Archive for the ‘ Travel ’ Category

Return to the Road: Driving in Sunshine

Regular readers of this blog might recall that, in years past, I supplemented  my “On the Road” ballpark material with “Return to the Road” posts detailing that which I was able to experience outside of the ballpark. I always enjoyed doing this, but as my operation has expanded (in scope, if not in scale) I have found it increasingly difficult to incorporate “non-ballpark” activity into my schedule.

That said, I do my best, and figured that these early months of 2016 represented a good opportunity to go back and revisit my 2015 trips. Yes, let’s Return to the Road! This post will focus on my trip to Florida, which took place from April 11 to the 19th.

Ben_Map_April_2015_Florida_7hzbjnkzDespite the relatively short drives from ballpark to ballpark on this trip, I didn’t have the time to explore many of the towns themselves. I didn’t even set foot on a beach, outside of the night I sleepwalked onto one while wearing an ankle-length gown and nightcap. But what I’ve got is something, and something is always better than nothing.

April 11

It all started in the town of Pinellas Park, Florida, where I set up shop prior to visiting the nearby Bradenton Marauders. As you can see, this is an American town like no other, one in which Mr. Pool uses supplementary signage to clarify that he does, indeed, sell pools.

IMG_0845Being gluten-free on the road is tough. Since my celiac disease diagnosis, I always pack an extra bag of road snacks to insure that I’ll have an option. But best of all is finding something that meets my needs and tastes great. Often, that something is Vietnamese. When I saw this sign, I was like “Pho Quyen, awesome!”

IMG_0843 Lunch of champions.

IMG_0842Pho Quyen is located within a shopping center with a line-up of stores quite unlike any shopping center I had been in. (Purple Ringer is, perhaps inevitably, a smoke shop.)

IMG_0844Later in the day, on the way to Bradenton, I drove over a bridge.

IMG_0846April 12

The objective on this day was to get to Steinbrenner Field, home of the Tampa Yankees, in time for a pregame local food fest on the concourse. Time was of the essence, but nonetheless I was able to make a pit stop at a record store.

IMG_0877This is Mojo Books and Records in Tampa. It opened in 2007, during a period when most stores of this nature were shutting down or in their death throes. Mojo is packed to the gills with new and used books, LPs and CDs, and a coffee shop is located on the premises as well. My lone photo does not do it justice.

IMG_0876Unfortunately I cannot locate the pocket notebook in which I wrote down what I purchased, but I know it included the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Freedom Tower — No Wave Dance Party” as well as a day-by-day diary “written” by Pete Rose as he chronicled his record-breaking 1985 season.

That evening, as I was driving from somewhere to somewhere, I discovered that Wawa (cultishly beloved in eastern Pennsylvania) exists in Florida as well. They even stocked Herr’s and Tastykake.

IMG_0894April 13

I spent the evening with the Dunedin Blue Jays, but prior to that I spent a nice chunk of the afternoon in St. Petersburg. I was impressed with the downtown area, Central Avenue, to be specific, which was vibrant and tree-lined. The State Theatre is located on the left hand side of the below photo, a venue that hosts a diverse array of concerts (although, looking at the current listings, none that I would pay to go see. Except maybe Bubba Sparxxx).

IMG_0896The Local 299, at the time (and maybe still) surrounded by scaffolding, also has live music.

IMG_0898Daddy Kool Records is located next door to Local 299. I went inside, and took my standard issue poor-quality photo.

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I enjoyed wandering through Daddy Kool’s but nothing was really jumping out of the stacks at me. I debated buying a record by Midnight, a Cleveland metal band, but it was, like, $30 bucks. I have a hard time understanding why records are that expensive. In lieu of that, I picked up Mudhoney’s “Live at Third Man Records” LP (marking the second day in a row I bought a new record by a band I’ve been a fan of for two decades. Old habits die hard).

I did not visit the Stoner Organization, as I am in no need of a health benefits specialist.

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My main objective in St. Petersburg, however, was to visit Minor League Baseball headquarters. I’ll write about that in the next post.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

The Armidale Outlaws Want YOU

Last week, I wrote an MiLB.com article about how the West Michigan Whitecaps built their ballpark exclusively with private funds. This piece inspired one Mick Alldis to get in touch with me. Mick, a baseball-loving Australian with a dream, is engaged in a private funding endeavor of his own.

I think the readers of this blog might be interested in what Mick is doing. I’ll let him tell it:

I read your piece on Fifth Third Ballpark (I’m very envious of the ballparks in the U.S.) and while we are nowhere in the league of this type of setup, I thought I’d drop you a line about baseball here in Armidale NSW, Australia. We are a six hour drive from Sydney and three hours inland from the nearest beach (we don’t all live on the beach and punch sharks in the face, you see!)

