When I was thirteen years old, my dad bought passes for us to attend the 7th Annual Cubs Convention. I had no idea what to expect, since no kid really understands what a convention is. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that Convention was really just another word for Awesomeness.
We met players, listened to them tell stories, and stood in line for autographs. I literally did not possess the vocabulary to express how great that weekend was. Twenty-six years later, I still can’t express it.
My dad took me again the following year, and I walked side-by-side with Harry Caray down a hallway. Holy cow, indeed!
I haven’t been back since that 8th Annual Convention when I was fourteen, but now that my own son has developed a Cubs obsession, it seemed the perfect time.
So this past weekend he and I shutout the rest of the world, and immersed ourselves in the Cubs.
The convention began Friday evening, but we arrived a few hours early to hang out. Then we spent twelve hours there on Saturday, and another three hours on Sunday. Despite freezing temperatures outside, inside one hotel in Chicago summer seemed just around the corner.
I’ll be sure to recap the entire weekend in my own personal journal, but in this space I just want to share a few highlights and thoughts.
We saw the former Cubs closer in the lobby, and I asked him if he’d take a picture with my son. He obliged, didn’t seem the least bit inconvenienced, and chuckled when my son pointed out the drastic difference in their height. Good lord, look at the size of his hand! (By the way, how is he not in the Hall of Fame?)
Andre Dawson has the nicest autograph I’ve ever seen. Andre was signing autographs for charity on Friday night, so we paid some money and he signed a ball for my son. Instead of just scribbling on the ball, he meticulously wrote his name, and then when he gave my son’s pen back to him he smiled and said, “That’s a really nice pen!”
YouTube is great for young baseball fans. Bill Buckner also signed for the same charity. I suggested we pay for his autograph, too, and at first my son resisted. I explained that Buckner had a long career, was a fantastic hitter, and a long-time fan favorite. Then I remembered how my son probably knew him.
The 1986 World Series. I reminded my son of the play, and all of a sudden he knew Buckner. He got his autograph, shook his hand, took a picture with him, and became a fan. My son has watched hundreds of hours of baseball highlights on YouTube over the past couple of years, which helped him place Buckner in history. I couldn’t get him interested in Buckner’s career by just explaining it to him, but when he associated him with that clip he’d seen so many times, he took a deep interest in him. Not only in that one ground ball, but in his 22-year career. YouTube helped make that happen.
Former players like to be remembered. Bobby Dernier seems willing to talk to anyone, anytime. Steve Trout had more fun than anyone I saw the entire weekend. He sat at an autograph table and chatted with everyone who came up to him. Jody Davis seemed genuinely touched when the crowd waiting for his autograph started chanting, Jo-dy! Jo-dy!
The bathroom is a great place to see famous people. I peed next to Tom Dreesen when I was thirteen. I’ve never forgotten it.
At one point this weekend—I won’t say when or where because I don’t want everyone showing up at MY bathroom next year—my son and I saw the following people in or outside the bathroom within ten minutes: Kerry Wood, Rick Sutcliffe, Jed Hoyer, Jim Deshaies, Len Kasper, Jody Davis, Laura Ricketts, Willson Contreras, and Bobby Dernier (he was everywhere!).
We saw Derrek Lee a separate time. It’s easy to think of these guys as larger-than-life baseball players, superheroes almost. But it’s important to remember that they’re just people like the rest of us. Seeing Derrek Lee holding his young daughter’s hand helped humanize him, and I was surprised that none of the handful of people around asked him for his autograph at that moment.
Speaking of autographs…. Nothing makes adults act more childish than autographs. I loved getting autographs when I was a kid. I didn’t know it at the time, but what appealed to me most was the interaction with the person giving the autograph. I wanted to be close to him, talk to him, have a moment of his time. The actual autograph was secondary.
This is borne out by the fact that I have a baseball signed by Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins, two Hall of Famers, and I’m not entirely sure where it is at the moment. I know I still have it—I saw it a couple of months ago—but I’m not sure where it is. And maybe it’s worth some money, but I’ll never know because its value to me doesn’t come from dollars, but rather memories.
Sure, I like the ball, and it’s cool to have the autographs, but what’s more important to me is the memory of meeting Billy Williams outside Wrigley Field. I asked him to sign the ball, and he asked why I was wearing a Phillies hat. I explained it wasn’t a Phillies hat. The “P” stood for Portage, my little league team.
I don’t have that desire to meet players anymore. Had I been alone, instead of with my son, I wouldn’t have asked Rick Sutcliffe or Lee Smith for a picture. And I wouldn’t have stood in line to get anyone’s autograph. It seems like a great pursuit for kids, but it just seems a little weird to me to have a bunch of adults waiting in line for an hour to get some baseball player’s autograph. I’m sure part of the appeal is the monetary value, but it’s only worth anything because adults desire it.
Mike Remlinger signed a ball for my son, and as he handed the ball back to him, he said, “You’ve got great hair. I bet you could grow a great ‘fro!” My son couldn’t have smiled wider.
Pat Hughes had a booth where he was selling the baseball radio broadcaster CDs he has produced. My son and I purchased a CD, and Pat signed it. He then engaged us for a couple of minutes, and I told him how, during the seventh game of the World Series, my kids and I gathered in the basement and listened to his call, and how I recorded his call, and my kids’ reaction to his call with a video camera. He said just thinking of that gave him goosebumps.
Then the next day we walked past his booth again, and he said, “Hey, you guys were here yesterday!” Pat Hughes is awesome.
Friday afternoon we waited in line to pickup our registration packets. While we waited a middle-aged dude and younger guy who looked like his son walked to the front of the line, gave their names, got their packets, and left. I thought the young guy might be a Cubs prospect or something, but didn’t recognize him.
Friday night I saw the same two guys near a player’s entrance to the ballroom, and the older guy said something, the security guy opened the door, and the two of them walked right in.
On Sunday I saw the same two people entering the hotel, and only at that moment did it occur to me that the older guy was Doug Dascenzo, a Cubs outfielder from twenty-five years ago. Saturday afternoon he had signed a ball for my son and talked to the two of us for a few minutes, and I still didn’t recognize him as the guy I’d seen twice the night before.
Like my own Cubs Convention experience when I was a kid, I suspect that my son will never forget this weekend.
And that’s worth more than any autograph.
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