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A Rookie’s Guide to Cubs Convention

img_2790Attending a Cubs Convention is something that I had debated for a while, but I finally decided to make the trek to my first one this year. Being from out of state (home for me is Rochester, NY), it was going to be a bit more expensive than for the average Chicagoan due to the flights, but I decided to treat myself this year.

I booked a room in the Sheraton Grand Chicago (where the convention is held) for two nights, mostly because I needed a hotel to stay at anyway, but also because I can’t handle large crowds and loud noises for an extended period of time, both of which are in surplus at the convetion. This way I could escape up to my room whenever I needed to decompress from all the activity and it ended up being a lifesaver.

I don’t want to sound like a total curmudgeon, since I did have a lot of fun at Cubs Con. But realistically, if you’re more introverted like me, I recommend getting a hotel room either in the Sheraton or at one of the many hotels nearby, even if you’re from Chicago. It was so nice to be able to go back upstairs and sit in silence, or even just have a bathroom always available.

This post is geared mainly towards people who have never attended a Cubs Con, as I wanted to share my take as a rookie attendee and what to expect if you decide to attend.

First thing: check in to the hotel is separate from check in to the Convention. If you’re flying in, a taxi ride from O’Hare to the Sheraton will run you about $50 with tip and will take about a half an hour. I found that the taxi rate was the same as an Uber so it was easier for me to just hop into the taxi line and be on my way.

When I arrived at the hotel at around 12:30 PM on Friday the lobby was already packed. There were plenty of hotel staff to assist with check in and it took about 10 minutes. I then went up to my room to drop off my bags and went back down to the floor where the Cubs Con check in was. The lines surprisingly weren’t that long and I again only waited about 10 minutes. Since I bought the hotel package I received my passes and the goodie bags right there, but if you buy your passes separately with no hotel room I believe they are mailed to you.

The goodie bags were underwhelming: a drawstring bag with the Cubs logo on it with a calendar, program, and miscellaneous inserts advertising travel packages, etc. The most important thing you’ll pick up (besides your actual pass) is the scratch off ticket that may contain a voucher for an autograph. Sadly, mine were only for $5 off $50 at the Cubs store. More on the vouchers later for those who are unfamiliar.

The check in is on the same level as the vendors, so I meandered around to see what was available. As you could expect, there were plenty of people selling signed merchandise, photos, clothes, and all other types of Cubs memorabilia. There was also an official Cubs Store set up. A new addition this year was the “Through My Eyes” booth from Ian Happ and Patrick Vale, and at the time I was walking around Ian was signing prints. I knew before I arrived that I wanted to pick one up and Happ is one of my favorite players (you know this if you follow me on Twitter), so it was really cool to meet him and get an autograph in a pretty non-stressful situation – the only people allowed to get in line were those who were going to buy a print.

The Opening Ceremonies started at 6 PM on Friday night and I had heard that people start lining up pretty early before the doors open in hopes of getting a seat, but I also heard that it can become very Hunger Games-style, with adults pushing past children to get seats. That sounded like a nightmare to me, so I planned on going down at around 5 and just standing in the back and not getting into a fight with anyone. My plan worked out fine and I was still able to see everyone and everything thanks to the two big monitors on either side of the stage.

I did not stay for the Late Night with Ryan Dempster panel, though I have heard it was really funny and is always a crowd pleaser. I instead met up with some fellow Cubs writers and bloggers next door at Lizzie McNeil’s, which was a lot of fun.

Saturday is where most of the events take place: panels, autograph sessions, and other random appearances from players in areas like the Social Media room. You’ll definitely need a plan of attack. I think most attendees are either interested in the panels or the autographs. You probably won’t be able to do both, especially if there’s a specific player you want to get an auto from.

Now, for the vouchers: If you want to get an auto from one of the more popular players, you’re going to need to pull a voucher with their name on it. These players were designated as “Vouchers Required” in the program, though I did hear that Kyle Hendricks stayed to sign for people without vouchers. This is not guaranteed, though. Some players signed for season ticket holders only on a separate level of the hotel, and some of those still required vouchers.

As I had no voucher and am not a big autograph collector anyway, I definitely wanted to go to the panels. I ended up going to Toeing the Rubber, Business Operations Update, Cubs Talk, and Off the Field. The other panels that I did not attend included Joe Maddon & the Coaching Staff, Baseball Operations Update, In the Batter’s Box, Kids Only Press Conference, Cubs in Cooperstown, and Cubs Jeopardy. The Cubs Bingo event is also incredibly popular (and crowded) and took place at 7:30 PM on Saturday night.

I really enjoyed the Cubs Talk and Off the Field panels, as both included Ian Happ and his personality really shined. We all know he’s more reticent and stoic, but he was genuinely funny and warm and I enjoyed hearing him and all of the others (Carl Edwards Jr, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora Jr, Daniel Descalso, and Rick Sutcliffe) discuss behind-the-scenes and off the field topics.

Sunday is the least crowded and last day of the Convention. I enjoyed being able to walk around and get close up seats in the panels. I saw the second half of the Sunday Morning panel and most of the Down on the Farm panel. I really enjoyed the Down on the Farm talk with Jason McLeod and Jaron Madison, as they discussed the minor league system and what players to pay attention to. I was a little bummed that no players were included in the panel, but maybe none were available. Taylor Davis would have been an interesting guy to hear from.

Checkout from the hotel was at noon, so I had to gather my bags and leave shortly after Down on the Farm wrapped up. Given how busy the event was, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if the hotel staff was a bit more forgiving with the check-out process and time.

Cubs Convention is a whirlwind event and I honestly would not have made it through if I hadn’t booked a room in the Sheraton. I will say that it was not a perfect event, but it was overall a positive experience and I am glad that I went. I am not in a hurry to go back, though.

My main criticism is that I was a bit underwhelmed by the player presence. The comparison that came to mind was when I went to Disneyland as a kid and was so excited to see all of the characters walking around, but I ended up seeing only Chip and Dale. Where’s Mickey Mouse?! I was kind of expecting more players to be out and about interacting with fans. That being said, I know that some of them made appearances in the minor league rooms and Social Media room. Also, I understand that a guy like Kris Bryant or Javy Báez can’t just walk around without being mobbed by fans.

Also, if your main goal of attending is to get a specific autograph, you’re probably going to be disappointed if your desired player is popular. I felt so bad for the kids standing around holding signs saying “In search of Contreras voucher.” I would have given them one if I had one.

But if you want to meet up with friends or new Cubs fans and just take in the atmosphere, you should attend Cubs Convention at least once. It’s an experience I will not readily forget and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to attend!

You can view my photos from the convention here.

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