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I’ve played baseball here in Australia since I was a little kid (my claim to fame is that I played against Graeme Lloyd  as a kid growing up in Geelong, Victoria and I think I once tagged him for a home run). Now I find myself building a team in the small town of Armidale NSW (population 25,000).

People are passionate about baseball here. So much so that we’ve been able to secure some land from the local University and they are happy for us to build our diamond on it. Our own little Field of Dreams might bring a homegrown Jackie Robinson, Derek Jeter or Mike Trout all the way to the USA. We will play in the local Tamworth Winter League (beginning in April) and will drive 80 minutes each week to play until our ground becomes a reality.

We live in a country dominated by cricket and Australian Rules Football (AFL), and are desperate to think of innovative ways  to raise the revenue to build this field. We had an idea. How many people have wanted to co-own a baseball team? For $100 AUS (about $70 US) we’ll send you an Armidale Outlaws cap (Richardson Cap Flexifit design made in the USA) and a Certificate of Ownership.

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It’s a bit of fun and a chance for us to raise money to build a baseball diamond, dugouts and netting and even purchase some uniforms. We hope that we might find some generous baseball followers out there! Our GoFundMe page is https://www.gofundme.com/vfhx3bxw. We have a recent article written about us on the Australian Baseball Alumni page as well

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Image from Armidale Baseball Go Fund Me page.

As of this writing (Wednesday, January 13. 12:21 p.m. ET), eight generous souls have donated a combined $575 Australian dollars to the Outlaws’ $5000 goal. If you, like so many others, have once dreamed of nominal ownership in an amateur baseball team located half a world away, then I urge you to donate some dollarydoos. Plus, that’s a pretty sweet hat.

Thanks for getting in touch, Mick.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

 

Umpire Aficionado Living the Dream in Myrtle Beach

It’s a slow time of year for Minor League Baseball, but that doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. Something is always happening. Today’s something is out of Myrtle Beach, as the Pelicans have announced that they are helping one of their employees “fulfill [a] lifelong dream.”

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That staffer is Justin Fletcher, an intellectually challenged autistic individual who began working with the club as a custodian in 2014. As you may be able to infer from the above photo, the “lifelong dream” in question is Justin’s desire to be an umpire. To that end, the Pelicans are sending him to Vero Beach tomorrow. On Wednesday and Thursday, Justin will attend classes at the Major League Baseball Umpire Training Academy. Some snippets from the press release:

Fletcher…. [is] the first person at the Vocational Rehabilitation of South Carolina to earn a custodial certification. Following his morning and afternoon work at TicketReturn.com Field, Fletcher attended nearly every home Pelicans game, quickly displaying a love for the Carolina League’s umpires by imitating the men in blue in the stands behind home plate.

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“Justin has always said for years now he wants to be an umpire,” said his father Allan Eoff. “And when he found out that (Pelicans assistant general manager) Mike Snow and the staff of the Pelicans were helping his dream come true, he was ecstatic. From that day on, it’s been baseball every day, outside, inside and in his sleep. His mom and I even hear him calling balls and strikes in his sleep. He also only asks for gifts that would outfit an umpire.”

As part of his two-day training, Fletcher will receive a mask, chest protector and shin guards while also spending time in the classroom to work towards completing his umpire education.

“(Pelicans general manager) Andy Milovich told me about this young man at their ballpark who just loved umpiring and loved talking to the umpires that visited Myrtle Beach during the season,” said Minor League Baseball Director of Umpire Development Dusty Dellinger. “After meeting Justin and hearing others tell stories about him dressing up in his umpiring shirt and mask and making calls from the seats behind the plate, I knew we had to bring him to the academy for a few days and give him a taste of what umpiring is really like. I hope he enjoys the experience.”

An alum of Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, Fletcher was able to meet a few of his umpiring idols prior to games during the Pelicans’ 2015 championship campaign. 

justin3Here’s a video of Justin in action, which displays the degree in which he is able to emulate his Major League umpiring heroes.

He’s like a 21st-century Mark Grant.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

The Most Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Jokes of the Year

At each ballpark I visited during the 2015 season, I wrote and disseminated a groundbreaking and subversive joke. These jokes became very popular, viewed by dozens of people and, sometimes, even retweeted. As a service to those who somehow missed this social media phenomenon the first time around, I now present my year-end round-up of 2015’s best Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Jokes. One joke from each of my five Minor League road trips is included, as well as one from the 2015 Winter Meetings in Nashville.

Enjoy, and don’t forget to laugh!

