question. Some are nervous, others unprepared, but most are just up their yapping on, spinning yarns, and wasting time. You always know you're in for one of these long winded fan speeches when their question begins, "I've been a Cubs fan for 25 years so blah blah blah I know everything..." I'm not sure how to fix this problem, but it's ongoing. Last year, #PreparedStatementGuy began trending amongst Cubs fans at the convention. Booing these vocalizing vacuums of time is hilarious, but it doesn't seem to help much.
After Baseball Management, I tottered around the convention floor, upstairs and down, riding the zig-zagging escalators next to the icy Chicago river while snapping photographs of the bustling fan activity and gargantuan photo wrapped windows celebrating last season and the players who made it happen. You can see some of what I saw in the gallery coupled with my snarky comments.
After sitting through Crane Kenney's Power Point Presentation on Wrigley's renovations at the Business Operations panel where Crawly admonished the Cubs for not doing more for Ernie Banks, I linked back up with Corey Finneran and we hustled a few blocks away to Burrito Beach for lunch. There is no built-in lunch break at Cubs Con. So although it would have been nice to see every seminar, there is more to do at the convention than sit in ballrooms and eat overpriced heat lamp food. I unfortunately missed all the game shows and kids questions, but you can't see everything every year. It would have been nice, if like last year the Cubs had streamed the convention and made the panels available online, especially if it continues to sell out like it has the last few years. I missed Anthony Rizzo doing The Whip and the Nae Nae and that is unacceptable.
I limped back from lunch with Corey and almost immediately bumped into Ron Coomer sitting on the windowsill near the Season Ticket Holders Lounge. I had been in search of some autograph give-a-ways to listeners of my Cubs podcast "The Son Ranto Show" and decided that a Coomdog signature would fit the bill. Literally a dollar bill. As I wrote earlier, I have been cat sitting in Logan Square for six months and the office I record in had become infested with ants this summer and fall. So as I'd be recording the podcast, they'd be crawling around my desk and I'd grab the first thing I saw, which happened to be a dollar bill, and I'd smash the ants with it. My "ant killing dollar" became a long running joke on the show and I explained the story to Mr. Coomer. He looked at me strangely but agreed to sign the greenback. Corey, who had met Ron at a Subway/Gas Station after Game 2 of the NLDS, snapped our photo with Coomer holding up the signed buck. We shook hands, and as I walked away mentioned to Corey that I think writing on money is a rarely-enforced crime. Don't worry Ron, your secret is safe with me. (Except on this popular Cubs blog.)
I saw in the program that former Cubs relief pitcher and catcher John Baker was putting his John Hancock on fan gear in the autograph hall at 4 p.m. I tweeted him that I'd come down and stand in line to shake his hand. We've been in touch since I wrote the song "The Ballad of John Baker," the story of a drunken Cubs game, where I get shut out of Wrigley but backup catcher John Baker heroically wins the game and saves the night from being a total debaucherous debacle. You can hear that here.
Anyway, we had been meaning to meet as soon last Spring Training, but John became a Mariner and then was let go by Seattle. But as luck would have it, Mr. Baker is back with the Cubs and now we find ourselves in the same building. Although I would have preferred meeting him under circumstances that didn't involve me waiting in line for 40 minutes with a broken toe, we're both here an we should meet. John tweeted back and the meeting was set and scheduled for sometime between 4 and 5 p.m. depending on the speed of the autograph line.
I only complain about the line because of my toe, which at this point made my back hurt as I was favoring one side and misaligning myself. I actually don't mind standing in autograph lines. I'm not a collector, but I do enjoy meeting other fans in the line and chatting about the Cubs. The cool thing about Cubs Convention is you have something in common with everybody and something to talk about with your fellow line waiters.
I snaked through the John Baker autograph cue making friends with a guy who covers suburban sports and his wife, or girlfriend and then it was my turn to ascend the autograph platform. I held out my hand and said, "John Baker! Danny Rockett." John came from around the table and gave me a bear hug instead of the hand shake I offered. Ahh... my first Cubs player hug...
