By Alex Obal
It’s the only place on Earth where a Brian Schlitter jersey and matching pinstriped pants constitute conservative attire; where Jorge Soler’s autographs function as currency; where anyone wearing a green or yellow shirt can serve as a landmark. That will never change.
But with the Cubs widely favored to return to the postseason and win the World Series, there was something new at the 2016 Cubs Convention: a confidence that the hard-luck franchise is about to enter a golden age.
Cubs players, coaches and alumni were greeted like rock stars by the blue-and-red-clad masses who made the pilgrimage to the sold-out convention at the packed Sheraton Grand Chicago.
This year, nobody was meekly asking whether the Cubs had a realistic hope of winning half their games. Instead, they reveled in the notion of the Cubs finally putting 1908 in the rearview mirror.
While heightened expectations usually produce the Cubs-induced anxiety of a possible letdown, the fans weren’t outwardly nervous. Of course, it is only January.
“They’re going to be good for a while. They’re young,” said Alexandra Shloss, 38.
These are Cubs fans, after all.
“They’re always my favorites, anyway,” Shloss said. “I always think they’re good, even when they’re not.”
The loose and confident tone of the weekend was established Friday night. Players opened the weekend by cracking self-deprecating jokes with former pitcher Ryan Dempster. It was the Cubs’ version of a late-night comedy talk show.
Pitchers John Lackey and Jon Lester, two longtime friends who as members of the Boston Red Sox in 2011 were infamously reported to have eaten fried chicken and beer in their clubhouse during games, enjoyed a box of Popeyes while chatting with Dempster.
Lester joked about his tireless efforts to recruit his old teammate from St. Louis to the Cubs this winter, comparing himself to a “crazy ex-girlfriend.”
“I’m like, should I text him? Should I not text him? What should I say?”
As usual, the background noise included steady banter about whether you’d trade, say, Anthony Rizzo for Jake Arrieta – their autographs, that is – and many attendees carried signs to show whose signatures they were looking to trade for.
Fans gathered as early as 5 a.m. to line up to meet players and get autographs. The long lines were the price of winning.
“It’s a lot more crowded,” said Scott Simmons, 21. “It’s still fun, but it just makes it tougher to get involved.”
Or to get anywhere.
“There were long lines just to go down the escalators,” Shloss lamented.
Ironically, after Saturday’s festivities, hundreds of fans gathered around the hotel bar watching a football game, rooting for Arizona against the Chicago Bears’ rival Green Bay Packers.
And so day two of the 2016 Cubs Convention ended with something else new: the blue-and-red-clad masses celebrating a playoff win by the Cardinals.