Every year I seem to follow the same cycle. The season ends, and I spend a few weeks almost relieved that baseball is over (especially the past few years). For as bad as they have been, I still made sure that I tuned in to every single game, whether it be on TV or radio. When that last out of the last game is made, it is almost a breath of fresh air. I will follow the playoffs and World Series, but not as closely as I follow the Cubs season. Before too long, my time is consumed with my teenage son’s basketball season, then the holidays sneak up on me and I seem to be on the go from October to the end of December. January 2nd hits, and the holidays are over. My son’s school schedule comes to a screeching halt, and I find myself starting to crave baseball. The countdown begins for pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training. I have the entire 2007-2008 seasons on DVD, so I find myself putting old games into the DVD player just to get a fix of the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd, or just to have Len and Bob’s voice in the background of my house. It’s somewhat comforting as the snow falls and Old Man Winter beats at my front door.
Last year, however, my parents gave my son and I a trip to the Cubs Convention! It was our first time ever going. I had listened to the many seminars that WGN radio carries for years, always a bit jealous of those who were able to be there in person. So, last year, from the moment we stepped foot out of the taxi in front of the Hilton Hotel I knew it was going to be an experience neither of us would ever forget. We were surrounded by Cub fans who were all there to have the same winter baseball fix that we were there for! We were immediately greeted by World Series Dreaming’s own Anno! He gave us some pointers and tips, then we watched him get interviews on camera, and we headed over to get checked in. After dropping our bags off in our room, we headed back down to meet up with Anno, again, to wait in line to get our goodies and passes. We were able to spend just a little bit of time to walk around and find where things were before heading up to get into line for the Opening Ceremonies. We didn’t want to miss that, and I’m glad I didn’t because when Wayne Messmer belted out the anthem, and I was able to hear the soothing voice of Pat Hughes excitedly announce the very recent signing of Kerry Wood, the hair on my arms stood up and the goosebumps didn’t go away for a very long time. It was so much to take in that I was in the same room as so many of my former, current and future favorite Cub players.
Now, I must explain that I have a 12 year old son who has an incredible love for the game. He has had a bat in his hand since BEFORE he could walk. He loves the Cubs, but he loves the game even more. When we made our way down to the kid zone, and he saw the batting cages provided by the Illinois Baseball Academy, I knew any of my plans on attending any of the seminars were over. We spent most of the weekend down there where he was able to take batting lessons with players such as Ian Stewart, Brett Jackson, Rick Monday, Bryan LaHair and Anthony Rizzo! He wasn’t nearly as excited about WHO he was in the cage with as I was, he was just ecstatic that someone was providing him baseball in January. It wasn’t until Anthony Rizzo got called up last season that it clicked with him that he was in the cage with him. (Rizzo had just joined the Cubs a few weeks before the convention last year, so he didn’t quite get the hype). He then understood why I was excited to watch Rizzo get a chance to take some swings himself in the batting cage after his session with the kids were over!). I was talking with one of the guys who was pitching the balls in the cage from the Academy and asked him if he realized that he just pitched to Rizzo in his first public batting appearance as a Cub… the guy then lit up like a Christmas tree and said “How cool is that?”)
Along with the batting, many of the players also put on pitching sessions for the kids as well! My son, who is also a pitcher for his little league team, was able to take some lessons from Paul Maholm, Chris Carpenter, Jeff Beliveau, Jeff Fassero, and Mike Bielecki. Those guys were amazing. I really appreciated Fassero, who is currently a coach for the Tennessee Smokies Cubs minor league team, as he really took time with my son to help his form and how to throw various pitches.
Also, in the Kids Interactive Zone, LegoLand had an area set up. Thousands of Legos laid out on tables for the kids to play with. They had 2 sessions called the Lego Challenge. The “LegoMaster” challenged both Ryan Dempster and Reed Johnson to see who could build a Lego baseball the fastest. Ryan Dempster was first. It was fun to watch Ryan fumble with the litte pieces and put the ball together, but was was even better was watching Ryan taking his Lego baseball, after he was completed, and throwing it against the giant Lego Cubs logo! When it was Reed Johnson’s turn to build his, he asked for help. My son raised his hand and was chosen to help Reed to build the ball! Legos AND baseball? My kid was in heaven!
I did, against my son’s wishes, made him go to the “For Kids Only” seminar, where Reed Johnson, Todd Walker, Darwin Barney, Tony Campana, and David DeJesus all sat on a panel where the kids in the audience were able to get up and ask them questions. It was HILARIOUS! One kid asked them, “if you could be any animal, what would you be?”, one got up and asked Tony (who seemed to be a kid favorite, as he got most of the questions), “We know you hit the inside-the-park home run last year, but when are you going to hit a REAL homerun at Wrigley?” Only out of the mouths of babes! My son has been in the Peoria Chiefs Kids Club since 1987, where he was able to watch Darwin Barney start his career as a Cub. He was even able to take batting practice with him in Peoria, once, so Darwin is one of my son’s favorite. He was able to get up and ask him where his favorite Minor League park to play was. He smiled for the rest of the day because he got to ask Darwin a question!
The weekend went fast, but it sure helped to ease the offseason blues just a bit. It was just a few short weeks after that, pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona! On our train ride home after the convention, my son and I made a pact that we would literally “save our pennies” (loose change) for the whole year and go again in 2013. So, here we are, just 2 weeks before the Convention. Our hotel reservations and passes are purchased. We have our Sharpies ready to pack, new batteries for the camera bought, and all ready to start packing our bags! The team has a very different look from last year, but I’m sure it’s still going to be just as exciting as last year’s convention. WGN Radio has already posted their broadcasts of the seminars they are going to carry. This year, my dad and brother are going to join my son and I so my brother can stay with my son in the kid zone so I can maybe catch a couple of the seminars! I’d really like to sit in one where Theo and Jed’s brains get picked by the fans. I’d like to have them reassure me that we are waiting patiently for a reason. I am a bit sad that there isn’t a forum this year with the 1984 Cubs. I wanted to see that one last year, and missed it. However, I am a bit excited they are having the “Not for Women Only” seminar again, but I just don’t see it being the same without Kathy and Judy!
I’m sure throughout the weekend, I’ll be able to give some stories and updates from the convention. Feel free to follow me on twitter and will try to post any updates real time during the festivities if fun things happen before I can get back to and post a blog!