We chit chatted for a moment about his father's idea for a "commemorative bobblehead of John pitching with catchers gear falling off of him" and to declare July 29th "John Baker Day," which I am totally all for. I then asked John to sign his pitching stats on the only foul ball I've ever gotten at Wrigley Field. (pictured in the gallery). My new "line friend" took our photograph with my phone. John shook my hand and said, "Thanks for the song" and I left the stage. It really was an awkward situation in which to meet somebody. It's like if you had arranged to meet a friend of a friend who had just moved to town, and you went to meet them at their job as a teller at a bank.
Either way, it was nice to finally meet him and I am so glad he's back with the Cubs. I'm not the only one either. I heard one fan family excitedly discussing John Baker and how he's going to be working on catching with Kyle Schwarber. There was a convention session Sunday morning that I missed at 9 a.m. called "Once a Cub, Always a Cub." Such is the case with John Baker. His one year here in Chicago truly endeared him to fans. I'm happy to be a small part of it by commemorating his heroic pitching feat in song. Next time I see you, I hope it's at a bar, John!
The Sheraton has little doored work cubicles in which I escape from the Cubs crowd to write for BCB during the convention. The painfully slow lobby internet makes in impossible to upload photos, but I can knock out some writing for y'all. I had worn my "Rockett" shirsey on Saturday, and with my back turned towards the glass door, I was noticed by a couple fans who knocked on the door to tell me they enjoyed my work and to keep doing what I'm doing. I just gotta say, I really appreciated it. Being a Cubs fan has been one of the most rewarding relationships I've had in my life. Sure, I love baseball, making music, writing and the Cubs, but it's really all about the fans for me. During the long, cold, gray, soul crushing Chicago winter, it's a great joy to be surrounded by Cubs fans at the convention as we all await the long-awaited season. I guess what I'm saying is, it was great to see you all.
After writing, I joined Corey and his friend Heather for a lobby bar, pre-bingo beer where we discussed the day's events and real estate. I saw a guy in a bear costume so I went over to ask for his photo. You'll never guess who it happened to be! Remember that guy dressed as a goat who was manhandled by the cops at the Wild Card game in Pittsburgh? The guy in the bear costume was the guy in the goat costume! Crazy! His name is Demitri and he sells Cubs T-shirts too. We exchanged cards. That's why I always talk to people in costumes. You never know who you'll meet.
I got a tweet from Crawly saying he had saved me bingo seats with some fellow Twitter acquaintances, namely @WSDreaming_Cubs and @Sweet_Loops, aka Ben and Maria. We escalated ourselves to the second floor, Corey and I each bought a can of beer and Cubs bingo began.
Anthem singer Wayne Messmer emcees this rowdy bingo game masterfully, admonishing the crowd to "simmer down" as we boo the winners, while calling numbers and auctioning Cubs memorabilia with his full throated baritone. Cubs bingo could be an article all by itself, and I joked to the table that it could be called "Oh Say Can You C14", given that "C-U-B-S-Logo" has replaced "B-I-N-G-O" on the card. Guess you had to be there...
But I find it hilarious that winners are roundly booed and that when Mr. Messmer announces the prize, "a flag that has flown over historic Wrigley Field", tables of fans raise their glass and say the end of the phrase with him as a drinking game. The auctions for Cubs charities are fun too. There was one auction for a "Late Night with Ryan Dempster" poster signed by Cubs players that went to $5100. Hopefully, the winner of the auction didn't have buyers remorse to accompany his probable hangover, because to my eyes, it was one of the worst auction prizes.
One of the best prizes, seemingly, was a signed and framed Jake Arrieta oversized photo of his no hitter and four signed Cubs bobbleheads. However, there was to be a bit of confusion, because I heard through the grapevine that when the guy got up there, he found out he had paid a few hundred dollars for just the bobbleheads. Jake wasn't included. What this guy, me and just about everyone else had missed, was that Wayne had said that the Jake Arrieta would be auctioned later, but "now we are auctioning these signed bobbleheads." Apparently, the guy was in tears but that may be an exaggeration as this story is completely hearsay.
