Archive for the ‘ Uncategorized ’ Category

On the Road: Grinnin’ and Baronin’ It in Birmingham

Welcome back! When the previous post had concluded, a Southern League baseball game had just broken out at brand-new Regions Field in downtown Birmingham.

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With the game underway, it was time, of course, for a trip to the concession stand. You probably know the drill by now — my gluten-free diet prohibits me from enjoying most ballpark food items, so at each stadium I visit I recruit a “designated eater” who samples the cuisine instead. In Birmingham this individual was Abby Southerland, a University of Alabama graduate now in her second season as a media relations intern.

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Despite the fact that Abby was a team employee and I the world’s most talented, beloved and universally respected Minor League Baseball blogger, we were left to the wolves when it came to food procurement. The Barons hadn’t had much time to prepare after moving in to the new ballpark, and the lines at the concession stands were long and slow moving.

Like the Davies brothers waiting to use the treadmill, there were still some Kinks to work out.

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A new location of Alabama’s iconic Dreamland BBQ now exists in Regions Field’s outfield entertainment area, but it wasn’t yet open on the night I was in attendance. So Abby and I instead braved the line at Piper’s Pub and Grill, which, as a consolation prize, featured several items that incorporated Dreamland ingredients.

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We ended up with this array:

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Item Number One, on the far left, is the Magic City Dog (Magic City is Birmingham’s nickname, but you knew this). This item is comprised of a 1/4 pound smoked sausage, cole slaw, BBQ sauce, and spicy brown mustard.

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Abby gave it a go:

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Abby’s take: “The spiciness of the mustard gives it a kick, and the cole slaw gives it a real Southern feel. And then the sausage, that’s classic, so altogether this is a good ballpark food.”

Next up was the Dreamland BBQ Nachos:

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“You come to Birmingham, you want good Southern food, you go to Dreamland. That’s what people will tell you,” said Southerland, a Birmingham native. “This is a good finger food, one of those things you just have to try.”

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As for me? While people are often deeply sympathetic to my gluten-free circumstances, I’m always like ‘Nah, it ain’t that bad” and explain that there are always options. My attempt to consume a small orb of concourse luminescence turned out to unsuccessful…

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but I had no problem with this pickle. More teams should sell pickles!

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New online dating profile pic

It took a while for me to get the pickle out of my mouth, but once I did I looked up and realized that a dual no-hitter was going on.

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The first hit of the game occurred almost immediately after I took the picture. That’s how these things work.

But anyway, with the concessions portion of the evening out of the way — thanks, Abby! — I was pretty much left to my own devices. Just an ineffectual man wandering around with an ineffectual plan, of no concern to the stadium’s elite and hoi polloi alike.

I took pictures, I did.

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Like Dreamland BBQ, this “Power Force” batting cage wasn’t yet open on the night that I was in attendance. But it’s pretty unique in that it’s the batting cage the players will use, and fans can then take their hacks during the game.

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But who wants to be in a cage on such a beautiful night?

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This outfield play area, manned by a gameday employee (on the mound) is really cool.

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It was all very vague, but earlier in the evening I’d been told that I was to be a participant in some sort of between-inning tomfoolery. This allowed for a stop at my favorite area of any ballpark: the promo closet.

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Turns out that I was selected as a Chicken Dance participant. I mean, sure, whatever, dude’s got to make a living. I gave my camera to a promo intern to document my fowl maneuvers, and I guess she thought I wanted her to take a picture of me right there and then.

Oh, hello.

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She also took a picture of her and a friend, who now achieve internet immortality by appearing on this blog.

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I think this picture  sums up my enthusiasm for this particular iteration of the Chicken Dance.

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If you’re one of those people who is obsessive about team store ceiling height, then you’re going to want to contact the Barons for the specific dimensions of this imminently airy retail operation. It’s vertically proficient!

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Segues are for losers. Long streams of disconnected images, on the other hand? That’s where it’s at!

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Oh, hey, look, the Barons won! I had barely noticed.

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And when the Barons win, you win! And when something is free, you don’t have to purchase it! Who knew?

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The game may have ended, but this post (and, by extension, this seemingly never-ending stream of road trip coverage) is going to keep right on going. I spent that night in the Birmingham Sheraton, and, as you can see, I loved it there:

 

That morning was an 11 a.m. Education Day game or Kid’s Day game or Kidpacalypse or whatever you want to call it, so back in the rental car it was for one final stadium drive. I was a bit late in arriving, and the parking lot I had utilized the day before was full. I  then circled around construction sites and detour signs and dead ends until I began to feel like I was trapped in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

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So close, yet so far

I eventually found a spot about 11/32 of a mile from the ballpark, and upon entering the stadium found myself in the midst of madness. My take on Kid’s Day promos can be summed up thusly:

Kids were everywhere, most of them shrieking like insects out of Hades, but looking on the bright side it was a beautiful day. Here’s another barrage of photos for you, largely unencumbered by words.

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introspective mascot

introspective mascot alert

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Can’t get no relief

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A great way to spend three innings or so.

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This shot of the first base concourse  illustrates Regions Field’s impressive (and imposing) steel warehouse motif, as well as its altogether Brobdingnagian dimensions.

137 For one inning there toward the end, I actually sat down and watched the game like a normal person. It didn’t feel right.

139But you know what does feel right? Bringing this blog post to an end. Eight MiLB.com features, 10 blog posts, and two dozen Vines later, road trip number one of the 2013 season is now officially in the books.