Dunedin Blue Jays (April 13)

Kane County Cougars (May 23)

Lynchburg Hillcats (June 27)

Montgomery Biscuits (August 1)

Lowell Spinners (August 31)

Winter Meetings, Nashville, Night Three (December 9)

As you can see, I have not cut my hair since the 2015 season began. Maybe I will in 2016. Until then, thanks for reading and see you on the other side.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Winter Meetings Blog Writer Journal, December 9

Last week, I dedicated my little slice of internet infinity to the recollections and reflections of four Winter Meetings job seekers. This week, I’m provide my own Twitter-centric account of the week that was. It all ends here, with this recap of my third and final full day in Nashville. 

Wednesday, December 9

Wednesday, the third and final day of the Winter Meetings, is always a wild card. There are, of course, places to go and people to talk to, but I generally don’t have plans to attend or cover any one specific event. That was the case this year, but it still turned out to be a supremely busy day. Per usual, I found myself running around like the proverbial headless chicken. What else is new?

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Wednesday morning was given over to Job Seeker Journals blog posts and other such writerly tasks. While grabbing lunch in the Opryland, I ran into Chuck Greenberg (owner of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Frisco RoughRiders and State College Spikes) and Pelicans president Andy “Milo” Milovich. In Milo’s possession was a recent prized acquisition, a baseball card from 1988 featuring Dave Oster during his reign with the Geneva Cubs. (Oster, now 50, recently stepped down from his position as Lake Elsinore Storm president). The card cost 99 cents on eBay, plus $2.75 shipping and handling, and was the source of much merriment for industry veterans.

oster

While waiting in line for food, I also ran into Inland Empire 66ers director of marketing Matt Kowallis. I casually asked him how things have been going, standard Winter Meetings small talk, but his somber response quickly busted me out of casual conversation mode. The 66ers are based in San Bernardino, the site of a horrific mass shooting the week prior. For the 66ers staff, and everyone in their community, it was impossible not to feel the heavy weight of the tragedy. The Winter Meetings, meanwhile, are a surreal week-long dose of fantasyland unreality. It felt strange to suddenly be contemplating something so horrific within such an atmosphere, but I wanted to give this topic its due. Matt put me in touch with 66ers general manager Joe Hudson, and a bit later in the afternoon I interviewed him about the team’s response to the shooting for MiLB.com’s “Show Before the Show” podcast. (That episode can be found HERE.)

vigil

Program from vigil held at 66ers’ San Manuel Stadium, in remembrance of shooting victims

As I ate lunch, I amused myself by eavesdropping on Kannapolis Intimidators director of communications Josh Feldman as he reviewed a pile of resumes submitted by Job Fair attendees. (Josh isn’t too impressed with those who note their proficiency with Microsoft Office, as it is the year 2015.)

Okay, what next? Oh, right, a final lap through the Trade Show to say hello to people who I had missed the day prior. But on the way there, I ran into Tyler Glaser. Tyler, who works at Grimey’s, a venerated Nashville record store, served as my designated eater when I visited the Nashville Sounds in August. Prior to the Meetings I had gotten in touch about maybe getting a drink or checking out a show, but this was before I arrived in Nashville and immediately resigned myself to a week of all Opryland, all of the time. At least we were able to chat for a few minutes.

IMG_0783And, hey! There’s Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster/noted author Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, a wise and kind individual whom I had not yet spoken to at this year’s event. I had to have a conversation with him as well.

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Oh, hello

And, oh, right, the Trade Show was still going on, though at this point it was in its death throes. I just had enough time to introduce myself to Rookies app founder Matt Sebek, whose product allows users to create their own baseball cards. It’s pretty cool. And, look, he even created one for me.

IMG_0786That was the tone of the afternoon — one conversation to another to another, all imbued with the sense that time was running out. After meeting with Joe Hudson for an interview on the 66ers’ response to the San Bernardino shooting, I hustled back over to Presidential Ballroom D (my favorite of the Presidential Ballrooms) to meet once again with 2015’s group of Job Seeker Journal writers. We recorded a series of “after” interviews, which were later incorporated into this video.

Finally, I returned to the media room and began work on an article summing up the myriad news and notes from the past few days.

The media room is a strange place to work. As I pecked away at the keyboard, the Cubs’ newest free agent acquisition was introducing himself to the assembled media. We were separated by the thinnest of veneers.

I had a very specific deadline while working on this article. At 6:30, buses would be departing the Opryland for the Wild Horse Saloon in downtown Nashville. This was the site of this year’s Gala, a three-hour party that represents 2015’s final opportunity for large-scale mingling.

Personal arrogance and ego-boosting aside, I have always enjoyed the Gala. The Winter Meetings are chaotic and stressful, but once the Gala hits you can take a deep breath and just be. Enjoy some booze and drinks and be glad to have made it through another year.

