(Photo courtesy Chicago Cubs)
For Joe Maddon, the holiday season isn’t over quite yet. On Monday, the Cubs manager and his wife, Jaye, spent the afternoon shopping at a Jewel-Osco for food and ingredients he’ll use at his Thanksmas dinner at the Chicago Help Initiative Wednesday Dinner Program. The evening will kick off the annual Cubs Caravan Tour, which will take place throughout the community.
Maddon will prepare and serve a traditional home-cooked Italian dinner to 200 homeless community members. Cubs players and coaches will serve alongside the skipper to help raise awareness about Chicago’s homeless population.
Jewel-Osco graciously contributed $5,000 to Cubs Charities to help make this effort possible.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs will host the 31st annual Cubs Convention next week, from Jan. 15-17, at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, featuring manager Joe Maddon, his coaching staff, players from the current Cubs roster, alumni and prospects. The 2016 Cubs Convention will include autograph opportunities, new panel sessions, enhanced activities and traditional fan favorites during the three-day weekend.
Cubs Convention’s Opening Ceremony begins Friday, Jan. 15, at 6 p.m., kicking off the weekend with player introductions on an elevated runway that will provide special VIP access to children 16-and-under. Following the Opening Ceremony, guests will find some of their favorite Cubs and young prospects signing autographs for an exciting Surprise Signing Game. The event’s first day concludes with a special Friday Night with Ryan Dempster show, featuring interviews with Cubs players, coaches and alumni, comedy vignettes and interactive games.
Saturday’s program continues with fan favorites such as the return of Cubs Feud and Cubs Jeopardy, which features unique trivia with Cubs alumni. Popular reoccurring Saturday sessions will be back, including Baseball Management, Cubs Business Operations Update, Joe Maddon & His Coaching Staff, Kids Only Press Conference presented by Advocate Children’s Hospital, Life Off the Field, Meet the New Cubs and Ricketts Family. The evening will conclude with long-time Convention favorite Cubs Bingo presented by Budweiser and led by Wayne Messmer.
Sunday’s program concludes with additional autograph sessions and panels including Down on the Farm and Once a Cub, Always a Cub.
In addition to the sessions highlighted above, the Convention includes several new and returning activities throughout the weekend for fans:
- Fans can check out the Cubs in Cooperstown panel for a chance to listen to Cubs Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and Billy Williams chat about their lives in baseball and what it means to be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber will share their first-season experiences in the big leagues with fans during the Rock Star Rookies panel.
- Cy Young winners Jake Arrieta, Fergie Jenkins and Rick Sutcliffe will answer fan questions and relive their award-winning seasons as part of the Cy Young Winners.
- Clark’s Clubhouse will host fun games, face painting, caricatures, balloon artists, a coloring station, inflatable T-ball and inflatable speed pitch.
- Cubs Charities, located again this year on the main lobby floor, will feature a variety of items and opportunities for sale, including private player meet-and-greets, baseballs, ball cubes, autographed mystery baseballs, grab bags and a garage sale. The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation will host a raffle as well.
- Guests can visit a dedicated social media area, featuring giveaways, charging stations, an interactive photo print station and special player visits throughout the weekend.