Thank you for reading. Next time I file an “On the Road” dispatch, it will be from the great state of Wisconsin.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Sounds Like a Good Time in Nashville

I visited Nashville’s Greer Stadium on Thursday, May 9th. The Sounds were expecting me:

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Two days later I was asked by another writer, via Twitter, my thoughts on the ballpark and my 140-character summation was as follows:

“It’s a bit of a dump and inadequate for the needs of such a large market…BUT…it’s got a ramshackle charm that I really enjoy.”

I stand by that sentiment, which isn’t surprising since said sentiment is, as I type this in a Savannah hotel room, less than 24 hours old. Greer Stadium — 35 years old and showing its age — is no one’s idea of an ideal facility (especially in a major market that boasts the NFL, NHL and a plethora of top-flight cultural attractions). But until that far away and as of now theoretical day when a new downtown stadium gets built, this out of the way anomaly will have to do. And I, for one, think it does just fine. If you like ramshackle charm — yes, three paragraphs in and I’m already quoting myself — then I think you’ll like it too.

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037The area surrounding the stadium is rather hilly (Fort Negley, built by occupying Union forces during the Civil War, sits adjacent), and while walking in and around Greer one often has the feeling of  not being totally on the level. Upon entering the stadium the concrete slopes downward quite sharply, which, on this particular occasion, led fans directly to a box of underwear.

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The briefs were being given away by Gildan, a Triple-A baseball sponsor, who were asking fans to take Instagram pictures during the game tagged #gildanfavorites. What a life this gentleman in the middle of the picture has had — from serving in Korea and Vietnam to being given free underwear at a Minor League Baseball game as part of a social media initiative. I bet he was Instagramming all night long.

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From the concourse to the press box, where I took the first of many photos that includes Greer’s iconic guitar scoreboard. No strings attached!

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Per the team: The guitar-shaped scoreboard is a fan favorite for all who come to Greer Stadium. Its total width is nearly 116 feet — 60′ (guitar body), 36′ (scoreboard/neck), 19.6′ (turning key section). The height is 53′ and depth is 24″.

The vast expanse of seats, just waiting for the throngs of “Throwback Thursday” fans ($5 admission w/coupon and $2 beer, soda and concession items, all while the team wears its throwback blue jerseys).

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Some of these seats are in better shape than others. These, down the third base line, are a tad sunbleached.

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I briefly ascended to the top of the stadium to check out the view from Slugger’s (a bar and restaurant open to all fans).

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These elevated meanderings were cut short however, as I had urgent business to attend to on the ground level. My media pass was contingent upon being a contestant in the nightly Tire Race.

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As the game began, I, media relations director Alex Wassel, and my fellow tire race qualifiers were crouched in the aisle while waiting for our  big racing moment. I took a few pictures from this vantage point.

The National Anthem, as sung by a burly trio known as The Kentucky Lineman (far left, their arms around one another).

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With the game underway, it’s time to play a game within a game called “Can you name that Fresno Grizzlie head”? There are nine heads in this picture, please list who they belong to (left to right) and leave your answer in the comments section. There is no prize, and I don’t know the answer, but, please, just do it, just because.

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Throwback Thursday, underway!

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The fans, from the get-go, were rooting for Fresno to go down in de-feet.

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With that burst of photographic artfulness out of the way, I handed my camera to Wassel so that he could document the tire race exploits.

What, me Ozzie?

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How it went down:

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Yes, that dude totally wiped out at second base and still won.

I checked my phone after the race and saw that I had an urgent text from one Heather Beshore: “I’m hungry!”

Heather was to be the evening’s designated eater, and if you’re new to the blog (the most underrated enterprise in all of sports media)  then let me explain: I have recruited a “designated eater” at each ballpark that I visit, and this individual is tasked with eating the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet does not allow (I was diagnosed with celiac disease last season. Waaaah).

I was put in touch with Heather after recieving an email from her boyfriend, Chris, who is also eating gluten-free these days. She’s a Florida native who came to Nashville for grad school and then decided to stay, and her job currently has something to do with 401K plans (she didn’t provide many details, in favor of eating a hamburger).

“Chris is from Wisconsin and he loves the Brewers [the Sounds' parent club], so when he comes here he’s really into the baseball,” said Heather. “Me, I just come for the food!”

True to form, then, Chris opted to stay downstairs and watch baseball while Heather and I went up to Slugger’s.

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Heather B, not to be confused with the season one Real World star of the same name

That’s Heather with an “Ozzie Burger” and a Blue Moon, which we had procured at the concourse-level Bullpen Burgers. (Her favorite Greer Stadium food option, The Dog Pound, was unfortunately closed for the evening).

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Not available!

So, yes, the burger it was. It was falling apart from the get-go.

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As for the Ozzie Burger, Heather was non-plussed.

“I’d give it a 5 or a 6,” she said. “It’s juicy, and a little messy, but it lacks the spice and charm of a home-made burger. It’s a little too generic.”

She also helpfully explained that, even though the burger is named after Ozzie the mascot, “it does not taste like cat.”

BUT! She then raved about a prior experience with Slugger’s BBQ Pork Nachos, so I grabbed an order of those as well.

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Heather, as you can see, was hesitant to be documented in mid-bite. That’s fine! This whole “designated eater” thing is an experiment, and for now I don’t really have any rules with it. I’m just glad people are willing to do it, and it’s been a fun way to meet a new person at every ballpark. Heather was relaxed and engaging and had a great sense of humor about the whole thing.

She also had a lot of nachos (okay, I may have had some as well, trying to avoid the gluten-ous processed cheese).

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“I’m still very happy even though I’m full,” said Heather. “I’m happy I had food, and I’m happy I ate it.”

Well said!

Okay, back to the game action.

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The usual shenanigans:

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Scooter vs. the Scoreboard (long-time readers and/or Appletonians might get that reference).