And go figure: This was my most popular tweet of the entire Winter Meetings. People love to see the industry get down.

After the Gala, I took a bus back to the Opryland. But most of the Gala attendees must have gone to a piano bar (they always do), because the hotel bar scene was listless and seemed more populated by Major League types. I’ve got no interest in that sort. There was nothing left to do but, yes, write and disseminate another Groundbreaking and Subversive Joke.

I can’t remember the last time I felt so tired. I had no one left to talk to. I could feel myself starting to get sick. But, yet, I kept wandering around, on the lookout for joke material, or whatever flimsy excuse I could make in order to keep the night going. Why do I have these compulsions? Why do I feel that it is mandatory to indulge them? I sometimes feel that there is something wrong with me.

And that was it for the Winter Meetings. I really enjoyed getting to (re)connect with so many people who work in this great business, even if you may not have been entirely sure who I was.

Finally, mercifully, I’ve got nothing left. Here’s to another year of making dreams come true.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Winter Meetings Blog Writer Journal, December 8

Last week, I dedicated my little slice of internet infinity to the recollections and reflections of four Winter Meetings job seekers. This week, I’ll provide my own Twitter-centric account of the week that was.

Tuesday, December 8

Call it a routine, or call it a rut, but one thing’s for sure: Year after year after year, my Winter Meetings’ experience follows the same basic pattern. Monday is dedicated to a run of programmed events (the Bob Freitas Business Seminar, Opening Session, etc) and then Tuesday is Trade Show Day.

trade

I have a love/hate relationship with the Trade Show. I love it because it is an awe-inspiring accumulation of vendors who, together, fulfill just about every conceivable baseball industry need. I hate it because I write about it every year and feel like I don’t have anything new to say. Also, it is a thoroughly exhausting place in which to spend an afternoon. Walking down the aisles, one can feel the eyes of the vendors as they look at your name badge to discern if you are a prospective client. It is an environment of subtle glances, awkward smiles and constant surveillance. Kind of like high school.

I began my time at the Trade Show as I often do, by visiting the Lynn University booth and addressing the students in professor Ted Curtis’s sports management program. Professor Curtis does this every year, giving his charges a great first-hand glimpse at the inner workings of the baseball industry. I imagine that it is an invaluable experience for them; through the years I have crossed paths with Lynn students at various MiLB ballparks. Just look at the prominence they have achieved.

Stephen Goldsmith, designated eater, Jupiter Hammerheads 

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Andrew Pollowitz, intern, Potomac Nationals

0195Hey, you gotta start somewhere! Anyhow, thanks to Ted and company for having me out to their booth once again.

As a point of reference, this picture illustrates how much weight I have gained and hair I have grown since speaking to Lynn Students during the 2012 Nashville Winter Meetings.

lynnNext up on the Trade Show agenda was to meet with the lumbering force of nature that is MiLB.com Jack of All Trades Danny Wild. He served as my photographer and videographer for a piece we put together on the Trade Show. You can check it out HERE.

Included within the piece is this video.

Everyone should also be aware of the following piece of information, which is that OT Sports is now hawking officially licensed KISS theme jerseys.

Get ready, El Paso. (Will Eliza”Beth“ton be next?)

After grabbing some lunch and doing some writing in the gargantuan media work room, I was reminded that an election was about to take place. Pat O’Conner was running, unopposed, for a third term as Minor League Baseball president. Always eager to see the democratic process in action, I meandered over to yet another gargantuan ballroom and witnessed a most anticlimactic election. First, each league president affirmed his or her presence during a role call. This same group of circuit overseers then unanimously elected O’Conner to a third term, which begins in January and runs through 2019.

A glimpse of the white-hot parliamentary proceedings:

Then it was back to the media room. Seemingly everyone in there, save for me, was riveted by the evening’s barrage of trades and free agent signings. It began to feel so ridiculous to me, hundreds of people essentially sharing the same information while clamoring to make their “scoop” unique. Possessed of both an absurd and arrogant nature, I started riffing.

Anyone want to chime in here?

Thanks, dude.

After finishing up my work for the day, I was feeling tired down to the marrow of my bones. Also, my stupid new shoes made it so my stupid new socks had bloodstains on the heels due to my stupid old feet. It was time for a brief rest before hitting the late-night socialization scene (a prerequisite of the Winter Meetings experience).

I turned on the TV in the hotel room and began to listlessly channel surf, soon stopping to pause in amazement. None other than Jackson Generals broadcaster Brandon Liebhaber was staring back at me! Was I in some sort of Winter Meetings Twilight Zone?

