This year was different, the optimism remained the same but the message has changed. Every year the Cubs hope to have a winning season, this year they expect it. The blue “W” was everywhere you looked from the passes, to the large banner in front of the podium at the Opening Ceremonies to the top of every sign and advertisement in the hotel….the Cubs are all about winning and on Friday night they made sure everyone in attendance knew just that.
And so it began, the 99th season and the 22nd Annual Cubs Convention. The ballroom was full 45 minutes before it was supposed to begin. The crowds swarmed, the fans screamed and the players showed, all of this to celebrate one of the worst seasons in recent memory. That sums up the Cubs, the franchise and their fans. Win or mostly lose, the fans will always be there, but then again, this weekend is for them, for you and for me. The 22nd Annual Convention kicked off with a bang and the opening ceremonies featured the usual suspects in Banks, Williams, Santo and Sandberg. However, the biggest applause was caused by a Zambrano, a Soriano, a hit by Barrett and a ….Samardzija. No, seriously, those were the four biggest ovations. As many know, earlier in the day, Jeff Samardzija, the Notre Dame pitcher and All-American Wide Receiver, agreed to forgo his football career and signed a 5 year, $10 million deal (with a $2.5 million dollar signing bonus) to pitch for the Cubs. Most in the crowd were unaware of this, so when Pat Hughes announced the contract, the crowd got hyped. That was followed by King Carlos and ultimately by the biggest free agent in the team’s history, Alfonso Soriano. While it was hard to decipher who got a bigger applause, Zambrano and Soriano will be the keys to this team’s success.
After the opening ceremony concluded, fans and players dispersed throughout the Hilton and Towers for autographs, beverages and dinner. As I was walking to the facilities, I noticed Len Kasper and introduced myself. He quickly asked me to call him Len instead of Mr. Kasper and when I began to apologize, he said, “No apology needed, just call me Len.” Seriously, this may be one of the nicest and most polite men in the Country. Later on I sidestepped as to not run into Jerome Walton and I almost bumped shoulders with Bill Madlock.
The highlight of the evening came when Neil and I sat down for dinner. We had been waiting for a table for nearly an hour and were rather hungry. As we were taken into Buckingham’s private dining room, we sat down, grabbed our napkins and dropped our jaws. Ten feet away sat Glenn Beckert, Randy Hundley and the immortal Ron Santo. We sat there in awe as the men, surrounded by their loved ones, swapped war stories and rehashed the good times. In an effort to be as polite as possible, we let the men eat their dinner in peace. However, as they stood up to leave, I hopped up and calmly walked towards them, and by calmly I mean, I ran, knocking over two tables and one waiter in route to the ultimate picture. And the ultimate picture is what I got. I chatted quickly with Ronny and Randy, and when I told Mr. Hundley I could not wait for my first fantasy camp, he lit up with a smile and back-handed me across my chest as he said, “Boy, we cannot wait to have you.” Yea, that did not suck, what a moment, I cannot even put it into words.
I walked out of the Chicago Hilton and Towers on Friday night having just met Santo and Hundley only imagining what tomorrow may bring. Ahh, Day 1 of the 22nd annual Cubs Convention, in the immortal words of Frankie Valli, “Oh What a Night!”
Sports Central Live featured 4 different panels. The first panel included a thin Ryan Dempster, Mark DeRosa and Scott Eyre. To say these guys have a sense of humor would be an understatement….Captain America, Mr. Dempster? Dempster said he has had a very good off-season and is looking forward to the season.
Lou Piniella, Jim Hendry, Pat Hughes and Ron Santo were in the second panel. Piniella was greated with a standing ovation and Santo by a thunderous applause. Piniella said all of the right things and when asked about Aramis Ramirez and his history of not hustling, Piniella’s response was, “I have never had a player that did not hustle for me.” Piniella got fired up and did the same to the crowd.
Michael Barrett and Alfonso Soriano were in the third panel, Derrek Lee was scheduled but did not attend. Barrett seemed extremely focused on the upcoming season and Soriano smiled the entire 30 minutes he was on the stage. When asked if he was given the choice between playing center, left or right field which would he want to play? His response….centerfield.
Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly were on the last panel of the night. Wood was greeted with a standing ovation and Zambrano received a Santo-like greeting. Wood has lost a lot of weight and was extremely humble. Zambrano was….well, Carlos Zambrano.
The CCO will do a full recap on these interviews early next week, some very interesting information will be passed along.
Saturday morning is the “Meet the Cubs Management” session….that should be very interesting to say the least.