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I may have totally misheard, but I’m pretty sure these bullpen denizens were debating the merits of various Norman Lear-produced sitcoms.

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“Dude, Maude is the best spin-off of all-time.”

Following Ozzie’s pawprints, I took a walk through the concourse. Although I missed the chance to take a picture of them, I soon was greeted by two goofy white kids about 12 years of age.

“Hello, sir, I am Chief Keef,” said one.

“I am Waka Flaka,” said the other. “Please buy my album.”

But anyway. Pictures of the ramshackle charm in full effect.

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Let it be known that, on this particular evening, the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Southern Division was as close as it could possibly be. Almost.

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Those teams, like these people, are back-to-back-back-to-back.

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My wanderings led me to the other side of the ballpark, shockingly enough, and, even more shockingly, a game was still going on.

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The Greer Garden has seen better days, it appears.

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Despite being a decent crowd overall, it was totally deserted in this beyond-the-outfield area. I made a Vine video expressing my profound feeling of isolation, and hope that you may devote six seconds to it. (Follow me on Twitter — @bensbiz — to see all Vine videos as soon as they are posted).

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Back in civilization! I love the enthusiasm of these women, who were playing a “Choose the Box” game that netted Becky (in the Pirates jersey) Sounds tickets and a Burger King gift card. So much emotion!

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Rat Patrol in the house!

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(Later in the evening I saw a member of Rat Patrol in the restroom, so I lingered by the sink so that I could ask a few questions about the organization. But, of course, the dude opted not to wash his hands and, looking back, it was very naive of me to have assumed otherwise.)

On a similarly rock n roll note: the day before, Jack White had been in attendance along with employees of his Nashville-based Third Man record label. (Also, a record-pressing plant is located across the street from the stadium!) This picture later surfaced on Third Man’s Instagram page, although it was free from any underwear-related taggings:

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I spent the last two innings with Adam Hayes, a video intern for the Milwaukee Brewers who, using a thing called technology, extensively documents every Sounds home game.

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For more on Hayes and how he operates, read my MiLB.com story! That is not a request, but a demand.

The game concluded with an 11-7 Sounds victory, and as the stadium was emptying out I ran into Dave Clark and Doug Cornfield, from the Dave Clark Foundation. You may remember them from my Fort Myers visit from last season, and/or my story on the “Special Needs Baseball Camp” for disabled youth. They were in town to run a disability camp at Greer Stadium over the weekend –a worthwhile cause, and more will be held at Minor League parks throughout the season. Always worth supporting!

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So, anyway, to sum it up: If ramshackle charm is your thing then get thee to Greer!

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Jack of All Trades, Master of One

Last week I wrote a piece on Aaron Goldsmith, who, at the age of 29, has landed a job as the Mariners #2 radio announcer after just six seasons in the Minor and independent leagues. Here’s the “cover” art:

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Of course I’d encourage you to read the story, but the reason I’m bringing it up here in this blog forum is because I’d like to share a notable “outtake” from my conversation with Goldsmith. When I asked him his thoughts on why the Mariners hired him (out of 160 applicants), he replied that “first and foremost I hope they liked the way I call a game.”

While this should go without saying, he then remarked about an aspect of his hiring that was perhaps more unexpected.

“I have experience doing things outside of the broadcast booth, social media, creating web content, podcasts and video interviews,” said Goldsmith. “[The Mariners] were very interested in my ideas and thoughts regarding what worked and what hadn’t worked within that realm.”

Major League organizations are far more fragmented and specific in their employee responsibilities than their Minor League counterparts, and Goldsmith won’t be expected to be a technological jack-of-all-trades like he was during his stints with the Frisco RoughRiders (2010-11) and Pawtucket Red Sox (2012). Nonetheless, these skills appeared to have played at least some role in his acquisition of a much-coveted big league job and as such I believe his example in this realm can and should be one to follow.

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A postage-stamp sized representation of Aaron’s PawSox blog

On a personal level — over the years I have become acquainted with dozens (hundreds?) of Minor League broadcasters and, certainly, Goldsmith was among those who stood out due to his proactive approach to online communication. He started Frisco’s “Riders Insider” blog in November 2010, which almost immediately established itself as one of the most informative and oft-updated blogs in Minor League Baseball. Upon getting hired with Pawtucket Goldsmith began “45 Miles From Fenway,” which in January 2013 was the highest-ranked MiLB team blog (coming in at #23 overall on MLBlogs monthly “Latest Leaders” list).

Success in such endeavors means nothing if you can’t call a baseball game, of course. But, nonetheless I believe that maintaining a strong presence in these supplementary areas (blogs, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, etc) is a crucial way to increase your visibility and, therefore, your reputation within what is quite possibly the most cutthroat occupation in all of Minor League Baseball.

I’m getting a little uncomfortable up here on this soapbox, so now seems as good a time as any to beat a hasty retreat. But, before I do so, let me reiterate that I am course interested in your opinion on this and all MiLB-related matters.

Especially broadcasters: do you believe that the development of these secondary skills is now a prerequisite of your success? Or can one still rise to the top on game-calling prowess alone?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Bud, Butch, Moses and Moe: A Brief Guide to MiLB.com’s Black History Month Coverage

February, as you know, is Black History Month. And each February from 2006-11, MiLB.com ran a series of articles spotlighting the trials, tribulations and triumphs of black players within and around the world of Minor League Baseball.

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All told nearly 40 Black History articles ran on the site during these six seasons, and a full list can be found as a sidebar in the 2011 articles. (Click HERE for an example.) The “Black History Month in the Minor Leagues” series was “retired” after that season because it was becoming too difficult to find article topics that hadn’t been done before, but the content lives on.

