During last month’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla, I got the chance to interview Bull Durham director Ron Shelton regarding the adaptation of that film into a musical. My article on that can be read HERE, but in today’s post I’d like to focus on one of the interview “outtakes.”
As my final question, I asked Shelton the following:
Considering the success of Bull Durham, have you ever considered re-visiting Minor League Baseball in the 21st century? Are there any new stories to tell?
It’s gone so corporate that it’s sort of become uninteresting. It’s great still for the players; it’s as unromantic and shaggy dog if you’re living in that world now. But the front offices of the Minor Leagues used to be as shaggy as the game on the field, but now that’s very different. It’s here [the Baseball Winter Meetings]. You can see it.
I remember a team that was owned by a guy who owned a local bread company in Stockton. That was the year we did 10,000 [fans] for the season. He only invested a few grand and lost every nickel of it, and was looking for someone to bail him out. That was the way it used to be.
Now it’s part of a big thing, but if you go to the games, it’s the same. Players, they don’t make any money, the dreams, trying to get dates with the local girls and not get in trouble if the local girl’s dad was the cop. That is exactly the same. And the fear factor, you know – you’re a star and you sign out of high school or [junior college] or college, then get to the Minor Leagues and realize it’s a nasty, brutal, tough world. An injury, or one bad season, and the number one pick, even if he’s just as good as you, he’s going to be given five years to fail while you’ve got one.
All that has not changed and never will, which is glorious.
I think that Shelton’s take on the current state of the industry is indicative of a larger issue, in that success is generally not very interesting from a story-telling perspective. And to a large extent, I share that perspective when it comes to my own writing. (For example, exploring the ramshackle absurdity of Bakersfield’s Sam Lynn Stadium is far more interesting to me than wandering around the gleaming concourse of Birmingham’s $64 million downtown ballpark amid long lines of screaming kids).
But Shelton is also romanticizing a failed business model, as well as his own memories of competing in the Minor Leagues (he played in the Orioles farm system from 1967-71, including several seasons with the bread company-backed Stockton team referenced in the interview). I believe that the Minor Leagues’ gradual rise from 1960′s obsolescence is a story worth telling, and even within today’s more “corporate” front office environs there are “shaggy dog” stories aplenty. The aforementioned Bakersfield Blaze, sure, but also everything from volunteer-run Appy League teams to down-on-their-luck Triple-A franchises to lame duck Southern League entities. Not to mention the irreverent promotional strategies that are still employed at all levels of the Minors, with various levels of enthusiasm and results.
Shelton could very well be right that the Minor League front offices of today aren’t as compelling or quirky as those that could be found some 40 or 50 years ago. But if that’s the price you’ve gotta pay for success, then so be it. If teams were still run by a motley collection of in-debt-to-their-eyeballs local merchants, then I wouldn’t have a job. And, if you work in baseball, chances are that you wouldn’t either. As many a team exec has told me: “If we only marketed to the purists, then we’d be out of business.”
One thing that Shelton made clear is that, regardless of shifts in industry operating methods, there will always be worthwhile Minor League stories to tell. At its core it always has been and always will be a brutally competitive world. Most of its participants will fall short of their goals, and the constant threat of failure makes for a compelling story.
What are your thoughts on this apropos of nothing mid-January discussion topic? Feel free to contact me via Twitter or through my corporate email address.
The viciously cold temperatures that accompanied this week’s much-ballyhooed “Polar Vortex” aren’t exactly compatible with ideal Minor League Baseball conditions, but that didn’t stop the Potomac Nationals from having a little frigid fun at the ballpark. On Tuesday and Wednesday the team held its first-ever “Polar Plunge.”
The P-Nats described the event thusly, while also noting that EMT personnel and warming blankets would be on hand (in my opinion, it’s not a true promo unless EMT are on the premises):
While temperatures plummet in Northern Virginia and around the country, the Potomac Nationals encourage fans to participate in the first annual two-day P-Nats Polar Plunge at Pfitzner Stadium on Tuesday, January 7th and Wednesday, January 8th from 1:00pm to 3:00pm each day.
Nationals fans will have the opportunity to win full general admission season tickets to the upcoming 2014 season if they stay submerged for a total of five seconds inside the home clubhouse ice bath tub which will be wheeled into the first base dugout.
The first 20 people to arrive for the P-Nats Polar Plunge will be eligible to enter the frosty ice bath.
Northern Virginians with hardy souls, including team vice-president Josh Olerud, took the plunge.
Among the photographic highlights were these. My only question is “Where you at, ladies?”
Via email, P-Nats media relations director Bryan Holland offered his thoughts on his team’s sub-freezing shenanigans:
The first annual P-Nats Polar Plunge allowed us to bring some levity to the sweeping arctic temperatures, and also connect with our fan base in a fun way amidst the winter season while reminding them that baseball is right around the corner.
After a terrific turnout for the inaugural plunge, we intend on hosting this event annually and perhaps we will up the ante next year on the prize, but also the length of submersion.
And please disregard my previous “Where the ladies at?” comment. As I was putting this post together Holland sent over this video, which proves that ladies plunged into the icy abyss with equal levels of enthusiasm.
For the record, I am a longtime participant in Coney Island’s annual Polar Bear Plunge. In order to finally put an end to the deluge of requests I receive via email and Twitter to “please post a topless photo of yourself,” here’s a picture of me welcoming 2014 in style.
That photo is sure to result in a spike in traffic. Speaking of which, the State College Spikes also capitalized on this week’s spate of cold weather. On Monday, an email including the text excerpted below landed in my inbox:
If you can’t beat the Arctic Blast predicted for Central Pennsylvania, then why not embrace it?
That’s the attitude the State College Spikes and local partner DQ Grill & Chill are bringing to area residents who will be dealing with some of the coldest weather to visit the region in decades on Tuesday.
