NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The official opening session of the 2007 Baseball Winter Meetings was highlighted by both welcomes and farewells.
As has become tradition, the final speech of the event was the president's address, as Mike Moore delivered his 16th and final speech as president of Minor League Baseball.
Moore will be stepping down on Dec. 31, with his successor to be officially elected on Wednesday afternoon (current vice president and COO, Pat O'Conner, is considered by all accounts to be the de facto president-elect).
Moore took the podium to a standing ovation from a standing-room-only ballroom at Opryland, and departed to the same.
In between, the 10th president in the 106-year history of the Minor Leagues shared how "humbled and honored" he has been to have played a part.
During Moore's presidency, the Minors have enjoyed unprecedented growth and success, with record attendance figures each of the last several years, including 42.8 million fans passing through the gates in 2007.
Rather than citing a theme or motto for the upcoming 2008 season, Moore used his time succinctly to thank those that helped the Minors reach this plateau, including his staff and those of the Minor League teams that have helped him reach the goals he originally set when he took office.
"When you leave any role in sports, I think the major thing you take with you are the memories of the good times and the friendships made along the way," he said. "I have had differences with many in this room while doing my job, but I have never lost a friend over those differences."
O'Conner, who delivered the session's first speech, also used the opportunity to put into perspective how far the Minors have come since Moore took office. And as he said, the results speak for themselves.
Not only have attendance records risen nearly every year to their all-time high in 2007, but the Minors have welcomed 106 new stadiums since 1990 with three more scheduled to open in 2008. There has also been a two-fold increase in net income between 1994 and 2006, ticket sales are expected to be close to $175 million in 2007, and perhaps most notably, the sport is in the midst of its longest-ever PBA with Major League Baseball, as well as a collective bargaining agreement with the umpires which guarantees labor peace through 2011.
But O'Conner urged everyone to look to the future to maximize the possibilities even more.
"Respecting the past, we will not rest on our laurels," he said. "We will continue to vigorously pursue marketing opportunities at the league, classification and national levels while we look to capitalize on our popularity, affordability and appeal on Madison Avenue."
Also speaking to the crowd was Minor League Baseball Vice President Stan Brand who, ironically, attended his first Winter Meetings in 1990 in Miami as one of Moore's opponents for the presidential spot.
As he reflected on his own 16 years with the organization, Brand reminded the group how far the Minors have come from the days when there was such extreme acrimony between the Majors and Minors that there was a danger of the Majors abandoning the current setup in favor of complex leagues.
When the threat of the repeal of baseball antitrust exemption came up soon after, however, the two groups bonded together and since then the relationship has been stronger than ever.
The event kicked off with the awarding of individual league Executive of the Year awards. The recipients were as follows:
International League: Gary Ulmer, Louisville Bats
Pacific Coast League: John Traub, Albuquerque Isotopes
Mexican League: Roberto Magdaleno Ramirez, Sultanes de Monterrey
Eastern League: Scott Hunsicker, Reading Phillies
Southern League: Steve DeSalvo, Mississippi Braves
Texas League: Bill Valentine, Arkansas Travelers, and Michael Wood, Corpus Christi Hooks
California League: Pat Filippone, Stockton Ports, and Gerard McKearney, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
Carolina League: Shari Massengill, Kinston Indians
Florida State League: John Timberlake, Clearwater Threshers
Midwest League: Rob Zerjav, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
South Atlantic League: Donald Moore, Greensboro Grasshoppers
New York-Penn League: Steve Cohen, Brooklyn Cyclones
Northwest League: Brent Miles, Tri-City Dust Devils
Appalachian League: George McGonagle, Bluefield Orioles
Pioneer League: Matt Ellis, Missoula Osprey