Baseball's Winter Meetings are often thought of as the epicenter of Major League offseason trades and free-agent signings. The Minor League clubs share in that excitement, but there is another reason for anticipation -- and it has nothing to do with the holiday season.
The winners of the Minors' top honors were released on Nov. 19 and will be officially recognized during the Winter Meetings, held Dec. 3-6 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn. This year's recipients are the Midland RockHounds (John H. Johnson President's Trophy), West Michigan Whitecaps (Larry MacPhail Trophy), Kinston Indians general manager Shari Massengill (Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year) and South Atlantic League President John Moss (Warren Giles Award).
The President's Trophy is presented annually to the franchise that best exemplifies the complete Minor League Baseball organization. Categories under consideration include long-term financial stability, contributions to the industry and the community, financial success and overall promotion of the industry.
This is the first such honor for the RockHounds, who became just the third Texas League team to win the award and first since Tulsa in 1999. Although it was a rough season on the field for Midland, the honor is proof that a Minor League club can be successful despite operating in one of the smallest markets in Double-A baseball. Owners Miles Prentice and Bob Richmond and general manager Monty Hoppel have built a strong relationship with the Midland community, which in turn has boosted attendance to what became the highest per-game average in club history (3,975).
"It's a prestigious award to win," said Hoppel. "It's the top award in Minor League Baseball and we're appreciative of it because there are so many good organizations out there. It was a nice surprise and we like what the award stands for. We've had the same staff and ownership for 19 years and we feel like we're doing great things for the community. The fact that Midland is not one of the larger communities around makes this award even more special."
Within the community, the RockHounds continue to pay particular attention to schools and involving the community's youth in sports. The staff helps operate a high school football stadium and plays a large role in operating the Odessa Jackalopes hockey team and arena.
The Whitecaps' promotional award was icing on the cake after a second straight Midwest League championship. "Never a Dull Moment!" was West Michigan's campaign slogan in 2007, harkening back to the award's namesake with multiple promotions and themes throughout the season.
The award recognized the team's special tie with its community through unique promotions, a commitment to area events and support for charitable endeavors.
Among the many events at Fifth Third Ballpark were Big Top Tuesdays (visiting entertainment acts), Thrifty Thursdays (special discounts), Family Days (extra on-field activities for kids) and Specialty Nights filled with a variety of events.
Created in 1976, the Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year award is presented annually to a woman in Minor League Baseball who has made an exceptional contribution to her club, league or the sport itself.
A part of the Kinston staff since 1995 when she began as an entry-level employee, Massengill rose to the rank of assistant general manager in 2001 where she oversaw the planning and renovation of Grainger Stadium. In 2006, she was appointed general manager of the Indians, becoming one of the few women to hold that post in a full-season league. Under Massengill's watch, Kinston won the 2006 Carolina League title and followed that with a league-best 87-52 record in 2007.
"It is an unbelievable honor to be recognized amongst all of the hard working women in Minor League Baseball," said Massengill, who also took home the Calvin Falwell Award as the top executive in the Carolina League in September. "It is exciting to be a part of a time when women have such an increasing role in baseball. This award means a lot to me and our organization."
The Giles Award is presented annually to a league president for exceptional service. Moss, who also took home the honor in 1993, has held his current position for 60 years, starting with the Western Carolina League in 1947, which later became the present-day South Atlantic League.
"I'm very honored to be a recipient of this award," Moss said. "Having known Mr. Giles and his son personally, it makes it even more special and more meaningful. One of the great appreciations I have in my career is all of the outstanding people that I've worked with. From taking baseball to 43 cities and 144 different ownerships to the individuals who operate the club, this has truly been a great experience."
Moss watched as the 16-team SAL drew nearly four million fans in 2007, breaking the league record for a fifth straight season. Moss will retire at the end of the year but will become President Emeritus and remain involved in baseball operations.
"As President Emeritus, I have been assigned the duty of finding a home for the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame," he said. "With more than 100 years of history, it's an exciting challenge and a great opportunity for me to remain active in baseball."
Michael Avallone is a contributor to MLB.com.