This February MiLB.com is running a Black History Month story each and every day — today’s features pioneering umpire Emmett Ashford — and this represents as good a chance as any to re-visit what I believe is a fascinating and easy-to-overlook aspect of baseball (and American) history. Everyone knows the story of Jackie Robinson, and deservedly so, but racial integration was happening throughout the Minor Leagues from 1946 onward and often in far more obscure circumstances. Did you know, for example, that Jackie was one of five players to integrate the Minors in 1946? He was joined on the Montreal Royals that season by Roy Partlow and John Wright, while future MLB stars Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella were suiting up for Class B Nashua.

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I was fortunate enough to research and write a dozen Black History Month articles, on some of the aforementioned topics as well as 1949’s wave of black standouts at the Triple-A level, the “minor” Negro Leagues, the bizarre saga of perennially-unpromoted Midwest League superstar Moe Hill, the overlooked career of 39-year-old “rookie” Quincy Trouppe, Nashville legend Butch McCord (who I interviewed in 2006, approximately five years before he died in 2011 at the age of 85), and the accidental legacy of Jimmy Claxton (first black player to appear on a baseball card).

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Quincy Trouppe (l), who made it to the Majors as a 39-year-old “rookie” in 1952.

But for whatever reason, the aspect black baseball history that I find most fascinating involves those from the late 19th and early 20th century who played in “white” leagues. While racism was of course prevalent during this time, formal color barriers did not exist and at least 30 black players suited up within the Minors. One of these players was Moses Fleetwood Walker, who played for the American Association’s Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884 and, as such, has long been identified as the first black player in Major League history. But there’s far more to that story! Walker was also a lecturer, entrepreneur, newspaper publisher, racial theorist and inventor who, in 1891, was acquitted by an all-white jury on a second-degree murder charge.

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Moses Fleetwood Walker (left), when he was a member of Oberlin College’s baseball squad.

 Finally, there is Bud Fowler, the subject of the first Black History Month article that I ever wrote. This was in February of 2006, when MiLB.com was in its first offseason and I was a part-time employee with, quite frankly, very little to do.

I spent my time that month by getting absolutely obsessed with Fowler’s sprawling career (1879-1904), which he spent entirely within the world of “white” baseball. The Cooperstown native (!)  played within 13 different leagues —  in 22 states as well as Canada — and was rarely in the same locale for more than a year at a time. After scouring the internet for every last scrap of info I could find and then making several trips to the main branch of the New York Public Library, I wrote a 5000+ word piece on Fowler that remains the longest thing I’ve ever written (or probably will write) during my time producing content for MiLB.com. Read it HERE.

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Bud Fowler, one of my all-time heroes, is second row on the far right.

Sometimes I dream of writing a book called “Bud Fowler’s America,” a biography/travelogue that would intertwine his career with the histories (baseball and otherwise) of the various cities and towns that he played in. (Please don’t steal my idea, as it is something that I like to think about while not compulsively checking my Twitter feed.)

AND STOP THE PRESSES! Not even an hour after writing this, as I was compulsively checking my Twitter feed, I came across the news that the village of Cooperstown will be honoring Bud Fowler on April 20th (the 100th anniversary of his death). This will be occurring in conjunction with SABR’s (Society for American Baseball Research) annual 19th Century Base Ball Conference, which is being held in Cooperstown from April 19-21. Mayor Jeff Katz reports:

Cooperstown, New York, honors its own forgotten pioneer, Bud Fowler, on April 20, 2013, with the naming of the entrance into legendary Doubleday Field “Fowler Way” and the installation of a permanent plaque in the brick wall of the first base bleachers. Fowler (born John W. Jackson) is recognized as the first African-American player in organized professional baseball, playing for over two decades in the nineteenth century despite facing constant racial discrimination.

I may have to be in attendance for this. I really think that I oughta be.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Looking for a Pizza the Action

This past September, I wrote an article on the Lake Elsinore Storm’s sizable fleet of surreal costumed characters and what they add to the ballpark experience. Here are the first two paragraphs of that article, in the hope that it may jog your memory regarding what it is I’m talking about:

A gorilla being pummeled with foam noodles before escaping over a 12-foot fence. … A 6-foot chicken racing across a vast expanse of grass alongside an equally oversized squirrel. … A pink rabbit emerging from a secret door, gyrating furiously before disappearing from whence he came. … A cup of ice cream dancing joyously alongside a banana, whose presence greatly excites the aforementioned gorilla.

The above may sound like the disconnected fragments of a particularly surreal fever dream — and they very well could be. But “particularly surreal fever dream” also might be the best way to describe the between-innings entertainment at a Lake Elsinore Storm game, which includes all of the eccentric characters mentioned above and many, many more.

If YOU want in on that action, NOW is the time to act. Last week, the Storm announced that they’re “looking for local talent to join our crazy cast of on-field characters this season.”

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Per the team:

Do you have what it takes to join the likes of the Fastest Squirrel in the World and Grounds Crew Gorilla? Create a 30-second video of you as a character of your choice. Upload it to YouTube and send the link to promos@stormbaseball.com. We’re looking to be wowed, so aim for our faces.

That “aim for our faces” remark is a reference to the team’s Rally Cop character, who was known for throwing his “softee balls to your face.” (Those are the team’s words, not mine). The team’s plea for performers is motivated at least in part by the sad fact that the Rally Cop is no longer. Storm staffer Robbie Gillett, the Rally Cop’s alter-ego, is no longer with the team.

So long, Rally Cop — we hardly knew ye!

The Storm aren’t the only team searching for new blood these days. The Lexington Legends currently have an opening in their front office, and one of the candidates has found a creative way to plead his case.