With high temperatures predicted to be in the low single digits and wind chills forecast to be as low as 32 degrees below zero, the Spikes have announced that the club will be handing out complimentary slices of DQ’s famously-refreshing ice cream cake between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Those brave enough to endure the elements for a cool treat on Tuesday can claim their free slice of DQ ice cream cake by visiting the front door of the “Off the Rack Outfitters” Team Store….anyone who visits will receive 30-percent off any one Spikes merchandise item.
A healthy smattering of fans did indeed endure the elements, as the tweet ably proves.
— State College Spikes (@SCSpikes) January 7, 2014
In non-cold weather news, I believe that a lot of this blog’s regular readers will enjoy my most recent feature on 2013 Minor League attendance. Within the article one can find a link to David Kronheim’s annual report, a cornucopia of ballpark facts and figures worthy of some serious study. Read it over the weekend, and get back to me.
Oh! And for what it’s worth: let it be known that the P-Nats, in addition to staging this offseason’s best cold-weather promotion, also possess Minor League Baseball’s best-named manager.
In yesterday’s post on the West Michigan Whitecaps, I speculated that their Facebook update in the aftermath of Friday’s stadium fire was the most liked and shared Facebook update in the history of Minor League Baseball. Continuing on this speculative line of social media-centric thought, it is also likely that the most popular tweet in the history of Minor League Baseball occurred just last month.
It all began on Tuesday, December 3, when the Sacramento River Cats sought to fill some offseason down time by engaging fans in an “ask us anything” discussion. This prompted their Pacific Coast League rivals the Reno Aces to posit a somewhat snarky question, and within a quarter hour the River Cats responded in devastating fashion:
.@aces River Cats are aquatically inclined felines with extremely flexible necks, developed from looking down at Reno in the standings.
— River Cats (@RiverCats) December 4, 2013
Oooh, burn! And, as burns are wont to do, it soon spread like wildfire throughout the Twittersphere and then the internet in general. Retweet upon retweet soon inspired a number of regional and national blog posts, amusing innumerable individuals along the way. I expected the Aces, egos bruised, to retort in kind but instead they took a “you’ve won the battle, but not the war” stance and humbly retreated into the background.
The background is where this feud remained, until the River Cats decided to end 2013 by gloating anew.
— River Cats (@RiverCats) December 31, 2013
This time, the Aces couldn’t stay silent.
— Reno Aces (@Aces) December 31, 2013
And on and on it went, a tit for tat diss battle in which no clear winner emerged. Click HERE to read the whole back and forth, but please know that it ended with the Aces’ referencing the “worst bobblehead of all time.”
— Reno Aces (@Aces) December 31, 2013
As mentioned, the above Twitter battle gained some notoriety not just within Minor League Baseball but within the sports universe at large. But the River Cats take on all comers, as evidenced by this far-less publicized battle that took place with the Fresno Grizzlies on December 19. This one was started by Parker, the Grizzlies mascot, in response to an innocuous question from a local radio station.
— Parker B (@TheRealParkerB) December 19, 2013
Oh, Parker, why did you do that? Did you really think you’d get away it? Cue debilitating River Cats comeback in 3…2…1…
— River Cats (@RiverCats) December 19, 2013
Parker’s ensuing retort wasn’t much to speak of (Sorry Parker, just keepin’ it real), but the Grizzlies jumped in with a parting shot. The lesson here is: when beefing with the Sacramento River Cats on Twitter, and at a loss for words, simply mention “the worst bobblehead of all time.”
— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) December 19, 2013
At the end of the day, Twitter wars are stupid. But aren’t most things? And Twitter wars are not only stupid, they’re entertaining as well. So I guess what I’m saying is this: if you’re a Minor League Baseball team, go ahead and tweet something insulting at one of your league rivals. I’ll be glad you did.
When I arrived at MiLB.com headquarters late Friday morning, I was expecting it to be a rather slow news day. The weekend was imminent, after all, and the world of Minor League Baseball seemed to still be suffering from a post-holidays hangover. But, a little after 11 a.m., the tone of the day changed drastically as news broke via Twitter that West Michigan’s Fifth Third Ballpark was on fire.
As the above photo immediately makes clear, this fire caused major damage. A space heater located in one of the first base-side suites started the blaze; it had been left there by a work crew. The work crew apparently had been present when the fire first started, extinguishing it and then leaving the premises under the erroneous assumption that it had been completely put out.
But when I first heard about the fire, I (and I am sure many others), weren’t thinking about what the cause might have been. The photos and video provided by local Grand Rapids media were frightening, and information was scarce. Was everyone okay?
Fortunately, I was able to reach Whitecaps director of media Mickey Graham on his cell phone just before noon. While he understandably didn’t have much information to share at the time, he did say that he and his co-workers had evacuated the stadium safely and that, to his knowledge, no one remained inside. This was an extremely significant silver lining, but as for the stadium itself the news was dire. Firefighters had to battle the blaze in frigid weather and with access to just two fire hydrants, and by the time they got it under control the first base side of the stands (representing approximately 40% of the total structure) was decimated.
— WZZM 13 On Your Side (@wzzm13) January 3, 2014
With the worry of human injury or death vanquished, speculation then turned to the comparatively unimportant matter of the Whitecaps’ ability to operate in 2014. Opening Day is only three months away, and on top of that the team is hosting the 2014 Midwest League All-Star Game! How would this be possible, given the state of the stadium? I began to envision a “season on the road,” ala the 2012 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, as the team underwent an extensive re-building process. But the Whitecaps took the first opportunity to refute these assumptions, with co-owner Denny Baxter emphatically stating during a mid-afternoon press conference that his team would be ready for Opening Day (perhaps at a temporarily reduced capacity, but still).