The show in which Liebhaber — and the rest of the Generals organization — appeared was called I Love Kellie Pickler. Well, I’m here to tell you something, and that something is this: I hate Kellie Pickler. This show was the bad kind of stupid, cloying and condescending and fake (despite being “reality”), and it made me want to emigrate to Canada. Duck Dynasty looks like Masterpiece Theater in comparison. But, in all serious, congrats to Liebhaber and the Generals on the CMT Network exposure. All publicity is good publicity, even when the publicity in question makes one want to pop out their eyeballs with a serrated hotel room entry card (I tried).

With Pickler-rage serving as my energy fuel, I re-entered the Opryland ecosystem and hit the bar scene. It was fun. The Winter Meetings is the only time during the year in which I can walk into a bar alone and know that there will be a lot of people therein who want to talk to me. Usually when I enter a bar alone I make a beeline for the pinball machine and don’t interact with anyone save for the drink-disbursement person situated behind the navel-level wooden barrier.

I was out and about until Semisonic came on over the stereo, but the day’s work is not done until I have written and disseminated a Groundbreaking and Subversive Joke.

Haters are my motivators.

Can’t stop, won’t stop.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Winter Meetings Blog Writer Journal, December 7

Last week, I dedicated my little slice of internet infinity to the recollections and reflections of four Winter Meetings job seekers. This week, I’ll provide my own Twitter-centric account of the week that was.

Monday, December 7

Monday is when the Winter Meetings begin in earnest. It is also the busiest day of the Meetings, at least as regards previously scheduled events. I began the day in a haze — that’s what late nights at the bar will do to a body — but, nonetheless, I had a plan. That plan was to attend a couple of Bob Freitas Business Seminar presentations.

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Booz: An Appropriate Winter Meetings Sponsor

The Bob Freitas Business Seminar is an annual event, the bulk of which takes place on Monday. Presentations, dubbed “Breakout Sessions”, are broken into five categories — Sales and Marketing, Operations, Licensing and Marketing, Community and Media Relations, and Fielder’s Choice — and run concurrently. When choosing which seminar to attend, I employ a simple strategy: Which one is the most likely to give me something interesting to write about?

Among the 8:30 a.m. offerings, I chose “You’re Still Our Teammate, You’re Still Our Brother: Planning the Announcement of Baseball’s First Openly Gay Active Player.” This presentation dealt with how the Milwaukee organization handled David Denson’s coming out announcement. Denson, who spent the 2015 season with Rookie-level Helena and Class A Wisconsin, became the first active affiliated player to come out as gay.

On hand to talk about the subject was Brewers vice president of communications Tyler Barnes and MLB ambassador for inclusion Billy Bean (not be confused with A’s general manager Billy Beane. Yes, it’s extremely weird that there are two prominent “Billy Bean(e)s within the world of Major League Baseball).

barnes_beanIn the above photo, Barnes is seated on the left and Bean is speaking. This is an apropos image, as the vast bulk of the session was given over to Bean’s re-telling of his own struggles as a closeted player in the 1980s. His story is interesting and important, but by the time he was done there were only about 10 minutes left to deal with the issue of “Okay, how did the Brewers handle Denson’s case?” and “What might your team do when (not if), this story repeats itself?” I left feeling disappointed. This was a timely, worthwhile topic, but attendees weren’t given much pragmatic advice and guidance.

But such is the reality of vast, multi-faceted events such as the Freitas Seminar. They can’t all be winners. Next on the agenda was this:

This session was great. I’d never given thought to this issue before, but Earnell Lucas ably convinced me of its importance. He gave an organized and balanced presentation on the myriad ways in which drone usage can (and will) impact the Minor League Baseball experience. I ended up taking so many notes, and becoming so interested in the topic, that I wrote an article about it later in the day.

I think the article came out pretty well. My photographic attempt did not. My apologies to Lucas (at the podium) and his panelists (Adam Nuse, Jason Compton, Darren Spagnardi).

dronepanelIt was now time for the Opening Session, when the entire industry gathers in a gigantic room.

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Another award-winning photo

The event, as always, was emceed by Iowa Cubs broadcaster Randy Wehofer. As always, League Executive of the Year Awards were distributed and, as always, Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner gave his “State of the Union”-style address. Minor League Baseball vice president Stan Brand also took the podium, speaking strongly against pending litigation that seeks to classify Minor League Baseball players as hourly workers (under this designation, many players make less than minimum wage).

Brand’s stance makes sense from the standpoint that, if Major League teams had to pay Minor League players more, they would then seek to pass off a larger portion of their player development costs on to the Minor League affiliates. It’s simple self-preservation. Nonetheless, it can be difficult to reconcile the reality of the situation — players in search of comparatively modest pay increases — with Brand’s assertion that the lawsuit is an “assault” and that those in the industry need to be “grassroots soldiers” against it. Call me naive, but I’d like to think that there’s enough money to go around.