The list of confirmed players, coaches, alumni, team executives and broadcasters includes:
Andury Acevedo, RHP
Arismendy Alcantara, INF/OF
Jake Arrieta, RHP
Javier Baez, INF
Dallas Beeler, RHP
Rex Brothers, LHP
Kris Bryant, INF
Trevor Cahill, RHP
Jeimer Candelario, INF
Carl Edwards Jr., RHP
Justin Grimm, RHP
Jason Hammel, RHP
Kyle Hendricks, RHP
Jason Heyward, OF
Pierce Johnson, RHP
Eric Jokisch, LHP
John Lackey, RHP
Jon Lester, LHP
Miguel Montero, C
Edgar Olmos, LHP
Neil Ramirez, RHP
Clayton Richard, LHP
Anthony Rizzo, INF
Hector Rondon, RHP
David Ross, C
Zac Rosscup, LHP
Addison Russell, INF
Kyle Schwarber, C
Jorge Soler, OF
Pedro Strop, RHP
Matt Szczur, OF
Dan Vogelbach, INF
Adam Warren, RHP
Travis Wood, LHP
Ben Zobrist, INF
John Baker, C
Jose Cardenal, OF
Ryan Dempster, RHP
Bobby Dernier, OF
Scott Eyre, LHP
Randy Hundley, C
Fergie Jenkins, RHP
Jon Lieber, RHP
Ted Lilly, LHP
Bill Madlock, INF
Dave Otto, LHP, Broadcaster
Ryne Sandberg, INF
Scott Sanderson, RHP
Lee Smith, RHP
Tim Stoddard, RHP
Rick Sutcliffe, RHP
Steve Trout, LHP
Billy Williams, OF
Kerry Wood, RHP
Joe Maddon, Manager
Mike Borzello, Catching Coach
Chris Bosio, Pitching Coach
Tim Buss, Strength & Conditioning Coach
Eric Hinske, Asst. Hitting Coach
Brandon Hyde, First Base Coach
Gary Jones, Third Base Coach
John Mallee, Hitting Coach
Dave Martinez, Bench Coach
Chad Noble, Bullpen Catcher
Lester Strode, Bullpen Coach
Tom Ricketts, Chairman
Laura Ricketts, Board Member
Todd Ricketts, Board Member
Theo Epstein, President, Baseball Operations
Crane Kenney, President, Business Operations
Jed Hoyer, EVP/GM
Jason McLeod, SVP, Scouting & Player Development
Randy Bush, Assistant GM
Shiraz Rehman, Assistant GM
Jaron Madison, Director, Player Development
Ron Coomer, Radio Broadcaster
Jim Deshaies, TV Broadcaster
Pat Hughes, Radio Broadcaster
Len Kasper, TV Broadcaster
A percentage of the proceeds from Cubs Convention benefits Cubs Charities. To date, Cubs Convention has raised more than $4 million for Cubs Charities.
The Cubs announced Monday that a limited number of hotel packages have been made available for the 31st Annual Cubs Convention. Individual weekend passes are sold out. Fans can secure Cubs Convention passes by booking a hotel package for the weekend at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers or the W Chicago Lakeshore, located approximately a half mile from the Convention at 644 N. Lake Shore Drive. A courtesy shuttle service will be provided between the two hotels throughout the weekend. Attendees can book hotel packages by visiting cubs.com/convention or calling the Starwood reservations line at 1-877-STARWOOD and asking for the Cubs Convention rate of $191 per night plus tax. Hotel guests may purchase up to four Cubs Convention passes for a reduced rate of $30 each.
The 2016 Cubs Convention will feature Cubs celebrity guests including players, coaches, alumni and some of the organization’s top minor league prospects. In addition, the Cubs Convention features interactive exhibits, a children’s play area, a vendor alley and more.
The Cubs Convention will take place Friday, Jan. 15, from 1-10 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 16, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 17, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. More information will be posted on cubs.com as details are confirmed.
A percentage of the proceeds from the Cubs Convention benefits Cubs Charities. To date, the Cubs Convention has raised more than $4 million for Cubs Charities.
Last weekend’s 30th Annual Cubs Convention was enjoyed by thousands of fans who had an opportunity to mingle with members of their favorite team at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers. Whether it was their first convention, or their 30th, most walked away with lasting memories. Though it was only a few days ago, here are some images to remember from the sold-out event:
The 30th Cubs Convention is in the books. In the January issue of Vine Line, we looked back at how the convention got started and some of the event’s highlights from the last three decades. Check out our recaps of the 2015 panels here on the blog.
Have you ever been to bingo?” asked Jim Oboikowitch, laughing. “You will think it is insanity. It is so fun. It is so packed.”