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This bit of pizza-based advocacy made a strong impression with the Legends staff, with broadcaster Keith Elkins marveling that it’s “the first edible application that we’ve received.” Ty Cobb, the Legends’  director of creative services, wrote that Dan “will certainly receive full consideration” when it comes to which candidates the team decides to interview. My guess is that Dan has made himself the front-runner in the team’s employment sweepstakes, but who knows? Maybe another candidate will soon utilize a dessert-based medium as a means of self-promotion — that would really be the icing on the cake!

Going out on a high note since 2007,

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Mustaches Amidst the Mythical

In one of last week’s posts, I detailed a triumvirate of satirical responses that Minor League teams had come up with in regard to recent events. Well, there’s always more where that came from. One endeavor that I failed to include involved the Eugene Emeralds, who uncovered a bit of fortuitous news in the same week that they unveiled their new Sasquatch logos.

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Take it away, press release, the way you have oh so many times before:

In the same week that the Eugene Emeralds Baseball Club released their new Sasquatch inspired logo, researchers have released a study finding DNA links between humans and the legendary Bigfoot.  “Genetically, the Sasquatch are a human hybrid with unambiguously modern human maternal ancestry,” reads a statement released by former veterinarian Melba T. Ketchum, the lead researcher of the study. “Researchers’ extensive DNA sequencing suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago.”

 The Emeralds have fielded questions from fans all week inquiring about the association between the Eugene Emeralds and the new Sasquatch logo.  “Now it is clear,” said Ems General Manager Allan Benavides,  “How is Eugene linked to Bigfoot?  Well, we are all linked by DNA.  You know, science.”

Fans have also been concerned that the introduction of the Sasquatch logo means the end of the loveable bright green bear mascot Sluggo. While Sasquatch is not taking over for Sluggo, the Emeralds are looking into the potential of having a live animal mascot at home games similar to the Universities of Colorado, Georgia and Texas.  The organization is seeking a group of nature enthusiast interns (unpaid of course) to search out a live Bigfoot.  Applications for this internship can be emailed to info@emeraldsbaseball.com or mailed to PO Box 10911, Eugene, OR 97440.

Initial plans are to use Bigfoot as the world’s largest batboy.  The team has petitioned the league to have umpires undergo wilderness training to mitigate the risk of on-field attacks.

I queried the Emeralds, via Twitter, regarding the response to this unpaid internship offer. They report that they have indeed been contacted by interested applicants, and have even been in touch with a local high school’s “Squatch Club.”

Stay tuned…

For a less-recent example of excessive hair on the baseball diamond, check out this 2011 West Michigan Whitecaps innovation: the Logan Hoch cam!

Finally, fans of Minor League Baseball, movies, and the intersection of the two might enjoy my recent article on the film Parental GuidanceIt stars Billy Crystal as Fresno Grizzlies announcer Artie Decker, and the opening scene was filmed at Chukchansi Park.

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Crystal chatting up the Grizzlies during a break in filming

The article I wrote was, naturally, quite baseball-centric. But I’d like to make it known that, above and beyond the MiLB connection, Parental Guidance is a quality family movie. Yes, it suffered at times as a result of trying to be all things to all people, but it had heart, was well-written and acted, and even included a Ralph Branca cameo. In looking at some of the negative reviews it got online, my response is “Lighten up!” Making a film that can really and truly appeal to the whole family is a delicate balancing act, and Parental Guidance succeeded far more than it failed.

All of this, on some level, is a metaphor for Minor League Baseball itself.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Something Fur Everyone

I have already thoroughly documented my own Winter Meetings experience, and played a role in documenting the experiences of quite a few others. But as our old friend Ron Popeil was so fond of saying: “But wait — there’s more!”

On both December 2 and December 3 the touring performance crew known as Fur Circus made goodwill appearances at the Nashville Ronald McDonald House and Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital (prior to setting up shop as Trade Show exhibitors). This was a win-win mix of altruism and self-promotion — Fur Circus, relative newcomers on the MiLB touring circuit, were able to spread some good cheer while also spreading the word about themselves.

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Fur Circus put out a press release prior to their visit, and later wrapped it up with this:

But, of course, all of that happened in the long-ago year of 2012. Here in 2013, we have new things to occupy our time —  like New Year’s-themed ticket packs! The Miracle have been doing this for a couple of years now, and I’m always surprised that it hasn’t inspired other teams to do something similar.

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Speaking of ticket packs, you may remember that the Durham Bulls are offering the creatively conceived and executed “Wil He or Won’t He” package. Per the squadron:

The Durham Bulls have unveiled a new ticket package in response to the blockbuster trade which sent Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers and other Kansas City Royals prospects to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for former Bulls pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. The “Wil He, Won’t He?” Pack consists of three big Bulls games, including Opening Day on April 8th and July 4th, and an added incentive for fans should Myers skip Durham and make the Major League roster out of Spring Training. If he does not start the season with the Bulls, ticket package buyers will receive an additional game for free.

Well, now said package has been endorsed  by Mr. Myers himself!

Finally, in the all-important category of “Minor League team page staff bios,” both the State College Spikes and Lake County Captains have modeled theirs after retro baseball card designs. An example of each:

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Oh, and speaking of retro baseball cards — last year around this time I put together a series of “then and now” blog posts detailing those featured in the classic 1987 Topps set who are currently coaching in the Minor Leagues. Why don’t you give it another look? It was a lot of fun to put together and got a great response, but Lord knows it’s too much work for me to re-do each year. I’m only one man.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

(Yet Another) Job Seeker Journal: Clint Changes His Destination

Throughout this year’s Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair kept a journal chronicling their employment seeking experiences. (Meet them all HERE).

