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by Derek Smart
Friday morning began normally enough; go to work, have some breakfast, get stuff done. I had no plans for the weekend other than to bolt the door and shelter myself from the approaching snowstorm. But that was before Alex emailed me and presented the opportunity to attend some of the Cubs Convention, as he knew someone with an extra pass that I could use for a time.
The offer was too good to pass up, weather be damned, so I arranged to pick up the pass Saturday afternoon and spend a little of my weekend in the basement of the Chicago Hilton soaking up fan enthusiasm and baseball atmosphere. I was only there for a couple of hours, and while I missed any of the events or Q & A sessions, I still saw enough to pass on a few observations:
With most worthwhile experiences in my life, the most memorable moments come less often from the sights seen or the things done than from the people encountered on the way. My time spent at the Cubs Convention was no exception.
I was there only because Chris Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus was kind enough to loan me her extra pass for a time, and since she was there as part of her job, I figured she would hand me the pass, we'd chat for moment, then off I'd go, doing whatever it is one does at such things.
But instead she sat me down at her booth, and as she was working, interacting with conventioneers, she was gracious enough to have a long conversation with me ranging over a wide variety of topics, but always orbiting around and returning to that most wondrous of matters: baseball. It was both thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly nerve wracking, as conversations with strangers, particularly ones whose work I appreciate and admire, are far from my strong suit.
Either she didn't notice my nerves or she didn't mind, and the time I got to spend with her was the highlight of the convention for me. There's a lot to be said for people who are both intelligent and interesting, but there's even more to be said for individuals who combine those qualities with generosity and kindness. Chris has all of these attributes in spades, and it was true pleasure to be afforded the opportunity to speak with her.
I was a little surprised to see Jim Hendry wandering around the convention floor. I don't know if he was on his way somewhere or if he was simply mingling with the masses, but he certainly seemed cheery enough as he chatted with fans and shook the hands of small children. He was well and truly gone before I could summon the courage to approach him, but that's likely for the best. Without a script I might have introduced myself by saying, "Mr. Hendry, you look thinner than on TV," and that, my friends, would have been that.
Also in attendance, whether by ticket purchase or team invitation, was Ronnie "Woo Woo" Wickers. I can't say I've ever understood the fascination with Ronnie, but I certainly can't deride him or his story, and it was heart-warming to see fans coming up, shaking his hand, asking for autographs and photos with him. He seemed to truly bask in the love and attention of the folks he met, and while his cheer can grate on me sometimes, seeing how much genuine enjoyment he got from his interactions with other Cub fans makes the occasional bit of noise pollution easy to bear.
Speaking of photos with luminaries, tucked into a corner of the merchandise/memorabilia section was an area where folks could get their picture taken with different Cub players throughout the day. When I first noticed the line and the podium, I saw a man of Latino descent who looked to be of medium, perhaps even slight build, with goatee-type facial hair, sitting in a chair on the little blue-curtained stage that had been erected for the pictorial mayhem. I had no idea who it could be. There was nothing the least bit familiar about him.
It took looking at the schedule to realize that the young man taking his turn as a photographic prop was Cub pitcher, Sergio Mitre. There were three things that threw me off:
Mitre didn't have his cap on. Recognizing a ballplayer sans chapeau can be as difficult as identifying the post-rhinoplasty Jennifer Grey.
Mitre managed to appear much smaller than he should have. I looked up his personal stats on BBREF.com, and he's listed at 6'4" and 210 lbs. If pressed to guess, I would have said he was about 5'11" and 170-180 lbs.
A contributing factor to his seemingly smaller stature had to have been his obvious pining to be anywhere else but where he was. I can't say I blame him much, as it didn't appear to be a barrel of laughs. But while I've never seen a lot of smiles out of Mitre, nor have I seen him looking, as he did at his moment, like a man who deeply regretted his earlier refusal of the offered installation of a cyanide tooth.
The merchandise/memorabilia area was considerably smaller than I expected. I can't say exactly what I thought it would be, but in the end I figured it would bigger with a little more variety. Of course, that doesn't mean one couldn't have walked away with something besides the standard baseball card/autographed photo/Wrigley Field T-shirt fare.
Had I really wanted to make an impression on my fellow conventioneers, I could have gotten hopped-up on free samples of Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi, donned a football helmet commemorating the 25th year of the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, and grabbed a dozen fist-sized hand-carved wooden footballs, pelting the crowd with them as I recklessly drove through the exhibit hall on a Craftsman Riding Lawn Mower on which I had installed a 12" Brett Favre doll as a hood ornament.
Of course, I wouldn't really do that. I'd skip the Pepsi.
That's what I saw in my time at Cubs Con. Anyone else who attended, I'd love to hear your stories, so comment away!