Out of context, you’d be hard-pressed to find many 30-somethings who would refer to a retirement center game-night staple as insanity. But Oboikowitch, manager of game and event production for the Cubs, has a very different take on things. His job puts him in charge of the most entertaining weekend of the offseason for North Side fans—the annual Cubs Convention—and one of the event’s centerpieces is always Cubs Bingo.
So while matching numbers and letters might sound a little tame or old-fashioned on the surface, the reality is Cubs fans will do just about anything to grab a game card and get in on the action. And the man in charge has a front-row seat for all the excitement generated by one of the convention’s most popular events.
“[In 2013] at the Sheraton … one door kind of cracked open, and people just started pouring through,” Oboikowitch said. “[Manager of Broadcast Relations] Joe [Rios] was about to get tackled by about 1,000 people. They come running in, looking for a table and grabbing the bingo card. There’s not a seat to be had. They’re sitting in the aisleways.”
For nearly 30 winters, masses of Cubs fans from all over the country have congregated at a downtown Chicago hotel to take part in a weekend’s worth of activities centered around the team they spend their summers supporting. Where else can fans and players share an elevator ride and spark up a conversation? How often do young players get the opportunity to receive instruction from major league talent in the batting cages? And is there any other place you can ask Cubs owner Tom Ricketts a question and snag Gary “The Sarge” Matthews’ autograph in the same day?
While attendance at modern conventions generally nears five digits, there was a time when the club was unsure of what to expect turnout-wise, so they intentionally limited admittance to roughly the number of people who can fit in today’s bingo hall. But that was almost 30 years ago, when the Cubs became the first professional sports team to ever attempt a fanfest and well before the event became an annual institution. Now it’s safe to say they probably underestimated themselves—and the passion of their Cubs-crazed fan base—in those early days.
The Cubs were hot. In the offseason following their magical playoff run of 1984—the same campaign that snapped a 39-year postseason drought—John McDonough was looking for a way to grow the brand. The then-Cubs sales, promotion and community services director, now the president and CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks, wanted to capitalize on the new wave of fandom that had swept over the club and made its players the talk of the city.
“McDonough’s idea was ‘Hey, this is a great brand. It’s something everyone knows, but we’re only being seen six months out of the year,” said Cubs historian Ed Hartig.
One of McDonough’s first orders of business was to gather a large group of die-hard fans willing to share their ideas for how the organization could grow. They met at the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Illinois, and there McDonough collected opinions on how the Cubs could maintain relevance, even in the winter months. This led to the idea of a convention celebrating Cubs fandom.
Sports memorabilia shows were at their peak during the 1980s, which gave McDonough a solid framework for his own concept. After more than a year of brainstorming, the initial Die-Hard Cubs Fan Club Convention opened its doors from Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 1986, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. The event was the first of its kind—no other professional sports team had ever dedicated an offseason weekend to celebrating its fans.
“At this time, card shows, autograph shows, those were pretty common,” Hartig said. “But the idea of actually having people mingle with the players and [offering] hitting clinics, that was all new.”
McDonough had no idea what to expect and kept event promotion to a minimum. One of the few places the convention was marketed was in the small “Odds and Ends” section of the Chicago Tribune. The blurb, which was published nearly a year before the event took place, stated what the weekend would entail, when it would take place and where it would be held.
“The only thing they told [fans] was that this wasn’t going to be a card show. This was not going to be an autograph show. This was going to be interactive,” Hartig said. “You’re going to see the players walking out of the hotel. You’re going to see them in the elevator. You’re going to see them at the restaurants. … It was going to be all-access. You were going to be with the players all weekend.”
Nearly 3,000 fans—roughly 1,000 more than expected—packed into the Hyatt in late January 1986 to witness something totally revolutionary. Ryne Sandberg and Rick Sutcliffe hosted hitting and pitching clinics, panels included the coaching staff discussing topics like Spring Training and injury recovery, and President and General Manager Dallas Green was made available for a Q&A session with fans. This was all in addition to memorabilia auctions, raffles, vendor booths and autograph opportunities.