While it seemed that this serialized blogging saga had concluded, this turned out to emphatically NOT be the case. Clint Belau, the self-described “favorite” of the four job seekers, is no longer Birmingham-bound and in this post he explains why his 2013 plans now involve a certain PCL juggernaut.

Read Clint’s other entries HERE.

Clint Belau: You can't spell "Isotopes" without "ops"

Clint

A Change of Plans

Remember me?  It’s your favorite (ok, that seems a bit vain, but let’s just proceed as if it were true) PBEO Job Fair attendee Clint Belau! After a Christmas vacation back to Wisconsin — where I witnessed over two feet of snow falling and ate enough food to last me through spring — I’m back with an update.

When I last checked in, I hadn’t heard back from either of the teams that interviewed me in Nashville. That surprised me, considering I felt both interviews had gone extremely well. However, it turned out that my Nashville trip was all gravy on the proverbial mashed potatoes as I had already received an offer from the Birmingham Barons the day before I left for the Winter Meetings.  Well, during my vacation, the gravy got whole lot thicker (I’m 93.8% sure that reference doesn’t make sense, but at the moment, I’ve managed to confuse myself, and don’t remember where I was going with the whole mashed potatoes thing).

Nearly two weeks after the Winter Meetings, I received an email from one team that had interviewed me and a phone call from the other…on the same day!  The purpose of both was to say that they really liked me, and wanted to offer me a position! So it turns out I’m not crazy, and those interviews in Nashville actually did go as well as I had thought!  Here I was, on what was going to be simply a celebratory trip home, mentally preparing for the drive to Alabama, and I now had two more job offers to ponder! After a couple drinks to settle the nerves and some weighing of pros/cons, I had a decision to make.

Was I suspicious that each of these teams had run through their list of first picks, been turned down, and were now perusing their list of backup candidates? Absolutely. If they liked me so much, how come I didn’t get a call back for two weeks? Surprisingly, I gathered up enough courage to pose that question when I spoke with both teams. In each case, the answer I received left me feeling quite sure that I was indeed atop both of their respective lists.

After considering my options (and a phone call to a world famous blogger who shall remain nameless), I have decided that the best fit for me would be in stadium operations with the Albuquerque Isotopes.

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The Isotopes are the Triple-A affiliate of the Dodgers. Being that I’m currently living in Phoenix, proximity, as well as level of baseball, comfortability with the team’s representatives, and a personal reason or two, all played a part in my decision. (And for those of you who are wondering, no, the fact that their team name is an homage to The Simpsons was not one of those personal reasons.)  So in a few weeks, it’s off to Albuquerque I go, to continue this journey toward a career in baseball.  Feel free to follow my escapades on Twitter (@clintbelau), where I’ll be rambling about the most attractive features Albuquerque has to offer, as well as offering my 140 character opinion on the latest Taco Bell commercial, which angers me by insinuating that somehow, bringing a 10 pack of crunchy tacos to a party (and consequently spilling lettuce and cheese all over your friend’s apartment) is somehow cooler than bringing a cheese and cracker platter.  

 OK, update complete.  I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.
Thanks, Clint, and best of luck in Albuquerque! That will most likely this year’s crop of Job Seeker Journals, but who really does know?
benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

Notes from Nashville

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks documenting the Winter Meetings perspectives and experiences of others, but today I thought I’d close out the 2012 blogging campaign by documenting my own time in Nashville. Or, more specifically, the time I spent wandering the labyrinthian corridors, archways and staircases of the absurdly large (and, I must point out, impeccably maintained) Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

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2012 marked a Winter Meetings return to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, which last hosted the event in 2007 and will, yet again, in 2015. 2007 was my first Winter Meetings, and my memories of that experience are tinged with angst (as most of my memories are, but to a greater degree). At that point I was still finding my way with this job, and was not asked to go in any official capacity. But I went anyway, paying for my transportation and crashing in the hotel room of a benevolent co-worker. I had no idea what I was doing — Minor League Baseball was kind enough to give me a badge that provided entry to the daily events (such as the Trade Show and Gala), but I had no official media credentials, very few contacts, and virtually no money. I didn’t even have a camera. The blog posts from that trip, written less than two months after the blog itself was founded, reflect the ramshackle nature of that journey. (One post is simply a document of a conversation I had with a guy at a nearby Waffle House.) In looking back at the coverage of that trip, I am struck by how much I don’t like my writing and its snarky and dismissive yet trying-too-hard tone. (I am sure that, in five years, I will be disgusted by what I am writing right now. It is the way of things.)

All of this is to say that when I arrived back in Nashville for the 2012 Meetings, once of my first realizations was just how much my situation had changed in the last five years. Day to day it’s easy to feel like I’ve made no progress whatsoever, but here I was back at the Opryland and this time I was there in a far more legitimate capacity. Throughout the next three+ days I had many things to do, people to see, and stories to write. People would know who I am and I, in turn, would know them. I felt strangely at peace, and to the extent that I did anything on Sunday night it was this: some casual Opryland wandering, in order to re-acquaint myself with its gargantuan layout. (I also got some sushi, which was comically overpriced but competently prepared.)

