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.