“We’re going to be playing baseball again come April 8 — that I can absolutely promise everyone,” said Baxter. “We’ll be seeing baseball in April.”
This message was energetically and persistently stated throughout the remainder of the afternoon and over the weekend, perhaps most poignantly via this Facebook photo. Clearly, Crash made it through the fire with nary a singe!
As far as I know — and I could be wrong here — this was the most liked/shared Facebook update in Minor League Baseball history. (As of this Monday afternoon writing it had received 3,432 likes and 894 shares.) While social media popularity may not directly correlate to on-the-ground fan support, I believe that this massive response serves as an indication of the esteem in which the community holds the Whitecaps. Fifth Third Ballpark was a labor of love from the start, privately funded in an age of public subsidies, and year in and year out the Whitecaps are at or near the forefront when it comes to promotional, technological, and, of course, culinary innovation. I had a great time when I visited there last season, and if you have the opportunity to do so in 2014 then I’d highly recommend making the trip.
Friday will go down as one of the most harrowing and horrible days in franchise history, a nightmare come to life.. But all things considered it could have been much, much worse, and soon enough it will be back to business as usual. In that spirit, please allow ME to return to business as usual. As fate would have it, I actually began my work day on Friday by emailing Whitecaps promotions manager Keith Roelfsema (little did I know that, at the time I hit send, he and his co-workers were outside in the freezing cold having just evacuated a burning building). Roelfsema had contacted me the day before, in regard to the fact that footage of the Whitecaps had made its way into a little-publicized indie comedy with the name of Anchorman 2.
MLive was the outlet that first broke this internationally important story, so I’ll defer to them for a moment.
To put it in context: the movie stars Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy, a TV-news anchor. His buddy Champ Kind, played by David Koechner, is the sports reporter (his catchphrase is “WHAMMY!”, used to punctuate home runs). In the midst of a tense ratings battle, and in a quest to make their program more exciting, Champ decides to show only home runs in his highlight reel. Cut to several Whitecaps players, pounding balls out of the park.
Click HERE to find out how this all came to be, and click HERE for an amusing local news story on the Whitecaps’ Hollywood cameo. Clearly, the team has bigger things to deal with at the moment, but some sort of Anchorman-related promo seems inevitable…
As the offseason progresses I’ll make sure to check back with the Whitecaps on how the re-building efforts are progressing. It goes without saying that it’s going to be a very interesting — and challenging — 92 days, but I have full faith that the team will persevere and come back stronger than ever. In the meantime, I leave you with this math problem: If 40% of Fifth Third Ballpark was destroyed, and 5/3 = 167%, then how much of the stadium does the team have to re-build?
Throughout this year’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair kept a journal chronicling their employment-seeking experiences (meet them all HERE). In this installment, Kasey Decker (@KDSmoove) provides a post-Meetings update.
I was not excited about going to the Winter Meetings this year in a job-seeker capacity, but I was definitely going to make the best of it. I had been successful the first time I went and had high hopes for this year. I was completely confident that I would come back to Atlanta with a job offer.
Having worked in baseball in some way for the past eight seasons I had plenty of people to catch up with and I felt like I had a lot of potential for landing that ever-elusive “dream job.” I was not expecting the levels of frustration and disappointment that I encountered this year.
Ever the optimist, I treated it as a learning experience. I made the best of every opportunity, I submitted my resume for jobs outside of my comfort zone, and I caught up with people who had helped me grow in my career. Although I did not have the days full of interviews from my first Job Fair trip, I took it as a sign to build and strengthen professional connections outside of the interview room.
I learned that while the Job Fair is teeming with opportunities for those looking to get started in baseball, it’s very tough for someone with a fair amount of experience looking for more than an internship. If someone were to ask me if I thought the experience was worthwhile for someone trying to start his or her career, I would absolutely recommend it. If that person were to tell me that they were looking for a full time, forever job, I would be more wary.
I wrote about that elusive job I was confident that I was ideal for, that I was doing everything in my power to prove that I was the best candidate for, and I did do everything in my power. It turns out I wasn’t the candidate that they were looking for, but I won’t let that discourage me. I probably would not have received advice on continuing my career and an upfront answer as to why I wasn’t the right candidate had I not gone to the Winter Meetings and found out exactly who to contact regarding that position.
All in all, the PBEO Job Fair gave me access to networking opportunities and a chance to get my name out there. Also, this blogging experience gave me the opportunity to make a friend in fellow job seeker Meredith Perri that I probably otherwise would not have met. I have confidence that I will do well in the baseball world; it’s just going to take patience to find that right fit.
Thanks to Kasey for sharing her experiences throughout the Winter Meetings. Her knowledge of and passion for Minor League Baseball is made immediately evident through her writing; I (and I’m sure many others) are rooting for her to one day snag that ever-elusive “dream job.”
Throughout this year’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair kept a journal chronicling their employment-seeking experiences (meet them all HERE). In this installment, Meredith Perri (@meredithperri) provides a post-Meetings update.
When we last met, I was writing from the skies as I made my way back to Boston University a day earlier than many of the other job seekers. Well, I wrote those essays, worked a few shifts, finished up my final and took a nap or two. Then, when I probably should have been packing to go home for winter intercession, I sat on a couch in the lobby of my building, finally able to think about the adventure I had gone through a week earlier.
The Winter Meetings were one of those weird experiences for me – I feel like they just happened, with the thrill of getting a call for an interview or the adrenalin rush I would get the moment before I went up to network with someone. At the same time, it seems like months have passed since I ran from the Swan to the Dolphin trying to savor every exchange of my three-day trip.