The convention’s special guests included most of the 1985 team and Hall of Famers like Ernie Banks. For many of the players, showing up to that first event was a no-brainer. They understood the work McDonough had put in and immediately grasped what this could mean to the organization in the long haul.
“When [McDonough] created that … as a player I remember, quite honestly, we were open arms because we trusted him,” said former Cubs outfielder Bobby Dernier. “The idea is ‘Look, it’s good for the team, it’s good for the organization, and it’s good for the former players—on top of being good for the current players. So, really, it’s good for everyone.’”
Though Cubs regulars probably enjoy more interaction with their fan base than most other professional athletes—just ask the outfielders about their relationship with the Bleacher Bums—it’s still unusual for them to spend a lot of one-on-one time together. But the athletes quickly learned that the interaction with fans was one of the most enjoyable parts of the weekend.
“Most players would feel that it’s more flattering than nerve-racking,” said former Cubs outfielder Gary Matthews Sr. of the constant flock of supporters. “You’ve got to understand the Cubs fans.”
And for players who didn’t already understand Cubs fans, the convention served as quite the introduction. Former Cubs catcher Michael Barrett came to the team in December 2003 after spending his previous six years playing in the fan-starved Montreal Expos organization. Rios, who was in charge of the convention prior to Oboikowitch, still remembers the backstop’s reaction to the reception he received at his first opening ceremony.
“[Players] get quite a rush from the applause they get from the fans, especially the new ones,” Rios said. “I think of Michael Barrett, who played in Montreal, who played in front of [so few fans], and to come to the convention and have that many or more, and be sweating when they announce it—he was freaked out, and that’s still kind of cool to see.”
Mingling with the fans quickly became one of Dernier’s favorite parts of the weekend. The former center fielder said he’s missed only three of the 29 previous conventions, which puts him “in the 95th percentile” in terms of attendance.
“To be quite honest, I’ve gotten a lot of endearing experiences because I did take the time,” Dernier said. “Whether I sat with a bunch of 13-year-olds at the lobby there or I sat at the bar and had a cocktail with a dozen Cubs fans ready to watch the Bears at the playoff game that afternoon, they were enjoyable experiences.
“Whatever position I’ve been in, to get to come, it’s not a hard arm twist because all it is is just a giant hug waiting to happen.”
For the people in charge of the convention, knowing the players—the de facto entertainment—have an open mind about the event makes their jobs easier and allows a weekend with a high potential for chaos to run a little more smoothly.
Though the Convention spans only three days in January, it takes a lot longer than that to plan and organize the festivities. Oboikowitch said even during the baseball season, the convention is in the back of his mind. As the 162-game campaign is winding down, he’s in meetings and throwing ideas against the wall for what the next fan weekend will have in store.
“We’re always talking with fans throughout the season and through the offseason about what they might want to see, who they want to see, what activities they want to take part in,” Oboikowitch said. “We start putting together a road map of how we want to program Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”
This road map is a jigsaw puzzle of panels, events, autograph signings and meet-and-greets. When it all comes together, it looks like a work of art, but getting things to that point is a painstaking process.
The staff has to juggle player and personnel arrivals (many attendees come from out of town), make sure individuals aren’t accidentaly booked in two spots at one time, and provide fans the opportunity to attend must-see events like the opening ceremony and the Ricketts panel. Despite doing their best not to overschedule the program, Rios said forcing fans to make tough decisions is all part of the plan.
“One thing that fans should realize is we want to make it difficult for them to decide what to do,” Rios said. “Every hour of the convention, day or evening, has something going on. You can be getting five or six different autographs, you can be getting a photo of somebody, you can be in the interactive room learning about pitching, you can be in a seminar with one of our business teams talking about The 1060 Project. … You have to decide what’s important to you.”
But amidst all the commotion, while fans are making those red pill-blue pill decisions, one thing they seldom see is just how busy the players really are. They are constantly moving into private rooms for one-on-one interviews or doing special autograph signings for Cubs Charities.
