The 2012 Chicago Cubs Convention proved once again that Cubs fans are truly unbelievable. Regardless of the fact that the Cubs finished 25 games out of first and 20 games under .500 in 2011, the fans still showed up in bunches, resulting in yet another sellout at the annual fan fest. The event has been sold out 26 of its 27 years in existence.
The Cubs Convention allows fans an opportunity to brush shoulders with current Cubs players and stars of yesteryear. Harry Caray labeled the weekend “The Unofficial Opening Day.” While the temperature outside hovered under 20 degrees, it was nice and warm in the Hilton Chicago as the Convention provided the first hint that spring is around the corner.
Although Cubs fans had been packing the hotel lobby since early Friday morning, the 27th annual Cubs Convention officially began with the Opening Ceremonies at 5pm. Radio play-by-play man Pat Hughes served as the Master of Ceremonies. The ceremony feels magical as Cubs players, coaches, former players, broadcasters, minor league players and front office personnel are introduced one by one. The Grand Ballroom reached maximum capacity and had to be closed off over 30 minutes prior to the start of the event.
New Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein received a warm welcome as fans chanted his name and cheered loudly as he was introduced. Newcomers to the team who were acquired this winter were also overwhelmed by the support of the fans at the Convention. Young shortstop Starlin Castro received the loudest cheers among current players, while Cubs legends Rick Sutcliffe, Andre Dawson, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins were all loudly applauded.
After Pat Hughes finished introducing the current players, he said the words, “And I have some breaking news for you.” Immediately, Cubs fans knew exactly what was about to happen. The loudest cheer of the night took place and fans started chanting “Kerry! Kerry!” Hughes finished by saying, “He’s the Cubs most recent acquisition, and the name does look familiar. How about Kerry Wood?” Wood, a fan favorite in Chicago, had agreed to a one year contract to remain with the club for 2012 just before the Convention, and the Cubs chose to surprise the fans with the news at the start of the weekend.
After the Opening Ceremonies concluded, fans dashed around the hotel as part of the autograph treasure hunt. Staff members handed out maps of the hotel with various Cubs logos signifying mystery current and former players at those locations.
Friday evening provides fans with two major options each year, participating in Cubs Bingo hosted by Wayne Messmer with great prizes being given away, or taking in a live radio broadcast with various Cubs guests.
On Saturday, diehard Cubs fans are overwhelmed by the options that they have. There are question and answer sessions going on all day long, typically three at a time in different locations, which give fans a chance to get to know their idols. Among the most popular sessions this year were Behind the Scenes with Theo Epstein and Ron Santo: Beyond the Game. In Epstein’s session fans got to know the team’s new president. Fans were treated to a great hour of remembering Ron Santo and honoring his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame during the Santo session. People also shopped for Cubs merchandise, ate ballpark food and waited in line for autographs and photos all day Saturday. Saturday night a dance was held at the Hilton.
Valparaiso High School graduate Jeff Samardzija made an appearance at the Convention. Samardzija had a strong season pitching out of the Cubs bullpen in 2011 and is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation in Spring Training. He was a member of the “Player Development: From the Dominican Republic to Mesa” session and talked about his experience pitching in Winter Ball, Spring Training and the minor leagues. He also told the crowd about his preseason routine.
“There’s no set schedule for what you have to do. You can adjust day to day to what you need to do and what you need to improve on. It will be nice to have the new (Spring Training) facility with everything centrally located,” Samardzija said.
On Sunday, the Cubs Convention rounded out with two final sessions, one of which highlighted the Cubs minor league system. The festivities wrapped up by noon and left fans revved up for the date when pitchers and catchers report to Arizona in February, the first Spring Training game in March and Opening Day at Wrigley Field against the Nationals on April 5.