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Winter Meetings 'whirlwind' wraps up

King crowned, president re-elected, diversity effort embraced
December 9, 2015

NASHVILLE -- It's been said many times before, but that's because it's true: the Baseball Winter Meetings are an absolute whirlwind.

As this year's event, held at the nine-acre bastion of unreality that is the Gaylord Opryland Resort, I attended a wide variety of seminars, symposiums, banquets, galas and other events related to the business and culture of Minor League Baseball. With the Winter Meetings finally, mercifully, drawing to a close, here's a roundup of notable news and notes from the week that was.

The King's Speech -- The Winter Meetings Banquet, held on Sunday, featured the annual crowning of "The King of Baseball" as well as an interview with Commissioner Rob Manfred. But for me, and I'm sure many others, the highlight was when recently retired all-time Minor League home run king Mike Hessman received the Career Achievement Award. Hessman, visibly overcome with emotion, took a few moments to compose himself before delivering a brief, grateful speech. From my perch in the cheap seats, I was able to capture a portion of the speech that, to Hessman, was particularly meaningful.

Re-elected (and it feels so good) -- Our nation is caught up in a contentious and seemingly endless presidential election cycle, but no such turmoil exists within the world of Minor League Baseball. Pat O'Conner was re-elected Minor League Baseball president on Tuesday afternoon, running unopposed and receiving unanimous support from each league president (all of whom were in attendance). The election, which took place in an Opryland ballroom, took all of six minutes. It concluded with a brief speech from O'Conner, who he thanked those in attendance and delivered a memorable closing line: "God bless you, God bless America and God bless Minor League Baseball." O'Conner was first elected Minor League Baseball president at the 2007 Winter Meetings. His new four-year term begins on Jan. 1, 2016.

Moving Diversity Forward -- "One of the challenges facing organizations today is getting all employees, from the president to hourly workers, to realize that to become the best, they have to embrace diversity." That was the motivation behind Monday's "Moving Diversity Forward" panel, emceed by Minor League diversity and inclusion manager Vince Pierson. "[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." "Moving Diversity Forward" is part of Minor League Baseball's larger Diversity Initiative, introduced by O'Conner in 2008 and overseen by Pierson.

Carded -- Among the many products hawked at the Winter Meetings Trade Show was Rookies, an app that allows fans to create personalized baseball cards.

Rookies founder Matt Sebek used the app to make me my own card, based on a photo from my June 2015 visit to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Thanks, Matt, as I've always dreamed of cardboard immortalization. I still have that Jumanji jersey, by the way. I may even be wearing it right now.

Coming Out -- Monday's Bob Freitas Business Seminar included a presentation on "Planning the announcement of baseball's first openly gay active player." This dealt with Brewers prospect David Denson's decision to come out, and how the organization responded. The strategy, overseen by Brewers media relations manager Tyler Barnes with input from MLB ambassador for inclusion Billy Bean, called for Denson to do one interview (with respected Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricort), then decline further media requests. This way, Denson -- and the organization -- was able to control the story and minimize, to the extent possible, a prolonged media circus. "We put the process in place, with some structure to it, and it worked out as well as we could have hoped," Barnes said. Bean, meanwhile, was effusive in his praise of Denson. "I can tell you that there are a lot of kids who feel better about themselves because now they feel that they belong in the world too."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.