Also during the Opening Session, the Lucas Confectionery wine bar of Troy, New York was awarded the “OnDeck Small Business of the Year Award.” The Lucas Confectionery is owned and operated by Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine, former members of the Tri-City ValleyCats front office, so them receiving an award from Minor League Baseball marked an improbable return to industry approval.

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Vic Christopher, 2008 MiLB.com file photo

After the Opening Session, most of the industry went on to the Awards Luncheon. I’d seen enough award-disbursement for the day, so I headed back to my hotel room to do some work, as there is always work to do.

Have I mentioned that the Opryland is the most surreal hotel that I have ever stayed in? This is was the view from my first-floor abode, located in the “Cascades” section of the facility.

The benefits of working in a hotel room.

But I wasn’t in the hotel room for long, as my desire to sit in a conference room had not yet been satiated. Next up was this:

I already made a mention of this in a MiLB.com story that ran at the end of last week. An excerpt:

“[Diversity and inclusion] is the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do,” said panelist Wendy Lewis, Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of diversity and strategic alliances.

Lewis’ remark summed up the prevailing sentiment, as a front office that does not reflect the demographics of its market is, in all likelihood, failing to reach as wide a fan base as possible.

“A more diverse and inclusive front office brings broader experience and perspective,” added panelist Chuck Greenberg, who owns three Minor League teams. “It means that we are far more likely to have insights and sensitivities that benefit our communities.”

I had been especially interested to attend this panel after meeting Vince Pierson (and writing about him) earlier this year. He’s doing good things for the industry.

Sessions, speeches and seminars were finally, mercifully, done for the day. It was now time for more writing, and then dinner with co-workers. This marked the only time that I left the Opryland during my four-night stay, but soon enough I was back in the biosphere for another late night of schmoozing and boozing.

The day ended as all days must end: with yet another groundbreaking and subversive joke.

Yeah, man, I hear you.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Winter Meetings Blog Writer Journal, December 6

Last week, I dedicated my little slice of internet infinity to the recollections and reflections of four Winter Meetings job seekers. This week, I’ll provide my own Twitter-centric account of the week that was.

The 2015 Winter Meetings were held at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort, one of the few places I’ve ever been to that fully justifies usage of the word “Brobdingnagian.” I had already attended two Winter Meetings at the Opryland — 2007 and 2012 — so at least I had an idea regarding what to expect. What I expected, and, indeed, what happened, is that I was constantly lost, constantly running into people I knew from within the “industry,” and constantly lamenting the fact that I didn’t break in my new pair of shoes before heading to Nashville. I was like the Curt Schilling of the Winter Meetings, though not as ostentatious.

Due to my procrastination in booking a flight to Nashville, I had to fly out of Newark like some kind of barbarian. Thus, my documentation of the week began with this pithy observation as I made my way to the airport.

Seriously, an automated voice says something along the lines of “We have now arrived at Terminal C, serving U-Netted, U-Netted Express and U-Netted International.” It boggles the mind.

But I arrived in Nashville swiftly and safely, which is all that really matters. A cab driver named Kofi gave me a ride to the Opryland, regaling me all the while with his tales of being a DJ in New York City in the early ’90s. Kofi brought me to the Opryland swiftly and safely and — Bam! — I was suddenly in another world.

To talk about the Opryland is to talk about being lost at the Opryland. There are nine acres in which to roam.

My first order of Winter Meetings’ “Business” was to attend the annual Banquet. Last year I made the mistake of not packing formal clothes for this event (I was the doofus in jeans), but this year I was dressed to moderately impress in slacks and a suit jacket. The Banquet marked the first instance of a strange social dynamic I encounter at the Meetings each year. While I know hundreds of people at the event, and enjoy basking in my quasi-celebrity for a few days, I am generally traveling alone at social events while everyone else is with their “team.” I walked into the Banquet with the strategy that I’d sit with the first person to extend me an invitation. That invite came courtesy of Scott Sailor and his Iowa Cubs cohorts, and to them, I am grateful. I ended up sitting next to I-Cubs broadcaster (and one-time movie star) Randy Wehofer, a consummate pro who I’d love to hear on a Major League broadcast someday soon.

The Banquet was emceed by Cincinnati Reds broadcaster George Grande, host of the first-ever episode of SportsCenter. During his opening remarks Grande had to speak over a large amount of crowd chatter — C’mon, industry, you should have better manners than that — and then brought Commissioner Manfred on stage for an interview.

Soon thereafter, Tri-City ValleyCats owner Bill Gladstone was named 2015’s “King of Baseball.” The King of Baseball wears a crown and a robe, as any king should. These accoutrements are bestowed by Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner.

