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Winter Meetings open congenially
Teams share success stories at the annual event in Indy
12/07/2009 11:45 PM ET
Clubs have shared ideas about attracting fans in tough economic times.
Clubs have shared ideas about attracting fans in tough economic times. (Minor League Baseball)
INDIANAPOLIS -- The lobby of the Indianapolis Marriot is currently the epicenter of the baseball world, a simmering cauldron of hot stove activity presided over by some of the game's most instantly recognizable movers and shakers.

But one need only take a brief stroll across the breezeway to find an equally vibrant, yet often overlooked, baseball environment. For it was at the Indiana Convention Center that those who work in Minor League Baseball got down to business.

And, as always, there was a lot of business to take care of.

What follows is a recap of Day 1 of the 108th Annual Baseball Winter Meetings. It may be taking place in Indy, but all the teams involved are affiliated.

All for One, and One for All

A long-standing Winter Meetings tradition is the Bob Freitas Business Seminar, a day-long event that carries on the Minor League tradition of idea sharing. In a nutshell, the industry's philosophy is that what works in one market may very well work another. So why not work together in order to achieve maximum success?

Seminar attendees can choose to view presentations by speakers representing one of five categories: Sales and Marketing, Licensing and Merchandising, Covering Your Bases, Grand Slam Operations and Community and Media Relations. In the (unenviable) 8:30 a.m. slot, I chose to watch a presentation by "Super" Mario Anderson, the Lexington Legends Director of FUN. (Where else but in the Minor Leagues would someone have that sort of irreverent, arbitrarily capitalized job title?) Anderson shared a wide range of successful Legends initiatives, encompassing everything from social networking to late-night game recap shows to, perhaps most intriguingly, how to strategically distribute team merchandise to the community's most influential citizens.

I then transferred over to the "Sales and Marketing" track in order to see Tri-City ValleyCats assistant GM Vic Christopher deliver a speech entitled "How to Grow Revenue in a Down Economy." Coming off like a cross between a Rat Pack member and a self-help guru, Christopher enthusiastically described ways in which his club continues to draw big crowds despite the recession. In addition to more straightforward suggestions such as "utilize space at your facility in creative ways," Christopher revealed that the best way to get the attention of a recalcitrant potential sponsor is to send a mascot to his place of business.

Christopher peppered his speech with motivational quotations, and one that seemed particularly relevant to me was "Either you run the day, or the day runs you." This was because I was stressed out over the fact that I had to deliver a presentation of my own during the afternoon portion of the seminar (entitled "From the Outside Looking In: A Writer Surveys the Minor League Scene.") This is not something I can speak about objectively, so I'll just say that it was a memorable and rewarding experience and leave it at that.

Where We're Going, Where We've Been

In between the two portions of the Freitas Seminar was the Opening Session, an annual tradition which serves as the Winter Meetings' official kickoff. Emcee Randy Wehofer, broadcaster for the Iowa Cubs, started things off by presenting the Executive of the Year Awards. The 15 honorees are presented below for your scrolling pleasure:

International League: Kurt Landes (General Manager, Lehigh Valley IronPigs)
Pacific Coast League: Marc Amicone (General Manager, Salt Lake Bees)
Mexican League: Alvaro Ley-Lopez (President, Saraperos de Saltillo)
Eastern League: John Willi (Vice-President, New Britain Rock Cats)
Southern League: Jonathan Nelson (General Manager, Birmingham Barons)
Texas League: Monty Hoppel (General Manager, Midland RockHounds)
California League: Mark Wilson (Vice-President, San Jose Giants)
Carolina League: Paul Sunwall (General Manager, Lynchburg Hillcats)
Florida State League: Brian Barnes (General Manager, Jupiter Hammerheads)
Midwest League: Mike Nutter (President, Fort Wayne TinCaps)
South Atlantic League: Geoff Brown (General Manager, Lakewood BlueClaws)
New York-Penn League: Tim Bawmann (Vice-President, Lowell Spinners)
Northwest League: Andrew Seymour (General Manager, Vancouver Canadians)
Pioneer League: Aaron Wells (General Manager, Orem Owlz)
Appalachian League: David Lane (General Manager, Greeneville Astros)

Then, after speeches by Minor League Baseball Vice President/COO Tim Purpura and Vice President Stan Brand, President Pat O'Conner delivered a speech in which he attempted to sum up the year that was in Minor League Baseball. In 2008, O'Conner spoke on the potential hardships that Minor League Baseball would face in the midst of a faltering economy, so it was not surprising that Monday's speech focused on the reasons why the game has and will continue to prevail despite this continuing challenge.

"As an organization, we embraced our communities, and offered that safe place for social gathering and fine-tuned our operations to deal with the unique circumstances of 2009," stated O'Conner.

And there's no better way to fine-tune an operation than by offering an unbeatable bang for the buck.

"On average, we fill 55 percent of our seats in a given year. We have room for new customers, new faces in the ballpark," he said. "If every club in Minor League Baseball does not have a ticket for $5 or less, they ought to put one in place immediately."

And On and On It Goes

Of course, the events listed above represent a small portion of what went on at the Convention Center on Monday. Those looking to break into the world of Minor League Baseball made connections and jockeyed for interviews at the PBEO Job Fair, while later in the evening the massive Baseball Trade Show kicked off with an opening reception. I will report more on these two Baseball Winter Meetings institutions as the week progresses. But, for now, it's time to hit the "off" switch on what has turned out to be an exhausting day.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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