“We do a lot of behind-the-scenes interviews with players that our broadcast partners will use during the season,” Oboikowitch said. “That’s where you get some of that footage for rain delays and for different pieces when you want to hear a player talk about Jake Arrieta’s season preview. So we do a lot of filming in that time.”
Perhaps the best indication that McDonough hit the ball out of the park on the first try is how little the convention’s format has changed over the last three decades. Certain panels have come and gone, venues have switched (the Hyatt from 1986-90, the Hilton Chicago from 1991-2012, the Sheraton Hotel and Towers from 2013-present), and there are fewer vendors today than in years past. But fans still get the chance to interact with their favorite players through seminars, clinics, autograph sessions and meet-and-greets, just like they did in 1986.
“I think what the fans really like, that I’ve learned from them, is that they just really like having that experience where they get to actually sit down in that little floor lobby with Anthony Rizzo, and he’s signing autographs for the kids,” Dernier said.
Of course, the planning committee is constantly learning from fans, and they fine-tune things every year. In 2015, the Cubs will add a second interactive instructional field with hitting tees and batting cages. They will also pay tribute to the 2007-08 NL Central champion teams with a panel featuring Ryan Dempster, Mark DeRosa, Bob Howry, Jacque Jones and others. Another panel will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the convention and will include regulars like Dernier and Matthews.
The goal is to improve the weekend every year, while still offering the panels and events fans have come to know and love. In other words, rest assured, Cubs Bingo isn’t going away anytime soon.
The Cubs’ minor league system is viewed as a powerhouse, with many calling it the best in baseball. Several of the top prospects—including Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Kyle Hendricks—made their Wrigley Field debuts last season, but who is going to get the call this year? Accompanied by top prospects C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, Director of Player Development Jaron Madison, and Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod close out the convention by giving some insight into the Cubs farm system. This is always one of the better panels, and this year did not disappoint.
Mick Gillespie, broadcaster of the Double-A Tennessee Smokies, is helming the panel and gives a quick intro. He also does Spring Training games with Len Kasper. Gillespie touts how this entire panel will soon be in the big leagues. These are the guys you’re paying to see in the minor leagues.
McLeod talks about his early days with the Cubs. He’s only three drafts in, but still feels really good about the type of players they’ve brought in. But it did take some last place finishes and difficult trades to make the Cubs top-ranked system happen. Russell wouldn’t be here if not for the Jeff Samardzija trade. The goal is to keep the talent flow going. There are great players at the top levels now, but they have to keep that talent coming.
Madison talks about how the process Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have has already been successful in Boston and San Diego. Now it’s successful here. They’re not just looking for good players. They’re looking for good people, and they all feel great about the caliber of young players the Cubs have.
Edwards talks about being a 48th-round pick. He was not phased by that because he knew what he could do on the mound. His dad instilled in him how to play the game. He says his love of the game is what got him to where he is now. That plus dedication and hard work.
Johnson grew up around the game. His dad worked for the Padres. His mom wanted him to do homework when he was younger, but he joked that he didn’t need to do it because he was going to be a pro ballplayer.
Schwarber talks about the choice between playing football and baseball. He only had three baseball offers for college. He had more than that for football. Though he had a chance to play both sports at Indiana, he decided to commit to baseball because he loved it and didn’t want his academics to suffer by playing two sports.
Russell talks about the differences between the A’s and Cubs fan bases. The fans here actually pull for you, and there are a lot more of them.
Next comes the question-and-answer session with fans:
- An Indiana alum asks Schwarber about the challenges about playing on the IU field. The entire field is artificial turf, including the mound. Schwarber says everyone seemed to like it, but it was tough for opposing teams coming in. But with the cold weather in Indiana, they could practice in almost any conditions.
- Schwarber talks about helping build the IU program. The team was .500 when he got there, but they knew they were better than that. Eventually they got to Omaha and the national championship series. He says he loved the challenge there.
- The next question is about Russell’s reaction to his trade to the Cubs. Russell was in Arkansas. He says he missed a lot of time with a hamstring injury, and was just settling in with his teammates. Next thing he knew, he was traded. He didn’t know what to think. Did the A’s not want him? But he talked to a few people, and they assured him this was a good thing. Now he’s very happy to be a part of what the Cubs are building.
- A question about the upcoming draft. The Cubs are picking ninth. McLeod says they are evaluating the talent pool. It’s a strong college pitching draft and a strong high school draft. College position players haven’t really separated themselves yet. You have to let the season play out, but he feels confident the Cubs will get an impactful player.
- How do you know when to bring a guy up, especially a newer draft pick? Top college hitters like Schwarber tend to succeed pretty quickly at the lower levels, Madison says. But they look at each guy individually. They all have strengths and weaknesses. They talk to each player about these things. The Cubs lay out what they expect each player to work on. The players know themselves better than anyone. “When they show you they’re ready, that’s when you have to reassess the player plans,” Madison says.
- A high school player asks what each guy did to get noticed. “I grew out my hair,” Johnson says. It’s really about working hard and getting better, they all agree. Johnson and Russell went to showcases. Schwarber didn’t do many, but he thinks that’s why he didn’t have many college offers. Madison says they start to really look at players around their senior year of high school. Occasionally you can notice younger players when scouting older guys.
- There’s a question about Gleyber Torres and Armando Rivero. How do they assess these guys? McLeod likes them a lot. Rivero has a good mid-90s fastball, strong slider and has had nothing but success so far. He’ll be in big league camp this year and will challenge for a spot in the Cubs ‘pen. But he’s not on the roster yet, so that might factor in. Torres just turned 18. He was a high-profile guy when they signed him. He’s a long way away, but he’s good. He’ll probably start in South Bend.
- Which position would Schwarber rather play: catcher or outfield? Schwarber wants to catch. He’s played there all his life. He’s self taught and was doing a lot of things wrong. He got a crash course at Kane County, and it really clicked in. He loves catching, but you have to really like the position to be there.
- Who are some under-the-radar players to watch? Madison says they have a lot of good guys who don’t get noticed because of the talent they have in the system. Victor Caratini is due for a breakout year. Jeimer Candelario has all the tools to be an impact third baseman, and they expect a big year out of him. McLeod says he expects one or two people from the Kane County staff this year to become major leaguers. He also really likes Bijan Rademacher and what he can do.
- McLeod talks about the wonderful problem of having too many talented shortstops. You can never have too many good middle infielders. They just let these guys go out and compete, and it will sort itself out. Players will force them to make decisions, and that’s a good thing. McLeod talks about meeting Schwarber in college and asking him if he thought he could really make it as a catcher. Schwarber looked at him stone-faced and said, “It really *** pisses me of when people think I can’t catch.” They loved his confidence and knew he was their guy. He was not intimidated in the least by talking to Epstein and McLeod.
- What’s the difference between college and pro ball? Schwarber talks about the difference in the schedules. You get a lot more days off in college. If you’re struggling, you have days off to work on your swing and go figure it out. In pro ball, you have to fix things on the fly because there are really no days off.
- Who is your mentor/hero? Russell says his favorite player was Barry Larkin, but his idol is his dad. Or Bruce Lee. Schwarber most looks up to his mom and dad. He was outside every day hitting, and they helped him every day. His dad coached him and came to almost every game in college. Whenever things are going bad, they are always there for him. Johnson also credits his parents. They supported him and brought him to practices and games. He still talks to his parents after every game. Edwards also talks about his parents and his dad. He says he started throwing a baseball at 3 years old. When he was growing up, he admired Pedro Martinez the most.
- What was your favorite team when you were younger? Russell didn’t watch a lot of TV growing up. He played outside. But he’d have to say the Red Sox, even though he’s from Florida. He was actually more of a football fan. He wears 27 partly because of Edie George. He loved the Tennessee Titans. Schwarber grew up near Cincinnati so he rooted for the Reds. Johnson’s dad worked for the Padres, so he grew up rooting for them. Edwards was a Red Sox guy because of Pedro and Manny. Madison lived in New York so he started with the Mets, but he transitioned to the Yankees. McLeod grew up in San Diego, so he followed the Padres and Chargers.
