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.
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.)
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:
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.
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!
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.”
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.
Meanwhile, most of the media hordes were camped out in their private ballroom. Oversaturation!
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.
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.
On display: one of the many new looks of the Reading Fightin’ Phils.
And speaking of new uniforms, here’s a peak at what the Eugene Emeralds will be sporting.
This sign, it was inaccurate!
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.
One such individual was me. Contrary to the picture, my audience was slightly larger than one.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.)
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.
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.
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.