Among the many things I came away with, I know that one of the best decisions I made was reaching out to a few industry professionals beforehand. Whether it was simply introducing myself or actually talking to them, I met people that have already helped me to move forward with my career. I also couldn’t be more grateful to my former supervisor over at SportsNet New York who, after I talked to him back in October, made sure I had a media credential while I was at the Meetings. With that lanyard I had the chance to see a few press conferences and ask a few more questions of those pros that I have a knack for tracking down.
At the same time, it was great reconnecting with and meeting other job seekers (I’m looking at my Cape Cod Baseball League companions and fellow journaler Kasey Decker on this one). While the main goal of the trip was to come away with a job, I really think one of the more essential experiences for me was talking to new people and learning about others’ experiences in the baseball industry.
So, with all of that said… where will I move all of my media guides and sports writing compilations after the pomp and circumstance in May?
I couldn’t tell you.
I had a couple interviews during the Job Fair that I think went incredibly well, and I am a finalist for one of those spots. I’m also a finalist for another job that I had applied for before making the trip down to Florida. While I was at the Meetings, I reached out to the coordinator for that position and had a chance to talk with him in person on my final day there.
Now I just have to wait patiently, something I’m admittedly not great at doing. If things turn out the way I hope, I could know in the next month. With my last semester of college, a spring internship and my work around campus, though, I have plenty of things to keep me distracted while I wait.
Thanks for following along as I made my way through the Winter Meetings. I hope you enjoyed reading about my experiences as much as I enjoyed writing about them. And, of course, thanks to Ben for the great opportunity.
And thanks to Meredith for providing such a great series of journal entries — I know that many of this blog’s readers are rooting for her! Tomorrow, we’ll hear from journaler Kasey Decker; Alex Reiner and Ian Fontenot are also playing the waiting game and will check in at a later date.
Mike Lortz is a freelance writer from Tampa, Florida. He is currently working on his MBA and finishing his first baseball fiction book, but briefly took time off from those pursuits in order to attend the Baseball Winter Meetings in Orlando. 2013 marked the third time he’d made such a pilgrimage, but was it a charm? In this guest blog post, he describes his latest Winter Meetings experience.
“You will never find a more reported hive of rumors and ability.” – Unsaid at the Baseball Winter Meetings
Most baseball fans know the Winter Meetings as the annual gathering of agents, players, and front office folks to negotiate trades, signings, and other personnel decisions. Fans of this blog and of Minor League Baseball might also know the business meetings and Job Fair side of the Winter Meetings. But for me, the Winter Meetings is something different. For me, the Winter Meetings is a chance to be part of the baseball scene and peek into the guts of the machine.
The 2013 Winter Meetings, held from December 9-12, marked my third venture to the Swan and Dolphin Hotel since moving to Tampa in 2006. During my first visit, I was a fly on the wall, watching people and scrapping up the courage to shake hands with Ozzie Guillen, Cal Ripken, Jim Leyland, and others. My second trip in 2010 was less star-studded, but I did talk briefly with Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner and met a few people I conversed with on Twitter, including an NBC Sports writer. I was still a fly on the wall, but I was learning how the room was arranged.
Since 2010, my writing career has grown quite a bit. Not to the point where I am a multimedia hero or a trending topic on Twitter, but to the point where I have a network, albeit small. Most of this network would be at the 2013 Winter Meetings. This time I might actually feel like I fit in.
So for a third time I traveled over the river (the Hillsborough) and through the woods (the somewhat barren ruralness of Knights Griffin Road) to the Baseball Winter Meetings. In the weeks prior, I contacted some of my small network to see if they were interested in meeting face-to-face. To my surprise, they were open to the idea.
As I did in 2006 and 2010, I parked in the guest lot at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. Little known fact: guest parking at the Winter Meetings has increased from $9.50 in 2006 to $15 in 2013. I guess the folks at Disney realize people like me are showing up and want to make a few bucks. But after an hour drive, I would not be deterred.
Walking around the Swan and Dolphin lobby, I was immediately struck by how many more media people seemed to be there. During my first year, there was no news desk near the lobby’s giant Christmas tree. In 2010, ESPN started broadcasting live from the lobby. In 2013, MLB Network joined ESPN with a desk. The media presence down the media hallway had exploded as well. SNY, NESN, and several other regional sports media had tables, desks, and other broadcast equipment assembled. If there was a transaction, or the rumor, thought, or idea of a transaction, it was going to be talked about right there.
I also saw a group at this year’s Winter Meetings who I had never seen before: autograph seekers. I was shocked to see several guys (isn’t it always guys?) trying to get signatures from Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and network analysts Ron Darling and Dan Plesac. Although I understand autograph seeking, the Winter Meetings just doesn’t seem the place for that.
Another popular group at the Winter Meetings were job hunters. Unlike the autograph seekers, job hunters are expected, encouraged, and embraced. The easiest way to identify a job seeker is to look for the young person in a suit jacket. Most media and baseball people dress well, but forego the jacket.
After reorienting myself with the lay of the Swan and Dolphin, I met with Minor League blogger Jessica Quiroli of the blog High Heels on the Field and had a great discussion on Minor League reporting, prospect analysis, and brand building. Even better, she knew who I was. I also talked with a writer I knew from the Tampa Bay Rays blogosphere and another former Baseball Prospectus writer. Three people!
Through wandering the halls of the Swan and Dolphin, I also met and shook hands with the ownership of the Tampa Bay Rays. I told them I had been a part-season ticket holder for several years and thanked them for their product. I think it’s important to tell people that you enjoy the entertainment they provide.
Another little known fact of the Winter Meetings through the years: in 2006 a bottle of Bud Light was $5.50. In 2013, a bottle of Heineken was $7.50. And a can of Diet Coke was $3.50. I guess those making $60 million over five years can afford more than one, but I sure couldn’t. Maybe the high prices are to keep the job seekers from mingling with the millionaires. I am not sure where the media personnel fall on that spectrum, but many of them congregate near the lobby bar alongside the baseball lifers.
