A Look Back at the 2014 Winter Meetings in San Diego, Part One

During last week’s Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego, I dedicated my blog content to sharing the perspectives of four PBEO Job Fair attendees. I, for one, think that this job-seeking quartet did a spectacular job with their assignment. They were all great writers, up to the task of documenting a challenging life experience with honesty and humor, and since the Meetings have concluded I have been feeling quite proud of them in a cool uncle sort of way. (I am cool, right?) These feelings have unsettled me a bit, because they force me to acknowledge just how much older than them I really am. I mean, when this year’s crop of Job Seeker Journal writers was born, I was spending my days obsessing over season four of The Simpsons, Helmet’s Meantime lp and the Daulton-Kruk-Dykstra-era of the Philadelphia Phillies.

But now that the Job Seekers have had their say (at least for now), it is time to transition to sharing my own San Diego Winter Meetings experience. It was an exhausting four days, to be sure, but it was a privilege to attend and I hope this series of blog posts helps illuminate the lesser-known aspects of this annual baseball industry confab.

Day One: Sunday, December 7

I arrived in San Diego a little after 12 p.m., after a mercifully uneventful flight. It felt a bit surreal to know that the day was still young, considering that I had just traveled across the country, but such are the vagaries of westward air travel. The above picture shows the facade of San Diego’s Hyatt Hotel, one of two host sites for the 2014 Meetings. The Major League folks were based in the Hyatt, while the Minor League contingent was centered approximately half a mile away in the Bayfront Hilton.

In between (but much closer to the Hilton) was the San Diego Convention Center, home of the PBEO Job Fair as well as the annual Trade Show.

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On the other side of the tracks — literally — was the heart of San Diego’s tourist-friendly Gaslamp District.

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IMG_0483Despite having spent four days in San Diego, I never did find out why the Gaslamp Quarter is called the Gaslamp Quarter. So let’s learn together, courtesy of the generally reliable informational juggernaut that is Wikipedia:

The name “Gaslamp Quarter” is a reference to the gas lamps that were common in San Diego in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Four new gaslamps have been installed at the intersection of Market Street and 5th Avenue to evoke that time.

So there you go: The Gaslamp Quarter is called the Gaslamp Quarter because gaslamps used to be prevalent in that area of the city. Who could’ve guessed?

My Sunday afternoon wanderings were primarily motivated by a desire to get the lay of the land. One drawback of San Diego as a Winter Meetings host is that the myriad events were spread between three locations, meaning that one needed to know exactly how long it would take to get from place to place to place. This also resulted in a general dissipation of the energy that permeates the Winter Meetings, as a result of attendees being dispersed along such a wide swath of space. The reality is that the Winter Meetings have become such a huge event that there are very few locations that can accommodate it in its entirety. (Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Hotel, a frequent Winter Meetings host, is probably the most well-equipped in this regard.)

But being forced to walk up and down Harbor Drive (or the bayfront boardwalk that runs parallel to it) is hardly something to complain about. It’s a most picturesque environment, something I really began to appreciate as the sun went down on Sunday evening.

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As day transformed into night, I changed into khakis and a blazer (the most formal attire I could muster) and headed to the Hilton so that I could attend the annual Winter Meetings Banquet. Traditionally this event had been held on Thursday, the last night of the Winter Meetings, after the vast majority of attendees (including me) had cleared out of town. Moving it to Sunday seemed like a smart move on the part of the organizers, especially since this year’s iteration featured San Diego broadcasting icon Dick Enberg as emcee and Bud Selig as a special guest. A-listers!

Here’s a view from the cheap seats, as Enberg chatted up the outgoing commish on a variety of topics. Both men were fans of Minor League Baseball during a very different era. Selig spoke about rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers during the team’s days in the American Association, while Enberg was partial to the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League.

IMG_0499A recurring feature of the Winter Meetings Banquet is the (literal) crowning of that year’s “King of Baseball.” This monarchical title is bestowed upon a veteran executive in recognition of a lifetime spent in the game. 2014’s King of Baseball is one Bill Valentine, whose career in the sport began in 1951 when, at the age of 18, he became the youngest umpire in professional baseball history. Later, he spent more than three decades as the general manager of the Arkansas Travelers.

Here, King Bill poses with Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. Valentine then took the podium in order to deliver a speech peppered with vintage jokes of the “Take my wife…please” variety. (He did not talk about the time that a Texas League umpire went through 84 baseballs during the course of two ballgames, but, fortunately, his profanity-tinged rant on that incident has been preserved for posterity.)

kingOh, and for the record: I interviewed Bill Valentine the next day. The results of that rollicking conversation can be read HERE, and there’s plenty more where that came from.

After the Banquet, while standing in front of the Hilton, I happened upon the official Brandiose Winter Meetings party bus. Brandiose, as you may know, is the company responsible for many recent Minor League re-branding efforts. (Including recent efforts such as the Pawtucket Red Sox and Biloxi Shuckers.)

IMG_0501As they have during the past several years, Brandiose commissioned this vehicle to pick up their once (and perhaps future) Minor League clients from the airport and deliver them to the host hotel. This year held a special significance as Jason Klein and Casey White, the childhood friends who founded the company, are San Diego natives. So, while standing in front of this roving Brandiose billboard, I asked Klein to tell me a few things about the city that the average person might not know. His response: 

The Navy trains dolphins to hunt for mines in the San Diego Bay.

— The Dole company ships massive amounts of bananas to the United States via the San Diego Port. Oklahoma City Dodgers broadcaster Alex Freedman tweeted about this the following day:

— San Diego is the craft beer capital of America.

— John Spreckels, at one time the wealthiest man in San Diego, played a huge role in the city’s early 20th century rise to prominence. Spreckels was aware that corner real estate commanded more money, and thus lobbied to create short city blocks that would result in, yes, more corner real estate.

And that’ll do it as regards Day One of the Winter Meetings in San Diego. And, yes, there will be plenty more where this came from….

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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