- A question about Kevonte Mitchell. McLeod says he’s very interesting. He was drafted last year out of southern Missouri. He was a basketball player and is a tremendous athlete. He had a great first season in rookie ball, but he’s still a long way away. Still, he has a great body and a lot of talent. They were surprised by how well he controlled the plate this year.
- How is the pitch clock in the minor leagues going to change how the game works and your approach? Edwards was in the Arizona Fall League, where they used it. It wasn’t a big factor for him. He moves quick already, but he thought it was more of a factor for relievers. If you’re in a rhythm, you should be fine. When things go wrong, it could be trouble. Schwarber says it will only affect someone if they are really, really slow, so it’s probably a good thing to speed them up.
- Any failures you’ve had to overcome? Russell says failure is good, especially early on. He really struggled coming out of high school. You dig deep and learn from failure, and it ends up being a good thing. Schwarber struggled to get better as a catcher in college. The things that frustrate you are the things that drive you to get better and better. How you rebound from struggles defines you as a player, he says. You just can’t let failure get the best of you. Johnson talks about the injuries he had to struggle through last year. Edwards struggled in extended Spring Training too. He started questioning whether he really wanted to play baseball. But he knew he didn’t come from the west coast to the east coast to fail, he’s still riding that wave.
That’s it for our 2015 Cubs Convention coverage. We’ll be posting a video recap early next week. Thanks for following. Next stop: Mesa.
This year, the organization is celebrating the 30th consecutive Chicago Cubs Convention, dating back to “The First Ever Die Hard Fan Club Convention” from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, 1986. This panel gives fans a chance to visit with some of their favorite Cubs of the past as they tell 30 years worth of stories and talk about what it’s like to come back to Chicago each January. The panel, hosted by Wayne Messmer, is comprised of convention regulars Bobby Dernier, Gary Matthews, Lee Smith, Rick Sutcliffe and Billy Williams.
This panel was actually more about reminiscing with a host of Cubs favorites from the 1980s than celebrating the Convention, but it was enjoyable hearing players recount stories about everything from Harry Caray to Ryne Sandberg the prankster.
The event started with a thank you from the players for the fan support and some recollections from Cubs Conventions past.
One of the highlights included when Sutcliffe explained how being a Kansas City guy, his lifelong dream was to play for the Royals. But after his first half season with the Cubs in 1984, his mindset changed largely because of the fan base. Sutcliffe then said he was part of a video that was used in the recruiting of Jon Lester. After the two talked at the convention, the newly acquired free agent said Sutcliffe’s portion about Cubs fans sold him.
Sutcliffe recalls the first Cubs Convention. ‘The phone call came from John McDonough, and this was really John’s idea. This was before sports-talk radio, this was before autograph sessions. … He really wanted to break down the barrier between fan and player.” He also talks about Harry Caray being the first honorary chairman of the convention.
“Something that’s so awesome for me is that everyone remembers me as a Cub,” Smith said.
The panelists start talking about Smith in his playing days. A favorite story from Sutcliffe: After Smith beaned an opposing Mets hitter after a brawl, Smith puts down his glove and offers a challenge to the Mets’ dugout, and they back down.
Sutcliffe talks about the Cubs Convention. The people are still here. “For me, you just get another little piece of what Cubs fans are all about. They keep calling him the big red head, but you take that cap off and there’s no red hair.”
“We’re always in first place at the Cubs Convention,” Messmer said.
All of the panelists agree that what makes playing for the Cubs special is the fan base, and that really came alive when they played in 1984. “I played for a couple of ballclubs, but when I came through here, I have so many fans I remember on a first-name basis,” Smith said.