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There has never been a “Queen” of baseball. Someday?

The highlight of the Banquet, however, was when recently retired Minor League home run king Mike Hessman received a “Career Achievement Award.” Hessman was visibly emotional as he took the podium, and paused for a good 15 or 20 seconds before launching into his speech.

I’m not sure if a full video of Hessman’s speech exists, but at least I was able to capture a little bit of it.

As the Banquet was winding down, I departed the premises and hightailed it over to Presidential Ballroom D to meet with this year’s group of Job Seeker Journal writers (their collected experiences can be found HERE). That’s Will Privette in front. Behind him, left to right, is an increasingly fat Ben’s Biz, David Lauterbach, Tori Payne and Jim Angell. Job Seekers - Group with Ben HillThe purpose of my Sunday evening meeting with this fearsome foursome was to record the “before” portion of a “before and after” video chronicling their experience. I’ll link to that at the relevant time.  From there, it was back out and into the Opryland wilderness.

The Opryland has several drinking establishments on the premises, and I got to know these establishments very well during my four nights in Nashville. The late-night Winter Meeetings bar scene is not just fueled by hedonistic impulse; it is an invaluable resource as a place to network and procure information in an informal setting. And, on an egotistical level, it is great to walk into a bar and have so many people know who I am and want to buy me a drink. This has never happened to me in New York City, and probably never will.

The work day never ends, even when the “work” in question is resurrecting my “groundbreaking and subversive joke” franchise. There’s plenty more where this came from.

There’s also plenty more where this came from.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Winter Meetings Job Seeker Journal: Jim Angell, December 9

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Angell_headshotBy Jim Angell, special to MiLB.com

Throughout this year’s Winter Meetings in Nashville, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair have agreed to chronicle their employment-seeking experiences (meet them all HERE.). In this, his fourth and final installment, Jim Angell dishes out the advice, expresses gratitude and waits for what’s next. 

That’s the Ball Game, Here’s the Recap

Over the past three days, I have taken (at times) a whimsical look at the Winter Meetings and my participation in the PBEO Job Fair. Today, I’ll focus on recapping the event for future job seekers and sharing some of the lessons I learned I during my time in Nashville.

There’s a saying around baseball that no matter how much you have been involved in and around the game, it will always teach you something new. First-time attendees need to keep that in mind. You should come ready to learn, willing to interact with a wide range of people, and honest about yourself, your talents and about what you want to do.

The primary thing that first-timers need to understand is that baseball is an industry made up of variously-sized companies (organizations) and suppliers that are in the “business” to win. Whether on the field of play, as is the case for Major League teams, or on the profit side of a balance sheet, the stark reality is that baseball is a business. To be profitable, organizations will do anything to control costs and maximize their ability to put more butts in the seats. Empty seats don’t buy tickets, eat hot dogs, buy t-shirts, or drink beer.

Here are the lessons I learned from my Winter Meeting/Job Fair experience:

  • If you are a prospective job seeker, do go to the Winter Meetings and the Job Fair. As frustrating as the job posting and interview process can be you learn a lot and can meet a ton of people with knowledge about the “business” that you can’t pick up from a website, blog or book.
  • Just because you have a lot of talent or experience, you still may not be what Minor League teams are looking for. Depending on the size of the team, their operation and their market (very important), the pay and talent they are looking for varies greatly. Some teams only offer college credit, while others pay upwards of $1500 a month for an intern. There are very few full-time positions posted.
  • Most of the jobs are seasonal and targeting interns. So, if you’re not willing to relocate on an interim basis (three to nine months, depending on the job role) without the assurance of full-time employment, you best look elsewhere.
  • Just because you’ve been an intern before doesn’t mean that you’ll get another internship or another job in baseball. Just like with on-field talent (the players), you will be competing against a new crop of “kids” each season who are entering the mix and willing to work for the wages being offered. That’s the stark reality of the business.
  • Work the event. That means getting away from the workroom, the interview posting room and the job posting room. Yes, check back from time to time, but don’t set up roots. There’s a whole world of baseball happening at these events and it’s ripe with opportunities. Talk to people. Give them your business card. Listen, listen and do more listening. Baseball people are a gold mine of information.
  • Come with business cards and resumes. (Enough said.)
  • Go to the Winter Meetings Trade Show. You will meet people who are pretty much chained to their booths. They like talking about their companies and, if you are a mid-career free agent like myself, are interested in proven experience. Therefore, they may be looking for the talents you have that can impact their business. I got four job leads from “hitting the bricks” and talking to people at the Trade Show. Don’t skip it.
  • Have fun. Get to know your fellow job seekers. Eat lunch or dinner with them. Hang out at the “watering holes” around the venue. There are a lot of good stories about why they are at the Job Fair, and hearing about their dreams for baseball is wonderful. For instance, I met one former Minor League pitcher who was looking to get into ticket sales for a Minor League team. His playing days were cut short due to two arm surgeries, but he still loved the game and now wanted to be part of the business. I’d hire him.
  • Keep trying. If you didn’t land the position you wanted during the Job Fair, don’t stop trying. Keep “knocking on doors” and sending letters to teams. You never know when you’ll be in the right place at the right time. (Yes, even if you get lost in the Opryland Resort.)