Before leaving, I had one more writer e-migo to meet, the illustrious king of reporting on Minor League gimmicks, fashions, and trends, the one, the only bloglord of Ben’s Biz, Ben Hill. During a break in his busy schedule, I told Ben to look for the only person in the lobby wearing a Santa Claus hat. Accompanied by other Minor League front office folks (Ben is a very popular guy!), we chatted about travel, the career of writers, Florida’s minor league parks, and death metal. Next thing I knew it was past 11pm. I still had to drive back to Tampa.
I bid adieu to Ben and the other folks in our conversation and made my way to the exit, another Winter Meetings under my belt. I’ve made progress in the seven years since my first Winter Meetings. Maybe next time the Winter Meetings comes to Disney World, people will be asking for my autograph. Or at least I’ll be able to expense the cost of parking.
For more from Mike, follow him on Twitter @JordiScrubbings. For more from me, just visit bensbiz.mlblogs.com and keep hitting refresh. Something’ll come up eventually. See ya in 2014!
Throughout last week’s Winter Meetings, I provided the perspectives of four young Job Fair attendees. We’ll hear from them again eventually, once their still in-flux employment situations are sorted out, but until then I’ll be providing an account of my own Winter Meetings experience. Today’s post is part three of a planned trilogy, making it the “Return of the Jedi” of Minor League-centric offseason blog posts. There are worse things to be, I suppose.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Technically speaking, Wednesday is not the final day of the Winter Meetings, as Thursday’s activities include the Rule 5 draft as well as a banquet dinner during which the “King of Baseball” is announced. (This year’s honoree was Portland Sea Dogs president Charlie Eshbach.) But the vast majority of Meetings attendees leave town on Thursday, making Wednesday the de facto final day to really get things done.
So, yeah, after arriving in a discombobulated state on Sunday and losing the majority of Monday to ill health, I woke up on Wednesday feeling good but also feeling anxious. It’s the final day here already? Have I accomplished anything at all? Have I ever accomplished anything at all?
The answer to such questions remains elusive, but hope springs eternal. I began the day productively by posting the first two of what would be Wednesday’s three “Job Seeker Journal” entries, proceeding from this task to an actual interaction with human beings. I had been asked to be part of a video that sports biz veteran Dan Migala (a founding partner of PCG) was helping to put together on behalf of the nationwide industry initiative that is Project Brand. The video — in which various industry pros (and, in my case, hanger-ons) were asked to provide their perspective on what makes Minor League Baseball unique — was being produced in a Swan resort conference room. When I arrived, the team behind the video were interviewing Iowa Cubs president Sam Bernabe, and I covertly took this lousy shot of my surroundings. Photo-journalism at its finest.
After doing my interview, which will surely catapult me to the global superstardom that had long been denied me, I took the time to wander around the ground floor of the Swan Resort. While the majority of Winter Meetings activity took place on the Dolphin end, the Swan served as the location of the PBEO Job Fair and was therefore the base of operations for those who traveled to Orlando in order to (hopefully) secure baseball industry employment. Such as, you know, the four guys and gals who were featured on this blog and MiLB.com.
You know you’re in the Swan due to clear visual signifiers such as these. (Also, they had Children of God playing on full blast at all times.)
As you may have heard, the Job Fair experience can often be summed via the cliche “Hurry up and wait.” Scattered throughout this area were idle job seekers, biding time until their next interview (or simply waiting for a call to get an interview in the first place).
Okay, now get back to work.
As mentioned in Part One of this easily neglectable series, the Swan and Dolphin are connected via this most scenic pathway.
Upon re-entering the Dolphin, this was the scene.
The escalators seen above lead to the main lobby, epicenter of schmooze. I was constantly orienting myself toward the lobby over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, using it as my default Meetings meeting point, and, quite frankly, I over-extended myself in that regard this year. I’ve always made it a point to meet and speak with anyone who wants to get in touch, but throughout my time in Orlando I was constantly hit with introductory texts, emails and tweets and didn’t really know how to sensibly schedule face time in such a hectic and ever-changing environment.
In retrospect, I think a big part of the “problem” was that this was my first Meetings with a smart phone. The constant access to all forms of communication and social media can be convenient, but often results in a bombardment of information and options that hinders more than it hurts.
Regardless, I still like to meet people! In my line of work, and in most lines of work, it’s a very important thing to do. One of the people who I met with over the course of Wednesday afternoon was logo designer John Hartwell of Hartwell Studio Works. John recently wrote a guest post on this blog about his “Holiday League” logo creations, and out of appreciation for this opportunity he presented me with a North Pole Reindeer t-shirt.
Just a few days after the Meetings one of John’s Holiday League creations went viral, thanks to Baseball-Reference posting a player page for Rudolph the Reindeer. Some much deserved publicity for a cool concept, and remember: you read about it on Ben’s Biz Blog first!
Back to the room for more Job Seeker blog postings, back to the lobby for various and sundry face-to-face meetings, rinse, repeat. Once 2 0′clock rolled by I was hit with a realization of “Dude, you gotta log some time in the Trade Show!” It was slated to close in just two hours.
A display highlighting vendors in the “First Year Pavillion:” Virtual Concierges, Super Utility Belts, Photo Food Helmets, Baseball Bingo App, Sticky Wicky Ballpark Catcher, Pro-Stadium Models, the Ultimate Practice Bat, and more.
One stop shopping for baseball executives.
During my wanderings I ran into old pal Utility Man (aka Ben Youngerman), a traveling ballpark performer in the mold of Max Patkin and Myron Noodleman. (I’ve written about him before.) Here is he is, in the guise of one of his new characters.
