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Perspective: 2009 Winter Meetings12/11/2009 11:47 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill / MLB.com
INDIANAPOLIS, IN -- The just-concluded Winter Meetings in Indianapolis are an overwhelming affair. I did my best to cover the event through a series of articles and blog posts, but so much was crammed into so little time that plenty of material fell through the cracks.
The following represents my best effort to rescue this material from such an ignominious fate.
Sunday, Dec. 6: The Baseball Winter Meetings attracts plenty of high rollers, from top-level execs to agents to television personalities.
I, on the hand, am not a high roller. This probably has something to do with the fact that I write about Minor League Baseball for a living. So when I arrived in Indianapolis early Sunday afternoon, I resigned myself to waiting for a hotel shuttle as my means of transportation to downtown Indianapolis.
So there I stood outside the airport, cursing myself for failing to bring a jacket to a thoroughly wintry city (an oversight that would haunt me throughout my stay). Within five minutes, a gaudy white Hummer limousine pulled to the curb. My first thought was "What kind of jerk would ride in one of those things?" But then I noticed that the limo was emblazoned with the logo of Plan B Branding, a San Diego-based "Ideas Company" that has emerged as one of the top logo designers in Minor League Baseball. The two men behind Plan B are Jason Klein and Casey White, both of whom I have gotten to know as a result of regularly covering the logo beat.
The limo came to a stop, and Jason and Casey jumped out of one of the side doors. Upon seeing me shivering by the curb, Jason yelled out to me to "jump on in!" That was all I needed to hear. I jumped right in, grabbed myself a Corona, and sprawled out on one of the limo's many white leather seats. This was certainly better than a hotel shuttle.
Plan B wasn't there for me, of course. I just got lucky. The purpose of the limo was to pick up the company's clients, as a way for Jason and Casey to say thanks for the business. Within a few minutes a contingent from the Williamsport Crosscutters jumped aboard, and we all enjoyed the 15-minute ride to downtown Indy in style.
I surprised myself at how willing I was to become a "jerk" when the opportunity presented itself, but I regret nothing. And, please, don't worry -- my journalistic objectivity remains intact. It takes a lot more than limousine rides to alter my un-biased opinions (or at least that's what I'll keep telling myself).
Hotel lobbies are generally the epicenter of activity at the Winter Meetings, the place to see and be seen. In Indianapolis, this was certainly true of the Marriott, Hyatt, and Westin. But I stayed at the Crowne Plaza, an "overflow" hotel with virtually no Winter Meetings attendees. The Crowne Plaza is attached to still-active Union Station, and the entire building vibrates when trains pass through. Some of the rooms are in converted Pullman Cars (not mine, unfortunately), and the lobby is populated by dozens of life-size plaster ghosts.
The Crowne Plaza is weird, to put it mildly, and I have my suspicions that it is haunted. At any rate, it served as a nice escape from the baseball madness going on everywhere else.
Monday, Dec. 7: For those who work on the Minor League side of the game, the first day of the Winter Meetings is always dominated by the annual Bob Freitas Business Seminar. This event is perhaps best described as an "Idea Lab," in which those who work in the game share their strategies with others. I covered the seminar in my Day One recap, but glossed over the fact that I was one of the speakers. My half-hour presentation, which I delivered three times consecutively during the roundtable portion of the seminar, was entitled "From the Outside Looking In: A Writer Surveys the Minor League Scene."
I'll spare everyone the details regarding the anxiety and pervasive sense of dread that I felt leading up to the presentation, as well as the inevitable technical difficulties I ran into. But what I will elaborate on is the presentation itself, which I regarded as an opportunity to better explain what it is I do here at MiLB.com (everything from "Promotion Preview" to "Road Trip" to "Farm's Almanac" to, of course, "Ben's Biz Blog").
If I had to sum up the presentation's underlying message in three words, it would be "Get in touch!" I do my best to cover the entirety of Minor League Baseball, but it's a large world and I need all the help I can get. It doesn't matter if you're a fan, front-office exec, mascot, clubhouse manager, or team owner -- if you are aware of something interesting going on in the world of MiLB, then contact me. I can't do it alone.
Tuesday, Dec. 8: On this, the second day of the meetings, I made the Trade Show my focus. The results of these extensive wanderings resulted in an extensive article, but I would like to make a few additional observations.
Mainly, the Trade Show is exhausting. Everyone is walking around with their Winter Meetings badges around their necks, putting the name tags at navel level. The vendors, in an attempt to spot potential clients, are thus forced to navel gaze.
But that said, the Trade Show is truly inspiring in that it gives one a glimpse into just what is needed to successfully run a professional sports team. There are just so many products and services that are needed, ranging from ticketing software to giveaway items to logo design to concession items and beyond. This is the only time all year that all these things are in one place, and teams make sure to take advantage.
And speaking of concession items, one thing I have become adept at is getting a free lunch simply by wandering the trade show floor. I'll put together a photo-laden blog post on this next week, but for now here is the menu that I was able to assemble:
Appetizer: Popcorn, courtesy of Barton Malow Construction Company (Booth 411)
And when Trade Show exhaustion became overwhelming, all I had to do was stop over at Jelly Belly Candy Company (640) for a packet of energizing Sports Beans. The secret ingredient is tapioca syrup.
I'm always coming at things from such a Minor League perspective that it's easy to forget how the other half lives. So Tuesday evening I headed over to the Marriott Hotel lobby, where all the movers and shakers (as well as those who hope to one day move and shake) gather for drinks. I arrived at midnight, and the place was packed. Hundreds of conversations had morphed into a dull roar, as close to sonic overload as one can get in a hotel lobby.
I wandered around, saw a few people I knew, and engaged in a few random conversations. But I couldn't escape the feeling that I was there because I felt like I had to be, as opposed to a true desire to socialize. So after one drink I steered my jacket-less self back into the frigid cold and toward the comforting embrace of my Crowne Plaza netherworld. The plaster ghosts seemed happy to see me.
Wednesday, Dec. 9: On Day Three my focus was on the PBEO Job Fair, and (stop me if you've heard this before) I ended up writing an article about it. The Job Fair was truly humbling, in that there are so many people vying for so few jobs. The willingness of the applicants to accept a life of low pay and long hours illustrates their commitment to the game of baseball, and it's inspiring to know that the industry continues to attract such talented and devoted individuals. It also got me out of my own head for a few minutes, making me realize just how lucky I am to be covering such a thriving portion of the sporting world.
That sounds like the sort of bland platitude that one spouts out of obligation more than anything else, but it's true. I mean every word of it.
And at no point in my life have I been happier to be doing what I'm doing than I was on Wednesday night. The annual Gala (a gathering of the entire Minor League community) was held at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts. This was a truly awe-inspiring shindig, as attendees had free reign of a sizable portion of the concourse. A live band was playing, and a seemingly endless array of food and beverage stations were set up throughout (Bay Shrimp Gazpacho Shooters, anyone?)
Best of all were the stadium tours, leading us down through the locker and training rooms before emptying out right onto the playing field. It was hard not to feel like a little kid at that moment, running down the sidelines of a sparkling NFL stadium. From there we traveled up to the press box for a bird's eye view, before returning back to the food and beverage-laden concourse. It was, in a word, awesome.
I hope my articles throughout the week illuminated the Minor League Winter Meetings experience; it's an action-packed couple of days and I did my best to create order from the chaos. If anyone has any further questions, suggestions, compliments, or criticisms, then by all means get in touch.
Can you see that I am serious?