Cubs Convention report

Tony Kozelichki

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For the past 15 years, I've been attending the annual Cubs Convention after sitting out several years (I attended the first one in 1986). As usual, there were some highs and lows for collectors.

As far as news from the convention, several sites, including the Cubs and the Tribune, have reports, so I won't go into that. I will talk about the venue, crowds, autographs, etc.

For the third year, the convention was held at the Sheraton downtown. The original site, the Hyatt, was deemed too small many years ago. The Hilton, home for nearly 25 years, lost out three years ago when the Cubs signed the Sheraton as partners. The team sold out the convention this year and even sold rooms at another Sheraton property and bussed people over. There's no doubt there were more people than the past two years, in fact, there were too many. Sessions were standing room only throughout the weekend. While this is a fundraiser for Cubs Charities, the team is doing itself no favors by packing attendees in like sardines. Lots of complaints were heard throughout the weekend, often blaming the Sheraton. The hotel isn't necessarily the problem. The number of people in the hotel is.

One area where the hotel lacks in comparison to the Hilton is the available number of ballrooms in which to hold sessions. This year, two areas were set aside for much of the convention for kids, and two larger areas were set aside for most sessions. Some sessions, such as the opening ceremony, utilized both large areas. The Hilton had three large ballrooms, one smaller area, and two very large areas in the basement for vendors and autographs. Much better set-up at the Hilton in this regard, although it wasn't nearly the problem the previous two years (see above).

For autograph seekers, while many complained about long lines (as they always do), I found the set-up to be a marked improvement over previous years. This year, all autographing was done in the basement of the building, away from the rest of the convention. In the past, autographing was done everywhere, making for long and confusing lines, spilling out throughout the hotel. This year, everything was in one place. The set-up had 6 lines and accommodated 78, 1-hour player signings. Friday night's lone signing session featured only minor leaguers. Word spread quickly which lines would feature Kris Bryant and Addison Russell and those lines filled quickly. Also signing on Friday were Kyle Schwarber, C.J. Edwards, Albert Almora, and Pierce Johnson. All are 1st round draft picks.

Saturday's signings saw one of the lines set aside for "A" listers and one for "Kids (13 and under) Only." The "A" listers were available to fans who received a pull tab upon check in and who were lucky enough to draw one of the big names. Approximately 150 autographs would be allowed per hour. The "A" listers were Jon Lester, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Kerry Wood, Starlin Castro, Jake Arrieta, Joe Maddon, Anthony Rizzo and Lee Smith. Sunday's "A" listers were Ted Lilly Soler and Billy Williams (more on the later).

All the other lines were set up to allow two lines to form for each signing table, one for the current player and one for the player that would appear an hour later. A third area was set aside for lines to form for players who would sign two hours later. For example, one line was set to start at 10:00 for Kyle Hendricks, while a companion line was ready for the 11:00 signing by Justin Grimm, and then a third line would start forming for the noon signing by Bob Howry. Once in a line, you were given a ticket voucher for the autograph (approx. 150) and had to stay in line to get your autograph. I thought the system worked extremely well and limited long lines from snaking there way throughout the convention hall. The biggest names, in my opinion, at the four general signing lines were Addison Russell, Randy Hundley, Bill Madlock and George Altman and early 60's all-star who was the oldest ex-Cub in attendance. Fergie Jenkins signed for free in the kids only line, which I'll never understand as kids don't know who he is (Milt Pappas was kids only on Sunday), but he's an easy signature to obtain as his foundation (to benefit JDRF) sets up and he charges as little at $20 for a signed ball. He also had Lee Smith and Rollie Fingers at his table throughout the weekend.

The Sunday "A" list session was supposed to feature Billy Williams, who was a no show. Williams apparently only attended the opening ceremony and did not attend the single session he was listed. Lee Smith was the substitute, and not a popular one, much like a year ago when Kerry Wood no-showed his session and those in line were treated to a Ryan Sweeney autograph, instead.

I went to the convention this year with very limited autograph wants. I had hoped to come way with a Travis Wood signed baseball (2013 all star and one I wanted to add to my collection of Cub all star baseballs which now totals nearly 65--I am only missing about 25 players from the 30's-mid 60's, all of whom are deceased). I also wanted to add Howry, Jacque Jones and Mark DeRosa to 07 and 08 team balls which are about 80% complete. Howry was no problem as my wife waiting in line 10 minutes to get him. I waited two hours to land Wood, and didn't really mind the wait since it was important to get the ball, which he inscribed "2013 All Star" and Jones was also pretty easy to get, and an all around nice guy. DeRosa was not seen anywhere signing. No scheduled signing and he bolted out of the sessions he attended without signing for anyone.

I did see Rick Sutcliffe, among others, signing for fans after their sessions, which is sometimes hit or miss. In the past, Sut signed but in recent years pulled a DeRosa and left. He's among the more popular ex-Cubs and an overall great guy (from my experience at WGN), so it's good to see him taking care of the fans.

The Cubs also sell game used stuff and their own Authentics store via a live auction, which I always attend. Some good info came out of this. First, I'm looking to acquire a Ron Santo flag that flew over Wrigley Field to go along with the Ernie Banks I was able to land a few years ago. One of the clubhouse guys looked around and found none, which made things a lot easier on me rather than wait around for hours hoping one would come up for bidding. I also heard from one of the clubhouse guys who complained about MLB Authentics and how they literally grab players jerseys and other equipment as soon as the game is over, tag them, then sell them, leaving the clubhouse auction thin in regards to quality stuff (their sale goes to Cubs Care--I don't know where the money goes from MLB Authentics). By the way, MLB Authentics prices are extreme. For example, a section of the recently removed bleachers sold for $150 at Authentics while the auction price was $85, and game used baseballs from this past 100th anniversary season were priced at $200 each, and they are mostly pitched balls that hit the dirt and are thrown out by the umpire. I didn't see any of them sell. The Cubs clubhouse sale and auction used to be great. Not so much anymore, although I did see the clubhouse guys auction off a game worn jersey and pants of Javier Baez for $1200.

One of the other complaints I would have in regards to equipment is that in the old days (not so long ago, by the way), players were issued two sets on home and away uniforms for the season. Now, you can buy at the Authentics store about a dozen, game "issued" not necessarily worn jerseys of a particular player. Unless you can look up the hologram code, you don't know if the jerseys, pants, shoes, etc. were ever actually game used.

As for vendors, it was a disaster. The Cubs Convention at one time rivaled the National for my dollar. This year, I didn't buy a thing until Sunday before I left when I was able to get a Cooperstown Collection 1943 jersey for under $50. This used to be the place to get quality old memorabilia. Not anymore. What few vendors they had (each paying close to $1000 per table) no longer carry programs, scorecards, etc. No Steiner Sports, which has been there in years past, and no Dan Knoll, one of the classiest and finest dealers in existence when it comes to quality Cubs memorabilia.

Finally, I should say this was not the most successful Cubs Convention is terms of autographing, etc. My son, who could chase autographs with the best of them, died this past April, also making it the first convention I've attended without him. Bittersweet, yes, but still a good weekend for re-acquainting myself with people I only see once or twice a year, a feel good weekend for Cubs fans, and special memories of Anton who gets to see all of it from high above.
 
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