During the Trade Show I enjoyed a late lunch of hambuger, wings, peanuts, and human thumb.
Actually, I was just modeling the “painter’s palette” grip of FreeHand, a new innovation in the field of concession carrying.
I wrote about my Trade Show wanderings in THIS MiLB.com ARTICLE, and for those who are more visually inclined (ie, the entire internet), check out the photo gallery put together by my colleague Danny Wild.
Mr. Wild also took this photo. Unfortunately, this is an apt summation of the way I felt throughout this year’s Meetings. Anxious and antsy, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. What shoe, I don’t know.
Another pic, courtesy of Mr. Wild, displaying what may soon become a familiar sight to baseball-inclined El Pasoans in 2014 and beyond.
One thing I’ve never quite understood about the Trade Show is that many of the vendors start shutting down and packing up during its last hour. After paying x amount of dollars and traveling x amount of miles for a booth, why not man it until the bitter end? You never know who might stop by!
And speaking of the bitter end, I was getting close to it. After adjourning to the hotel room to write my aforementioned Trade Show story, I headed out to the annual Winter Meetings Gala. The gala was held poolside at the hotel, featuring food, booze, music, and plenty of human interaction. I’ve always enjoyed it, both as a signal that the Winter Meetings are winding down and because it allows for valuable socialization opportunities. The only photo I possess is this poor quality cell phone shot, which depicts folks hitting plastic golf balls into a pool.
And that, as they say, was that. Another Winter Meetings in the books, and one that all things considered I was quite happy to put in the rear view mirror. The next morning I got on a plane, and my cares drifted away as I got lost in the easy conversational rhythms of the best morning show team in the biz.
Kathie Lee and Hoda, I love you both.
Throughout last week’s Winter Meetings, I provided the perspectives of four young Job Fair attendees. We’ll hear from them again before the year is out (or at least that’s the plan), but until then I’ll be providing an account of my own Winter Meetings experience. Today’s post is part two of a planned trilogy which, like Super Mario Brothers, will be consistently entertaining over the course of its three installments.
Tuesday, December 11
The major theme of my previous post was, unfortunately, how horrible I had felt over the course of the day. Sickness had thus far completely compromised my ability to function normally, and waking up on Tuesday my only real goal was to make it through the day like a normal functioning person.
Mission accomplished! Whether it was the prescribed “B.R.A.T.” diet or merely the psychosomatic effects of having been visited by a medical professional, I woke up on Tuesday with a new lease on life. After posting the first two of that day’s “Job Seeker Journals” I made my way to the Brobdingnagian assemblage of baseball-related goods and services that is the Trade Show, which had officially kicked off the night before with an opening reception cocktail party (i.e., a chance for the industry to get a head start on drinking while making mental notes regarding which booths they plan on visiting — and, more importantly, avoiding — the next day).
The Trade Show is located an escalator ride down from the Dolphin’s main lobby, its breadth and heft signified by the fact that it comprises the resort’s Atlantic AND Pacific Halls. The show is only open to badge-wearing Winter Meetings registrees, assuring that the hoi polloi won’t overrun the place in search of free tote bags, mascot costume photo ops and Kayem sausage samples.
Browsing the aisles would have to wait, however, as Lynn University professor Ted Curtis had asked me to speak to a group of his sports management students. Each year Lynn University maintains a booth at the Trade Show, which serves as a recruitment tool as well as a De facto lecture hall as various baseball professionals drop by in order to share their expertise (or, as in my case, distinct lack thereof).
I always enjoy spending a little time at the Lynn University booth, and appreciate Curtis’s annual invitation to drop by. After speaking to the students about Minor League Baseball in general and my job in particular, I snapped this photo (having given the instruction to please look “rapt”).
It’s hard to tell from the above picture, but three of this blog’s “Job Seeker Journal” guest writers were in the audience: Lynn University student Alex Reiner, Meredith Perri, and Kasey Decker (fourth job seeker Ian Fontenot, ever elusive, was out seeking employment in parts unknown).
In yesterday’s post I mentioned the annual industry idea-sharing symposium that is the Bob Freitas Business Seminar, largely in order to lament the fact that I had missed it due to illness. Except that I hadn’t, not completely. While in previous years the seminar took place on Monday only, this year the format was changed as what had traditionally been Monday afternoon small group sessions were know dispersed over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday. These 30-minute lectures took place in various nooks and crannies of the Trade Show floor, and looked a little something like this. Hit it:
I ended up sitting in on a speech by Pensacola Blue Wahoos merchandise manager Denise Richardson, regarding the always timely topic of “Getting Your Logo Out in the Community.” One aspect of this that is unique to the Blue Wahoos is that the team has its own brand of bottled water. In Googling this, I was referred to one of my own blog posts from 2012:
Because my subject matter is so specific and I’ve been writing about it for so long, this happens all the time: I Google something related to the world of MiLB only to find my own material as one of the primary information sources. This makes me feel like I’m caught in an infinite loop, a snake devouring its own tail, helplessly sucked into a vacuum of self-reference that will one day collapse in upon itself and render my whole existence obsolete. Perhaps this has already happened? I’m always the last to know.
After departing the Lynn University booth I decided that my best course of action would be to quickly return to the hotel room so that I could post the remainder of that day’s Job Seeker Journals. But at the Winter Meetings it is nearly impossible to get anywhere with any semblance of speed, as at every turn lurks someone waiting to say hello. This is both the blessing and the curse of having the entire industry in one place, but since my poor health precluded me from socializing on Sunday and Monday I was more than happy to log some face time with friends both old and new.
