I got back to AZ from Chicago and Cubs Convention Sunday night, and have kept on rolling with the Cubbie immersion, including preparing for the Randy Hundley Cubs Fantasy Camp, which starts next week. I have also been spending time at Fitch Park observing the young Cubs at Camp Bussy (more on that later this week). Being that this is my first Hundley camp as a participant/camper, my main goals are to have fun, and survive it. In the past I have watched the week-ending big Saturday game against the coaches (former Cubs players), and witnessed many a camper nearly incapacitated from a long week of playing baseball.
Back to the convention, I liked the new venue at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. It’s a fantastic location, close to Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park, and has a great view of the city and Chicago River. Last year was my first Cubs Con, so even though the event had been held at the Hilton for 27 years, it was new to me. Having to learn my way around each venue on the fly, I found the new location at Sheraton more straightforward, accessible, and easier to navigate. The staff at the Sheraton was tremendously helpful and courteous, and the view from my room was outstanding.
The opening ceremonies had a couple videos; the first featured some Cubs history, and what the Ricketts family hopes to accomplish as owners. The second video focused more on how the new management is implementing their strategy of the Cubs Way to bring fans a winning organization. These videos were especially interesting to me as I had been asked by the Cubs to lend some of my raw footage from my AZL Rookie League video featuring Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Daniel Vogelbach, and others for the production. Of course I was happy to do so. I wasn’t sure how much of my footage Gameplan Creative (who handled the production for the Cubs) was going to use, but was pleasantly surprised when I saw many of my shots liberally mixed into the two features. The first video was narrated by actor and Cubs fan Gary Sinise. If you weren’t at the convention you can get pumped up by viewing these two outstanding Cubs videos, here, and here.
After the videos, were the always exciting introductions of the Cubs players by WGN broadcaster extraordinaire Pat Hughes. First it was the former greats, including Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams, and Mr. Cub Ernie Banks. This led up to the intro of the current team, in which Anthony Rizzo received the loudest ovation (at least to my ear). And Cubs Con 2013 was off and running, like Campana on his way to steal second base.
There were plenty of great forums and panel discussions all weekend, with the Wrigley Field Restorations being one of the most anticipated. So much so, that upon my late arrival, I found the room had reached capacity and was closed. If you haven’t already read what was discussed, you can see great write-ups, along with conceptual drawings at Chicago Cubs Online, and Bleed Cubbie Blue.
I spent time in the Hohokam booth throughout the weekend as they promoted spring training, and the new Cubs spring training complex set to open for the 2014 spring season. There were noticeably fewer vendors than last year; word was it had to do with substantial rate hikes on booths from the previous year. Pat Hughes had a table offering great Cubs related items, with his fantastic audio CD’s on baseball’s greatest announcers and his book, A Perfect 10 about broadcast partner and Cubs Hall of Fame legend, Ron Santo. Chicago artist John Hanley exhibited and sold some of his outstanding work, including many beautiful Cubs paintings and prints. Fergie Jenkins had a booth to raise money for the Fergie Jenkins Foundation.
Many of Fergie’s friends were on hand, including Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry, and Rollie Fingers. Fergie’s table was next to the Hohokam’s, giving me a chance to chat with some of the former MLB greats, including Lee Smith. Every time I shake big Lee’s hand I’m amazed at the size of his paw. Smith hand holding a baseball looks like a normal size hand holding a ping-pong ball.
I asked Lee Arthur if he was going to be coaching at the Randy Hundley camp, he said yes. I told him I was going to be playing in the camp for the first time, to which Lee asked “are you any good?” When I hesitated, he said “aww man, I’m going to trade your ass,”then laughed. He also asked if there was going to be a Fergie & Friends game this year. I said there wasn’t, but that I had faced him as a batter in one of the past games. His reply, “did I sit you down?” I informed him that I got on base with a seeing-eye-single, Lee said, “the defense must have let me down.” Some guys never give up that competitive spirit!
When I couldn’t get into the Wrigley Field Restoration presentation, I ended up in the next room at the Not for Women Only event. This panel featured pitchers James Russell, Travis Wood, Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, and Scott Baker. They were asked a series of mostly non-baseball related questions, where I learned some deep and not so deep things, such as Travis Wood considers himself a redneck. James Russell if he were not playing baseball would “probably be rotting away somewhere.” Also to the dismay of much of the audience, Scott Feldman told us he is a big San Francisco 49’er fan. James Russell’s man crush would be Matthew McConaughey, and Feldman’s, Colin Kaepernick. OK, mostly the not so deep…E! Entertainment Television, eat your heart out.
On Sunday morning I attended the Down on the Farm session, which had a ton of great information on the Cubs minor league system, the current organizational philosophy and some player evaluations. If you want a good detailed write-up on this panel check out Neil’s report at the CCO. As usual, throughout the weekend there were plenty of player autograph sessions and interactive zones for kids. It also should be pointed out that the annual convention is a benefit to raise funds for Chicago Cubs Charities.
I had a great weekend at Cubs Con and Chicago is one of my all-time favorite places, but with the high temp in the windy city being about 20 degrees on Sunday, I was happy to jet back to the warmth of the Valley of the Sun. I’ll have some news later this week on what’s happening down here at Camp Bussy, as many of the guys are already working out and preparing for the start of spring training.