Bingo ended and no one at our table won. Or even came close, for that matter. Having written through dinner, Corey and another friend, exhausted from 13 hours of Cubs related activity decided to catch a burger and call it a night. The temperature had dropped precipitously throughout the day, and we walked around searching for an open kitchen after 10. We froze and failed until finally heading back to towards the hotel to a restaurant called Belweather. They have an extensive beer list, and I really enjoyed my perfectly cooked medium rare bleu cheeseburger. Corey, who is a vegetarian described his black bean burger as awesome. And my other buddy, a picky eater, said his chocolate ice cream was ok and liked his flat bread pizza, but called it "hipster pizza". Belwether also calls their sandwiches "Handhelds". Hipster pretension aside, it was a great burger and extensive menu. We got outta there for $90 clams. Not too shabby. Recommended for next Cubs Con.
Corey and I Uber'd back to my place uptown and we stayed up past 2 a.m. recapping the days events. If you ever get a chance to meet Corey Finneran, you should. Not only does he produce an excellent Cubs podcast, Ivy Envy, along with Andy and Kurt, but his thoughtful approach to our beloved team is an island in a storm of Cubs media noise. Plus, he's a great guy. I only wished he lived closer to Chicago and could catch more games together.
And that's what Cubs Con is really about. It brings us Die-Hards together during the dead of winter to regroup as a fan base and get excited for the season. Every year I've attended, I've made new friends and reconnected with old friends. To me, it's more than a convention, it's a family reunion.
We "slept in" until 8 a.m., and my broken toe, stiffening in the night, barked at me on my way to the coffee maker. I finished up my BCB seminar article over a cup and a half of joe, quickly showered, and walked Corey to his car in the frozen sunny morning. He understandably preferred to hit the road back home. We had already seen and done enough after all. But I always bargain hunt during the last hours of Cubs Con.
The frigid temperature was not helping my hobbled gait, and a red line delay further chilled my bones as I stood on the elevated platform. I arrived 10 minutes late for the "Down on the Farm" session, but when I got to the second floor, Wayne Messmer was standing there and I decided to go say "hi" instead of hitting the farm team session.
I had met Wayne on the day I couldn't get into the renovation Ground Breaking Ceremony as we surveyed the bleacher walls damage by the wrecking ball. We talked about music, the anthem and singing that fall day last year and this last day of Cubs Convention we talked about the exact same thing in addition to comparing notes on beautiful old theaters we had both seen. He agreed to do an interview with me too for an upcoming article too, so be on the lookout!
Wayne and I selfied, shook hands and I went over to the "Down on the Farm" session. I stood at the back and snapped off a few photos, just as a fan was asking another "non-question statement" while other fans rode him, shouting "ask a question!" It was then I realized that I was conventioned-out. I left after only five minutes and went bargain hunting.
I walked through vendor alley and thumbed through $40 signed Dale Sveum jerseys and Castro's clearance rack. I bought a wallet and got a free t-shirt I'll never wear for signing up for something I'll never buy, and realized I had lost my Cubs Pepsi Bomber Hat that was a Wrigley door prize last season. I limpingly retraced my steps to no avail. I hope the person who is now the proud owner of my Cubs bomber hat really loves it and needs it, because otherwise, I wish I had head lice for you not turning it into lost and found.
Hatless and broken toed, I left Cubs Con 2016 to the annals of history and into the icy wind I went, more ready than ever for a trip to sunny Mesa in March.
I can't say this was the most fun Cubs convention, or informative, or exciting. But the Sheraton was better climate controlled this year and I was even a bit chilly as opposed to last years session sweatfest. My only complaint is that the Cubs really did, as Crane Kenney said, "drop the ball" on not doing more for Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. He died just after Cubs Con 2015, so maybe the year's time distance contributed to the oversight. I'm also sure that my broken toe subdued my spirit somewhat, not allowing me to enjoy experiences in the way I have in years past. But all in all, I'm glad I went and it was sincerely great to see you all.
Here's to 2016! The fun has just begun.