So hob knob it was, as I slowly made my way from the Trade Show floor to the my hotel room. Hello Lakewood BlueClaws director of media relations Greg Giombarresse! Enjoying your first Winter Meetings? How’s life in the post-Geoff Brown era? Hello Lake County Captains assistant general manager Neil Stein! Now that you mention it, an article on affiliate dinners would make for an interesting (and nearly totally undocumented) slice of Winter Meetings life? Hello Charleston RiverDogs general manager Dave Echols! You’re on your way to a league meeting? What goes on at those, anyway? Maybe I should write about it sometime? Hello Lansing Lugnuts announcer Jesse Goldberg-Strassler? How are your various writing projects coming along? And where’s Slavko?
And on and on it went. These conversations are invaluable, in that they create new relationships and strengthen old ones, thereby paving the way for another season of high-quality (albeit collapsing in upon itself) content. But, also, what was I going to write about in the here and now? I was a writer at the Winter Meetings, and a writer at the Winter Meetings should probably spend some time writing about the Winter Meetings. But what, when, and how? Tons of ideas were buzzing around my head, and I was already feeling anxious and unproductive having accomplished virtually nothing over the previous two days. Luckily, back in the hotel room, while I was posting some new Job Seeker Journal posts, the answer came to me in the form of an emailed question. To paraphrase:
Bull Durham is going to be made into a musical, and Ron Shelton (the film’s writer and director) and several of his collaborators are here at the Meetings in order to officially announce the project. Was I able/willing to do a story on this?
Well, sure. The musical is being funded by Buffalo Bisons owners Bob and Mindy Rich (via their Rich Entertainment Group), so it was via Bisons PR man Brad Bisbing who helped arrange the interview. After a quick hotel room crash course on Ron Shelton’s career as well as the specifics of Bull Durham (it’s been years since I’ve seen it), I strode down to the lobby in order to meet Bisbing, Shelton, producers Jack Viertel and Laura Stanczyk and composer Susan Werner. After five or so minutes of fruitless wandering in search of a place to sit down (the official pastime of the Winter Meetings), we ducked into the Dolphin’s “Australia” conference room and I proceeded to interview Shelton and his creative team for about 20 minutes.
I thought that the interview went well, as everyone was open and honest and engaging, and after a quick round of goodbyes I went upstairs to write it. After all, it was a scoop! (Or at least as big of a scoop as a niche Minor League Baseball writer is going to get.) As I was writing, my colleague Danny Wild went to a cocktail reception announcing the musical in order to take pictures for the story and, for whatever reason, he ended up taking about 125 photos of Shelton talking to Mets manager Terry Collins. Seriously, you could make a flip book out of it.
Boston Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo joins the convo:
Composer Susan Werner plays a tune from the forthcoming musical as Shelton and new BFF Collins stand riveted.
“But anyway, as I was saying…”
And on and on it goes…While Mr. Wild was doing yeoman’s work by making sure that Collins and Shelton’s pow-wow would be the most photographically well-documented conversation of all time, I was in the hotel room cranking out my piece. You don’t want to see how the sausage is made, but HERE IT IS, the proverbial sausage. (Click on the “link” to read it).
Another story was in the books, and I have some leftover conversational fragments that I’m looking forward to sharing on this blog in the near future as well! (Teaser: Mr. Shelton doesn’t think the world of Minor League Baseball holds much interest anymore). With the story filed, I decided to test my luck and eat my first full meal in days via a company dinner at a Walt Disney-owned restaurant by the name of Portabello. Unfortunately this establishment was in the midst of “downtown” Disney, a tacky and rather garish conglomerate of family-friendly shops and activities (as in, an earnest young man in his 20′s, on an outdoor stage, leading a gaggle of children in “The Chicken Dance.” What is this? Minor League Baseball?).
I wanted to get out of “downtown” Disney as soon as I arrived, and grotesqueries such as this only strengthened by desire to leave. A dress made out of dolls wearing dresses? This is just creepy, evening wear for soul capturers, and I don’t blame that doll in the bottom middle for trying to escape from the hellish reality she has found herself trapped within.
A quick cab ride courtesy of the Mears transportation conglomerate soon had me back at the Dolphin, where I partook in the nightly hotel lobby socializing ritual that I had missed out on the night before. As usual, there were too many people to talk to and too little time.
Throughout last week’s Winter Meetings, I provided the perspectives of four young Job Fair attendees. We’ll hear from them again before the year is out (or at least that’s the plan), but until then I’ll be providing an account of my own Winter Meetings experience. Today’s post is part one of a planned trilogy which, unlike The Hobbit, will hopefully justify its three separate installments.
This past weekend I was talking to a friend of mine about the Winter Meetings, and in this particular conversation my emphasis was on just how intimidating and stressful the Meetings can be: everyone from an entire industry in one place at one time, dressed to impress, networking feverishly, and inclined to strike a subtly boastful conversational tone.
In hearing this description, my friend made the astute remark that, in this regard, the Winter Meetings sounds like a family holiday gathering: a once a year obligation, with some elements that are well worth looking forward to, and others that inspire dread. The Winter Meetings are the Winter Meetings are the Winter Meetings, a standalone and unique event that can only really be compared to themselves, with each one inevitably measured up against those which have come before and, therefore, capable of inspiring bouts of intense professional introspection.
So, how were your Meetings?
Mine? They were lousy, and it had nothing to do with the venue. The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort is an impeccably maintained winter wonderland, with the “Swan” and “Dolphin” portions of the hotel connected by this well-manicured walkway.
My Winter Meetings were lousy simply because I was under the weather for much of it. And, let me tell you, being sick at the Winter Meetings is just an awful experience. My first two days in Orlando felt like a bad dream that I couldn’t wake up from, laden with anxiety, like “I know why I’m here and what I have to do, so why can’t I do it?”