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Monday, the first official day of the Winter Meetings, kicked off with the Bob Freitas Business Seminar. If you’re a fan of large crowds of people —  mostly men, mostly white — in bland business casual attire then this is the event for you! (Feel free to use that as a pull quote when advertising next year’s seminar). The morning portion of the seminar is comprised of a series of lectures, and I attended those within the “Licensing and Merchandising” track (just because). Here’s a riveting photo:

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Despite my snarky and dismissive tone thus far (I guess some things never change), I do find value in the Freitas Seminar and wrote about my experiences HERE in as freewheeling and irreverent (yet hopefully still informative) a style as I could muster at the time. Between lectures, attendees mill about in the hallways outside and as one would expect the scene is heavy on back-slapping and flesh-pressing — for many in the industry, the Winter Meetings is the only opportunity of the year to renew acquaintances with distant league peers and former co-workers. Much has been made of the myriad networking opportunities to be found at an event such as this, but it really is invaluable.

Come together

Come together

At 11 a.m. there was a break in the Bob Freitas Seminar action as attendees made their way over to the Brobdingnagian Presidential Ballroom for the “Opening Session.” Get ready for another riveting picture, because here it comes!

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The Opening Session has followed the same format in each year that I’ve attended — Randy Wehofer (of Iowa Cubs fame and fortune), serving as emcee, announces the full slate of league executive of the year awards and this then transitions to the main event: Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner’s speech. This always serves as a Minor League “state of the union” of sorts, during which O’Conner touches upon the past year’s triumphs and trials before looking toward the future.

This year I was VERY intrigued by what O’Conner had to say, as he introduced an ambitious new industry-wide initiative entitled “Project Brand.”

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I ended up writing a feature about Project Brand the following week, so please check that out if you’re desirous of more info. But, in a nutshell, this initiative is an attempt to market Minor League Baseball in a top-down, all-inclusive way. Essentially, it involves telling the story of Minor League Baseball in a manner that will be attractive to national sponsors and fans alike.

This resonated with me because, on a micro level, this is the story that I’ve been trying to tell through my work on MiLB.com and this blog. My content adheres to this emerging industry-wide vision and should complement it nicely. (To paraphrase a set of Coolio lyrics that have always been very important to me: There ain’t no interest like self-interest, because self interest don’t stop!)

After skipping the Awards Luncheon (for, among other reasons, my lack of anyone to sit with. I’m a lone wolf at these events, and somewhat envious of the the fact that many of the other people there roll deep with their team and league colleagues) I reconvened with all of the industry heads for the “roundtable” portion of the Freitas Seminar. There are 15 round tables and they all take place concurrently, with each presenter doing three half hour presentations.

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Meanwhile, most of the media hordes were camped out in their private ballroom. Oversaturation!

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But you can’t blame the media for showing up in droves. Who wouldn’t want to spend their time amidst such an idyllic environment? And I’ve got to give a quick tip of the hat to the Opryland here — the customer service within that place is impeccable. It’s easy to get lost, but employees (no matter what their specific job) always went out of there way to provide any assistance that they could. I imagine that Minor League Baseball employees, themselves in an industry so focused on customer service, were particularly cognizant of this as well.

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Of course, a big part of the Winter Meetings experience is the nighttime socializing. On Monday I fell prey to a problem that has been exacerbated by my new(ish) gluten-free reality — I can’t drink beer (and seemingly EVERYONE is drinking beer) so instead I went with whisky. But, of course, one beer does not equal one whisky and I lended up paying the price for my cavalier attitude in this regard.

But what can you do? Tuesday morning was a bit rough, but I had my first round of Job Seeker Journals to post. (Doing that sort of thing is a bit more work than people may assume. Adding titles, tags, links, photos and doing some basic editing takes time!) Next on the agenda was that a stop at the mecca of baseball-themed consumer goods and services that is the Trade Show.

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On display: one of the many new looks of the Reading Fightin’ Phils.

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And speaking of new uniforms, here’s a peak at what the Eugene Emeralds will be sporting.

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This sign, it was inaccurate!

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And — hey! It’s my old friends at Lynn University. Each year, students in professor Ted Curtis’ sports management program set up a booth at the Trade Show. In addition to spreading the word about the learning experiences on offer within their idyllic Sunshine State environs, they listen to impromptu lectures from various individuals within the baseball biz whom Curtis had asked to stop by.

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One such individual was me. Contrary to the picture, my audience was slightly larger than one.

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Toward the end of my spiel, I thanked Professor Curtis for continually asking me to take part in this. His invite back in 2007 was one of the reasons I first decided to attend the Winter Meetings. My thinking at the time was “If someone I’ve never met before wants me to speak, then I’ve got to go!” It served as a validation of sorts, a reminder that what I was doing was slowly starting to build an audience. (Put the emphasis on “slowly” in that previous sentence.)

But anyway — I ended up doing a story for MiLB.com on Trade Show first-timer Ben “The Utility Man” Youngerman, who’s gotten several mentions on this blog in the past. What can I say? I like his scrappy spirit and willingness to do whatever it takes to become a touring ballpark performer. This is not an easy industry to break into.

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All in all it was an enjoyable time at the Trade Show, even if I didn’t walk out of there $500 richer like Wisconsin Timber Rattlers graphic designer Ann Mollica.

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Mollica, who disavowed the legacy of fellow Wisconsinite Joe McCarthy by dividing this bounty equally amongst her co-workers, had won a raffle sponsored by the Skillville Group (home of the Zooperstars!, Myron Noodleman and Breakin’ B-Boy McCoy amongst others). Skillville are definitely the cool kids of the Trade Show — their advertising was featured on the back of the Winter Meetings badges, and their jumbo-sized booth manned by a squadron of employees in bright orange shirts had a prominent location close to the Trade Show entrance. They are very good at what they do, and well-known for it. The New York Yankees of Minor League Baseball touring performers?