Next comes the question-and-answer session with fans:
- A fan thanks Dernier for spending time with her kids years ago in the lobby and talking for hours.
- Dernier told a story about a time they were in Montreal and Harry Caray said to him: “Even when ya stink, you look like you’re trying.”
- A fan asked about the panelists’ time with Don Zimmer, and Sutcliffe recounted a story about how Zimmer, who had a tough time as a manager in Boston, emotionally thanked the 1989 team for their efforts. He said he was so disliked in Boston he couldn’t go out to dinner with his family. In Chicago, he was loved because of those guys.
That’s it. Down on the Farm with the Cubs minor leaguers is next on the schedule, and that will close out the 2015 Cubs Convention.
From hot stove rumors to fan engagement, social media has become a game changer in sports. Led by Vine Line magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Gary Cohen, this event discussed the role of social media in today’s game from the perspective of Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks, broadcaster Len Kasper, cubs.com writer Carrie Muskat and Cubs communications manager Kevin Saghy.
Over the last decade, the way people obtain information has drastically changed. Instead of receiving a morning newspaper regarding yesterday’s news, information is passed along in up-to-the-minute fashion.
To wrap up Saturday night’s convention, the Cubs introduced a new panel to the fan fest in #CubsSocial. The panel explained how receiving information quickly has altered the way the Cubs operate from a broadcast standpoint to the players themselves.
Saghy explained that through social media outlets like Twitter, he has better connected fans to the organization, with state lines and distance no longer an issue. Using the Cubs’ twitter feed, he is now able to communicate and better interact with fans.
“Social media is a conversation,” Saghy said. “If you want to reach out to the team, we’re out there.”
In addition to providing an update on the organization’s accomplishments and progress, the Business Operations Update gave fans additional insight into what to expect at Wrigley Field next season. From the overall expansion and restoration of Wrigley Field to the new video board, Cubs executive leadership covered a wide range of important topics related to the 2015 season.
All great plans have minor setbacks. That may be the case for the 2015 plans of the extensive 1060 Project, the stadium-wide renovation of Wrigley Field. During Saturday afternoon’s business panel, a panel that continued its trend of being one of the most attended, the Cubs announced that the bleacher restoration will not be ready for the start of the 2015 season.
The left-field bleachers are expected to be ready in early May while the right-field bleachers hope to be prepared by late May. That said, the new scoreboard in left field will be up and running come Opening Day, while the scoreboard in right field should be ready in May.
Bleacher season-ticket holders have been given three options on their tickets for the first few series: receive a credit on their account, relocation on tickets, or a full refund on the game tickets. Those fans have until the end of January to let the Cubs know of their decision.
“This is about trying to get this project done right instead of cutting corners,” said Carl Rice, the vice president of ballpark operations.
It wasn’t all bad news from the panel, as business president Crane Kenney announced the Cubs have more season ticket holders today than any time in the organization’s history, and could possibly have the most in the league. Season ticket renewals were also at 90 percent.
Though there may be a delay in the 2015 plans, the Cubs’ concourse restoration has actually made 2016 renovation plans ahead of schedule. The 2015 delay has also not slowed plans for new clubhouse construction, which was planned to be finished prior to 2016. The organization plans to work all season long to ensure its completion.
“We’re getting ahead of next year’s project, now,” Kenney said.
In terms of the new video boards, the panel unveiled what types of graphics and images would be displayed going forward. Concepts were divided into five categories: game replays, in-game stats, historical videos of the club, in-season team videos and other scores around baseball. Though the new video boards will be nothing short of state of the art, the Cubs intend to have the text graphics look similar to the historic scoreboard in center field. The Cubs showed simulations as to what the scoreboard would look like on an in-game basis. They’ll combine the classic look with some some full-color animated images. They wanted to remind people the purpose of the boards is to enhance the game-day experience, not detract.
With the new TV deals, some fans are concerned they’ll be blacked out for a vast majority of Cubs games in the near future. Kenney said the team is willing to contact outlets like MLB.TV, should something not be worked out.