I’ll spare you the details, but I somehow picked up a stomach bug while visiting a friend in Fort Lauderdale the weekend prior to the Meetings. That Sunday I hauled my feverish, unsettled and deeply fatigued body onto an Amtrak train and rode four and a half hours to Orlando alongside an earnest Bangladeshi college student with a jovial manner and unforgivably loud cell phone speaking voice. Upon taking a cab to the host hotel I zoomed through the lobby with my head down, intent on not having to speak to anyone in my discombobulated state, and after checking in (on the “Dolphin” side of the Swan-Dolphin host hotel equation) I proceeded to sleep for 18 hours straight. No socializing — which results in new professional relationships and potential scoops — no exploring, no lighthearted Twitter and Vine coverage. Just a brain-clouded deep funk of zombie-fied hotel room slumber. And this brings me the morning of the first day of the Winter Meetings. Whether I liked it or not, it was now time for action.
Day One: Monday, December 9
Traditionally, I have devoted the bulk of Monday morning to attending (and writing about) the Bob Freitas Business Seminar. This is a day-long series of lectures, divided into five categories, by and for Minor League Baseball professionals. The subject matter may be a little dry for the average baseball fan, but I have enjoyed covering this event in the past because it provides a glimpse into the inner workings of a professional ballclub and as such gets one thinking about the seemingly innumerable small details that must be taken care of as a prelude to success. Per the Bob Freitas Seminar brochure:
Bob Freitas spent many a season in Minor League Baseball™ as a league president and club operator. Most of all, he was an “idea man.” Bob successfully surmised that if one promotion or sales package worked in one area of the country, there was a good chance it would work just as well in another part. By sharing his imagination and experiences with baseball executives everywhere, the business operations of baseball leagues and clubs improved immensely.
A staple of the Baseball Winter Meetings™ for more than two decades, the Bob Freitas Business Seminar continues its tradition of delivering insightful speakers and attention-grabbing topics to attendees.
I was unable to continue my tradition of covering the seminar, however, as I just didn’t feel up to it and had become wary of possible contagion. What if the entire baseball industry was simultaneously gripped by debilitating illness, and it could all be traced back to me? Putting such thoughts aside, I mustered up the strength to venture into the madness of the Dolphin hotel lobby. The hotel lobby was the epicenter of this (and every Winter Meetings). and the epicenter of the epicenter was here.
At the Winter Meetings the needle arise for a good gathering spot; those pining fir a good one inevitably chose this tree.
This year, both ESPN and the MLB Network aired broadcasts directly from the Winter Meetings. I’m not sure who the on-air personality is in the below picture (Mitch Williams?), but whoever it is has no qualms with a post-Labor Day white wardrobe.
And — also? — are those giant bosom-shaped balloons hanging from the ceiling? Why did I not notice this when I was actually in the room? Did I hallucinate this picture? This blog post? This entire existence?
My less-than-ideal physical condition did contribute a general sense of unreality to Monday’s proceedings, but not enough to keep me away from the reality check that is the Opening Session. True to its name, this is an hour-long “Welcome to the Meetings” event that pretty much everyone from the Minor League Baseball industry attends. As with every Winter Meetings I’ve attended (my first was in 2007), the Opening Session was emceed by Randy Wehofer of the Iowa Cubs and the centerpiece was a speech from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. In this photo, taken by my colleague Danny Wild, O’Conner delivers his opening address as Wehofer (on the left) looks on with a satisfied expression on his face.
I think I know why Wehofer was so pleased. The Opening Session was thus far running on schedule, and his Twitter prophesy was about to come true.
— Randy Wehofer (@RandyWehofer) December 3, 2013
2012′s Opening Session was fairly momentous, as the Project Brand initiative was announced. Project Brand is the most ambitious attempt thus far to sell Minor League Baseball to sponsors on a national level, and as such it will require the participation of all 160 Minor League teams. Literally everyone has a stake in it, and therefore everyone had an interest in what it was and how it would be implemented. 2013 lacked such Opening Session intrigue, as it was much more of a “treading water” kind of year. Project Brand CEO Michael Hand, hired late last winter, was given the opportunity to introduce himself to the industry at large and update them of his efforts on their behalf. O’Conner’s speech, meanwhile, had more of a “stay the course” tone to it, as opposed to introducing any sweeping new industry initiatives.
I wish I could say that the positive energy of the Opening Session helped restore me to good health, and that the remainder of the day was a whirlwind of proactive and illuminating reportorial activity. But I cannot. The Opening Sessions were followed by a quick retreat back to the hotel room, and posting that day’s batch of Job Seeker Journals represented the only productive thing that I got accomplished save for summoning a doctor to my room via a third-party service called “The Medical Concierge.” This visit cost $277, a literal drop in the bucket in that I can now cross “receive in-room medical check-up at Disney-owned resort” off of my bucket list. Thanks, guys!
The doctor’s name I cannot recall, and since I cannot read his handwriting on the invoice his name shall remain a mystery for all time. But this fellow, a soft-spoken Asian guy in his 30s, assured me that death, while inevitable, was not imminent. He was anti-antibiotic and pro-probiotic, so his diagnosis didn’t amount to much more than “follow the B.R.A.T. diet.” Call him Johnny Mnemonic.
While I was disappointed not to have received some sort of magic bullet cure-all, my 25 minutes of face time with a real-life medical professional had a beneficial effect on my well being and, in retrospect, marked the point where I turned the corner toward something resembling basic functionality. Tuesday and Wednesday, the second and third day of the Meetings, were more or less “normal” and, therefore, the second and third installment of this post will be (at least marginally) less self-indulgent and more oriented toward a general account of what was going down.
But I’m not going to mince words: Sunday into Monday was the worst 24 hours of my professional life, and that includes that time in Harrisburg when I almost passed out in a mascot suit while undergoing an on-field boot camp led by Sgt. Slaughter. It could only go uphill from there.