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Mr. McCoy during a “break” in the action

On Tuesday evening I interviewed Winter Meetings logo designer Dan Simon (of Studio Simon) on the top floor of the Opryland, the two of us sitting just outside of a party held by the Chicago Cubs for their Minor League affiliates (every Major League club stages such an event during the Winter Meetings). That interview ran on the blog earlier this week, as did one I conducted the following morning with Sean Kane of Painted Glove Collectibles. Another interview that took place on Wednesday was with Ryan Kiel, a 25-year-old former Minor League pitcher now trying to break into the game on the business side. I later wrote an MiLB.com feature on Kiel, who, as it turns out, was hired as the general manager of the Appy League Pulaski Mariners (the same team for whom he began his pitching career, in 2010). This is a very interesting career arc!

Ryan Kiel: then and now

Ryan Kiel: then and now

Early in the afternoon I went back to the Trade Show to tie up a couple of loose ends — including a visit to the Australian Airbrushed Tattoos booth in order to get a temporary tattoo of a Minor League team (this is something that, two days before, I had promised I would do). The guys manning the booth had dozens of logos to choose from, and after some vacillating I went with the Timber Rattlers. I’ve always liked their logo, and figured I’d represent Wisconsin since I keep meaning to visit there in a professional context and thus far have been unable to do so. Also, I thought one their staff members might slip me a bit of the raffle winnings in exchange for the free promo I was giving them. (It was not to be, but please remember that I am always open to bribery.)

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So there you go — I got a temporary tattoo. It lasted for the better part of a week, and I grew to like it because it made me feel tough.

With things winding down, I strolled through the PBEO Job Fair area. These photos, like most that I took, aren’t very exciting. But perhaps they will help contextualize the series of Job Seeker Journals that have run on this blog.

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The final order of business for me was simply to attend the Gala, a three hour party (food and drinks included) attended by virtually every Minor League Baseball employee at the Winter Meetings. As such, it marks my last chance to network, and by “network” I mean slowly walk around the premises in a circle and see who talks to me.

I have no pictures from the Gala, which this year was held at a nearby Dave and Busters, but I do have an anecdote: I’ve been following a gluten-free diet since June, and the Gala marked the first time I had ever been in a situation with literally NO options. Every single item on offer was breaded and fried, and I felt like a real chump standing there with an empty plate and not knowing what to do. Eventually an MLBAM colleague of mine who is also gluten-free asked to talk to a manager about the situation, and the manager, well meaning but totally clueless, offered to go to a nearby Subway to get us dinner. That’s kinda like inviting someone with a seafood allergy to Red Lobster but we let it slide, and eventually they brought us soup and salad for the kitchen. Good enough! I was more interested in the open bar anyway.

Also good enough was my Winter Meetings experience in general. I flew back to NYC the following day, and soon managed to get a severe case of food poisoning courtesy of a local taco truck that I often frequent (I still love you, taco truck.) But before all of that happened, I got in a little QT with perhaps the most reliable individual in my life. She could stand to lose a few pounds, perhaps, but I suppose that’s true for most of us.

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If I didn’t see you this year in Nashville — well, here’s to Orlando in 2013!

To all who read this particularly self-indulgent entry: Happy Holidays, and thanks so much for sticking with me.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Job Seeker Journal: Linda Le, 12/4/12

Throughout this year’s Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair have agreed to keep a journal chronicling their employment seeking experiences. (Meet them all HERE). In this installment, Linda Le thinks outside of the box, makes connections, and plays the drinking game.

Linda’s first entry can be found HERE.

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Tuesday, 12/4/12: GOING BEYOND THE JOB FAIR

Upon arriving to the interview schedule room to check up on any of the postings I had applied to, the same organized chaos ensued, the same disappointed faces appeared and the pacing back and forth from room to room continued.

Most of the positions I had applied to at this point were still not posted for scheduled interviews with the exception of one. I was disappointed to not see my name listed, but I still proceeded to email the contact for the team to send my regards.

There was actually one posting that I didn’t apply to originally and instead of going through the process of submitting my resume I decided to email the contact listed on the posting, which happened to be the GM for the team. This paid off as I got a quick turnaround time of a response in regards to setting up an interview for the next day.

During the afternoon as well I made time to email a couple of contacts over at the Major League team in my hometown, specifically in regards to being involved in the charity foundation that is set up in the organization. Not only was I provided with more information on the volunteer program that was being formalized but I was also added to the list of participants for the upcoming season.

This adheres to the notion that you don’t necessarily need to go through the conventional ways of pursuing an opportunity – think outside of the box. Always make opportunities happen rather than waiting for them. I believe in having the mentality of always trying to hustle and selling yourself – if you can’t sell yourself, how do you expect to be apart of an organization that revolves around the business of selling?

Another aspect of the day was meeting several job seekers who decided that the idea of working in professional baseball was not so favorable to them anymore. One individual stated that the possible sacrifices that may be made, especially being a female in the industry, was too much of a toll for her to continue her pursuit in professional baseball. Looking back at the Business of Baseball Workshop, Pat O’Conner indicated that some people who were here for the job fair will find out that perhaps working in baseball is not ideal which is perfectly fine – better to know now than to invest so much time and effort in an industry you will not enjoy.

The end of the night was capped off like every other night so far here at the Winter Meetings: drinking and more drinking. Earlier I talked about the waiting game, but it’s the drinking game that seems more appropriate here at the Gaylord Opryland – my favorite is to drink every time I see a male attendee of the Winter Meetings. It’s within these settings that are perfect for making great connections within the industry and it’s also a way for industry people to see you in a social setting because to be apart of a baseball organization is to take on a new family and when someone can see you in that perspective, it’s always appreciated.

Clearly, this narrative has not reached its conclusion. Stay tuned for the sure-to-be engrossing next installment of Linda’s job-seeking adventures.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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