Tagged: Nashville 2015

Winter Meetings Blog Writer Journal, December 9

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

Wednesday, December 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh, hello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Winter Meetings Blog Writer Journal, December 8

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

Tuesday, December 8

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

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

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

Stephen Goldsmith, designated eater, Jupiter Hammerheads 

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Andrew Pollowitz, intern, Potomac Nationals

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

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

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

Included within the piece is this video.

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

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

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

A glimpse of the white-hot parliamentary proceedings:

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

Anyone want to chime in here?

Thanks, dude.

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

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

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

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

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

Haters are my motivators.

Can’t stop, won’t stop.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Winter Meetings Blog Writer Journal, December 7

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

Monday, December 7

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

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Booz: An Appropriate Winter Meetings Sponsor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Another award-winning photo

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

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

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

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Vic Christopher, 2008 MiLB.com file photo

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

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

The benefits of working in a hotel room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, man, I hear you.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Winter Meetings Blog Writer Journal, December 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s also plenty more where this came from.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz