Now THAT is How You Kick Off a Season

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The 31st annual Chicago Cubs Convention has come to an end, and I must say that this was one of the best ones that I have ever been to over my 10 years of attending. The excitement level of this year’s event surpassed any other year that I can remember, and there have been a few years that have held their fair share of excitement.

In 2007 the Cubs held their first event after the Tribune Company sold the team to Sam Zell and John McDonough took over as President of the team. They opened up the checkbook and signed Ted Lilly, Mark DeRosa and Alfonso Soriano. That was an exciting year.

In 2008 they were coming off a division winner and signed what many thought was the biggest fish in the free agent water Kosuke Fukudome :sigh: fans were excited.

In 2009 coming off back to back division titles fans were very excited and optimism had not been this high in years.

In 2010, when Tom Ricketts became the owner of the team, fans knew change was on the way.

In 2012, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod took over and promised to rebuild this team from the ground up to make a consistent contender.

All those years had high levels of excitement and optimism, but all also pale in comparison to what this year offered. Coming off a 97 win team who made their way to the National League Championship series, added stars Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey to a group that already had Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Jon Lester, 2015 Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and led by 2015 Manager of the year Joe Maddon. Fans had every reason to be happy. Fans had every reason to be excited. Fans had every reason to be optimistic. This was a special group of guys last year and the team was only improved over this offseason.

Everything started as is the case every year with the opening ceremony which was overflowing to the point they had to break down a portable wall to increase the room size to bring in more people; there still was not enough room to fit everyone. The loudest cheers came for the award winners of course, but Heyward, Zobrist and Lackey also stole the night and were given a very warm welcome.

While there is always serious business that takes place, there is also more than enough room for the fun and games over the course of the weekend. That started Friday night after the opening ceremony.

For the second year in a row, Ryan Dempster hosted his own late night talk show “Friday Night with Dempster.” He had an img_2018.jpegimpressive lineup that featured Lester and Lackey, Madden, Arrieta, Heyward and a trio of popular Cubs Rizzo, Bryant and Schwarber who came out arm in arm in arm.

Dempster had fun, the crowd had fun and needless to say there was not much that was left off limits. Dempster joked with Bryant about his engagement saying “he wanted to do it sooner, but he wanted an extra year of control” which garnered laughter from the thousand plus fans in attendance.

Dempster also borrowed the “mean tweets” segment from Jimmy Kimmel while “interviewing” Heyward. He took some of the tamer tweets Cardinal Nation sent and wrote snarky responses for Heyward to read as his “replies”.

The rest of the weekend had the usual favorite seminars such as Cubs Jeopardy where I inadvertently stole the show, or at least got the most attention other than the players.

We were told when the game started not to yell out the answers to help the players, so I was following the rules. A question came up: “He had 10 RBI in a double header”. Now come on Pat, how many times did you two talk about this on the air? I jokingly raised my hand and waved it and Pat looked at me and called for an answer. Of course, “Who is Ron Santo” came out of my mouth. Pat looked amused and after the crowd finished cheering he said “why did I call on you?” which got laughs and  “why did you answer” which got more. Then he jokingly invited me to join the game next year which got applause which I casually turned around and waved to. That was fun.

The “Meet the New Cubs” seminar was also enjoyable as we got to (as the name says) meet the new guys. Heyward, Lackey and Zobrist were joined by Adam Warren and Rex Brothers, all of whom seem like they will be great fits in the clubhouse. But of course what would a Q&A session with the fans be if there was not a tense moment or two.

One fan asked Heyward and Lackey what they thought of Maddon calling back to back suicide squeezes, but the other guy made things a little uncomfortable. He brought up that he had just been at a signing with Javier Baez and you knew where he was going. He asked if Lackey was yelling at his catcher, mentioned that Baez seemed to know that pitch was coming. The guy just seemed to be trying to get under Lackey’s skin. To his credit though Lackey took it in stride and answered calm, cool and collected, saying he was actually yelling at himself. The fan had to be reminded that Lackey pitched for the Cubs now and Heyward added that they wanted to close “that chapter of their lives quickly” referring to their time with the St. Louis Cardinals.

img_2043.jpegBut the highlight of the Saturday might have been the “For Kids Only Press Conference”. The beauty of this one is that while everyone is allowed in, only the children are allowed to ask questions.  You can seen the fear in their eyes because you never know what will come out of their mouths.Just like the highlight of the session after the request of one of the children.

Yes, that is Rizzo doing the “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”

Overall, this year’s convention was the best I have ever been to. I cannot wait for Spring Training and the 2016 campaign to start.


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