I hope you enjoyed my daily reports as much as I enjoyed writing them. I want to thank Benjamin Hill and MiLB.com for allowing me to share my insights and experiences this year’s Winter Meetings and PBEO Job Fair.

Good luck to all the job seekers out there, and to all the organizations who are working hard every day to improve the game day experience.

Thanks, Jim, for sharing the lessons you learned. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Winter Meetings Job Seeker Journal: Tori Payne, December 9

jobseeker_headerVictoria_headshot

By Tori Payne, special to MiLB.com

Throughout this year’s Winter Meetings in Nashville, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair have agreed to chronicle their employment-seeking experiences (meet them all HERE.). In this, her fourth and final installment, Tori Payne solidifies friendships, gains confidence and gets an unexpected free lunch. 

 

Wow. I cannot believe that this week has come to an end. My new friend Connor described today as akin to “the last few rounds of the MLB draft, when the choices are slim and viewers lose interest.” I’m not saying that the job seekers remaining (including myself) were any less qualified, but everyone seemed to be tired and losing interest in the process. The interview posting room had been stripped and new jobs were not being posted. It was evident that the Meetings were coming to a close, and the job seekers still on the premises knew that last minute impressions were their only opportunity.

On Wednesday, I came in to the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center stoked for my scheduled interview. I had been looking forward to speaking with this team for the past two days, and my nervous energy was turning into eagerness. I received some last-minute interview tips from my new friend Brooke before she headed out to see her new home in North Carolina (she got a job with the Greensboro Grasshoppers), and then waited for my first and only time in the interview room.

While biding my time, a woman stopped by and asked the waiting interviewees if we were “getting a job today?” I noticed her tag had the name of the team I was about to interview with. Too many times during this process I had been too afraid to speak up to people of interest, so I smiled and said, “Hopefully! I am about to interview with your team, actually.” Her game face came on, and she began questioning me on the spot about my goals and experience. I liked it. I love being challenged, and this impromptu conversation readied me for my interview with her other two employees. It went great.  Both men seemed interested in my experience and answered my questions with humor and honesty.

After my interview, the group of people that I have been hanging around with – a group of people that I now call friends – went to one last lunch together. While at a sports bar in the Center, we were watching ESPN and MLB Network detail the Winter Meetings that we were attending. After ordering the food, a man I recognized from the television approached our table. He smiled and said, “You guys don’t eat much but I paid for your food. It is all free! Enjoy!” It was Harold Reynolds. The retired MLB second baseman and current TV analyst had noticed our group of young job seekers and casually decided to make our day by paying for our lunch. That was special.

After lunch, I met up with Ben and the other Job Seeker Journal writers one more time, bringing our excursion to an end. As I was about to do my exit video interview (again, it is probably embarrassing so no judgment), I got a call from the team I interviewed with and they wanted to run some things by me in the interview room. When I went back, they introduced me to another employee and expressed interest in me. While I did not receive the official offer, they did want me to begin thinking about the money and moving situations and if that were something I would consider. They also mentioned a possible stadium visit. I cannot adequately express to you how amazing I felt in that moment.

So much came out of the Winter Meetings that I am incredibly thankful for. Not only did I receive interest from one team, but I was also called later in the day to schedule an interview with another team tomorrow (even though the Winter Meetings have concluded). I had the awesome opportunity to receive guidance from Ben Hill, and got to express myself along with the other Job Seeker Journal writers (all of whom will do great things in baseball, I’m sure of it). I was able to network with old and new connections. And, most importantly, I made some great friends who share my passion for baseball. Thus far, I’ve had the opportunity to work in the music and sports industry. While they are both entertaining, I gravitate to the sports and baseball industry more. This week I realized why: Even though it is competitive, it is not a cutthroat industry. People of success also want you to succeed. Professionals are willing to give you tips and your colleagues are willing to celebrate with you when you triumph. If the 2015 Winter Meetings were in any way a glimpse into the future of baseball, I can tell you personally that the industry is in good hands.

Thanks, Tori, for providing such a heartfelt and observant take on your Winter Meetings experience. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

 

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