Winter Meetings Guest Post: The Outsider Becomes a Regular

Mike Lortz is a freelance writer from Tampa, Florida. He is currently working on his MBA and finishing his first baseball fiction book, but briefly took time off from those pursuits in order to attend the Baseball Winter Meetings in Orlando. 2013 marked the third time he’d made such a pilgrimage, but was it a charm? In this guest blog post, he describes his latest Winter Meetings experience.

“You will never find a more reported hive of rumors and ability.” – Unsaid at the Baseball Winter Meetings

Most baseball fans know the Winter Meetings as the annual gathering of agents, players, and front office folks to negotiate trades, signings, and other personnel decisions. Fans of this blog and of Minor League Baseball might also know the business meetings and Job Fair side of the Winter Meetings. But for me, the Winter Meetings is something different. For me, the Winter Meetings is a chance to be part of the baseball scene and peek into the guts of the machine.

The 2013 Winter Meetings, held from December 9-12, marked my third venture to the Swan and Dolphin Hotel since moving to Tampa in 2006. During my first visit, I was a fly on the wall, watching people and scrapping up the courage to shake hands with Ozzie Guillen, Cal Ripken, Jim Leyland, and others. My second trip in 2010 was less star-studded, but I did talk briefly with Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner and met a few people I conversed with on Twitter, including an NBC Sports writer. I was still a fly on the wall, but I was learning how the room was arranged.

Since 2010, my writing career has grown quite a bit. Not to the point where I am a multimedia hero or a trending topic on Twitter, but to the point where I have a network, albeit small. Most of this network would be at the 2013 Winter Meetings. This time I might actually feel like I fit in.

So for a third time I traveled over the river (the Hillsborough) and through the woods (the somewhat barren ruralness of Knights Griffin Road) to the Baseball Winter Meetings. In the weeks prior, I contacted some of my small network to see if they were interested in meeting face-to-face. To my surprise, they were open to the idea.

As I did in 2006 and 2010, I parked in the guest lot at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. Little known fact: guest parking at the Winter Meetings has increased from $9.50 in 2006 to $15 in 2013. I guess the folks at Disney realize people like me are showing up and want to make a few bucks. But after an hour drive, I would not be deterred.

Walking around the Swan and Dolphin lobby, I was immediately struck by how many more media people seemed to be there. During my first year, there was no news desk near the lobby’s giant Christmas tree. In 2010, ESPN started broadcasting live from the lobby. In 2013, MLB Network joined ESPN with a desk. The media presence down the media hallway had exploded as well. SNY, NESN, and several other regional sports media had tables, desks, and other broadcast equipment assembled. If there was a transaction, or the rumor, thought, or idea of a transaction, it was going to be talked about right there.

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Lobby of the Dolphin Resort — media hotspot and epicenter of schooze

I also saw a group at this year’s Winter Meetings who I had never seen before: autograph seekers. I was shocked to see several guys (isn’t it always guys?) trying to get signatures from Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and network analysts Ron Darling and Dan Plesac. Although I understand autograph seeking, the Winter Meetings just doesn’t seem the place for that.

Another popular group at the Winter Meetings were job hunters. Unlike the autograph seekers, job hunters are expected, encouraged, and embraced. The easiest way to identify a job seeker is to look for the young person in a suit jacket. Most media and baseball people dress well, but forego the jacket.

After reorienting myself with the lay of the Swan and Dolphin, I met with Minor League blogger Jessica Quiroli of the blog High Heels on the Field and had a great discussion on Minor League reporting, prospect analysis, and brand building. Even better, she knew who I was. I also talked with a writer I knew from the Tampa Bay Rays blogosphere and another former Baseball Prospectus writer. Three people!

Through wandering the halls of the Swan and Dolphin, I also met and shook hands with the ownership of the Tampa Bay Rays. I told them I had been a part-season ticket holder for several years and thanked them for their product. I think it’s important to tell people that you enjoy the entertainment they provide.

Another little known fact of the Winter Meetings through the years: in 2006 a bottle of Bud Light was $5.50. In 2013, a bottle of Heineken was $7.50. And a can of Diet Coke was $3.50. I guess those making $60 million over five years can afford more than one, but I sure couldn’t. Maybe the high prices are to keep the job seekers from mingling with the millionaires. I am not sure where the media personnel fall on that spectrum, but many of them congregate near the lobby bar alongside the baseball lifers.

Before leaving, I had one more writer e-migo to meet, the illustrious king of reporting on Minor League gimmicks, fashions, and trends, the one, the only bloglord of Ben’s Biz, Ben Hill. During a break in his busy schedule, I told Ben to look for the only person in the lobby wearing a Santa Claus hat. Accompanied by other Minor League front office folks (Ben is a very popular guy!), we chatted about travel, the career of writers, Florida’s minor league parks, and death metal. Next thing I knew it was past 11pm. I still had to drive back to Tampa.

I bid adieu to Ben and the other folks in our conversation and made my way to the exit, another Winter Meetings under my belt. I’ve made progress in the seven years since my first Winter Meetings. Maybe next time the Winter Meetings comes to Disney World, people will be asking for my autograph. Or at least I’ll be able to expense the cost of parking.

For more from Mike, follow him on Twitter @JordiScrubbings. For more from me, just visit bensbiz.mlblogs.com and keep hitting refresh. Something’ll come up eventually. See ya in 2014! 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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