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12/08/10 10:00 AM EST

Vine Line: It's a 'family' affair

Cubs Convention helps bring fans and players together

With the 26th annual Cubs Convention coming up this Jan. 14-16, Vine Line takes a look back to its January 2004 issue with a look at the annual "family" affair.

To hear former Cubs players tell it, the Cubs Convention held annually each January might be better termed the "Cubs Family Reunion." If that's the case, fans could expect this year's to be the biggest ever.

Weekend passes for the convention, now in its 19th year, sold out in less than three hours.

"We're expecting 15,000 people that weekend," said Cubs Vice President of Marketing and Broadcasting John McDonough. "The [Chicago] Hilton's block of 1,600 rooms was sold out in August.

"The convention concept was designed to bridge the end of one season to the beginning of another. Our fans have an insatiable desire to read about the Cubs, to see the Cubs, and to maintain a relationship with the club."

According to former Cubs players, the feeling is mutual.

They look forward to interacting with the fans each year at the convention and also anxiously anticipate seeing their former teammates.

The convention "is like a family reunion," said ex-catcher Jody Davis. "I look forward to it every year. It would be hard not to go now."

Added former Cubs centerfielder Bobby Dernier: "Do we miss playing? Sure. But we really miss the people. The convention gives us the opportunity to rekindle that, and it's amazing that even though time passes, there isn't much that changes, in terms of people."

In 1986, as an active ballplayer, Dernier attended the very first Cubs Convention. He said experiencing it as a former player is even better.

"All of us former players agree that you can connect more on a one-to-one basis with the fans, as well as with the guys who played before and after you," Dernier said. "Guys flourish in that environment, and that's why we come back each year."

The Cubs Convention also provides plenty of opportunities for ex-players to interact with current stars-and have a lot of fun doing it.

"A few years ago I had the opportunity to perform with the Second City Players at a convention in a skit with Kyle Farnsworth," Dernier recalled. "It was a lot of fun. We pointed a lot of the humor in Kyle's direction, and he was open to it as one of the new kids on the block. It was great to see the interaction between the fans, the players, and the Second City troupe."

The Cubs Convention experience "is one of the most gratifying things in life," Dernier added. "We all admire that feeling of family that exists between Cubs players and the fans, and there's no better way of experiencing that than attending the Cubs Convention every year."

Former Cubs first baseman Leon Durham agreed. "It's really a great reunion of former teammates, because we're like family," he said. "The '84 team was very special, and the fans haven't forgotten it. They really give us the red-carpet treatment."

McDonough also said a special salute to the 1984 team would be a part of this year's convention program.

"Fans of that team still tell me how we touched their spirit," Durham recalled. "We didn't run to our cars after games; we stayed and signed autographs, and they remember."

Fans also remember how Cubs players like Gary Matthews, Keith Moreland, Dernier, Davis and Ryne Sandberg bought tank tops for the bleacher bums during the '84 season.

"Some of them come to the convention, and we've been known to sit down with them and reminisce even after the convention hours are over," Durham said.

The unique interaction between players and fans is something that players learn quickly.

"I was listening to an Eric Karros interview this past season, and he remarked how as a younger player he kept hearing how amazing the Cubs fans were," Davis said. "But it wasn't until he played for the Cubs at Wrigley Field that he really understood what it meant. It was really an eye-opening thing."

And former Cubs are quick to point out that it isn't just fans who are expecting great things in 2004.

"All of us kind of lived and died with the Cubs last fall," Dernier said. "We were all hoping that this was a team that would take the proverbial monkey off everyone's back."

Whether the Cubs turn out to be winners in 2004 remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: Those lucky enough to have one of those weekend passes for this year's convention are sure to be winners.

Jay Lyon is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.