Winter meetings. It's the most wonderful time of the year. Especially for Minor League clubs honored in front of their peers and Major League affiliates.
This year, top honors in the Minors will be bestowed upon the Altoona Curve (John H. Johnson President's Trophy), Round Rock Express (Larry MacPhail Promotional Trophy), Reading Phillies (assistant general manager Ashley Forlini, Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year) and the Eastern League (president Joe McEacharn, Warren Giles Award) during baseball's Winter Meetings Dec. 4-7.
The President's Trophy is presented annually to the franchise that best exemplifies the complete Minor League Baseball organization. Among the categories considered are contributions to the industry and community, long-term financial stability, financial success and overall promotion of the industry.
"For those of us who work in the industry, the Johnson Trophy has always been considered the Heisman Trophy of Minor League Baseball," Altoona general manager Todd Parnell said. "We are thrilled and honored to be recognized by Minor League Baseball as the top franchise from among all affiliated clubs across the United States and Canada."
The Curve have won three top awards -- the President's Trophy, the Larry MacPhail Promotional Trophy and Baseball America's Bob Freitas Award -- in two years. Last week, Baseball America awarded the Curve a Freitas Award as the top Double-A franchise. In Fall 2004, Altoona received the MacPhail Trophy for top promotional effort.
"Being honored with the John H. Johnson President's Trophy is a true testament to its status as a leading community asset in the western and central Pennsylvania marketplace," McEacharn said. "The level to which [Altoona] commits itself to excellence speaks volumes to its dedicated purpose and stature as an industry leader."
The Curve is only the 11th franchise to receive all three awards, and is thought to be the first to do so in less than three years. The Eastern League's Reading Phillies garnered all three from 1999-2003 and the Trenton Thunder accomplished the feat between 1998-2005.
"This is certainly a historic day," Parnell said. "I can't say thank you enough to our ownership group, our outstanding front office staff and, most importantly, the fans of the region who have supported this franchise from day one and who are truly the reason for the awards that we have earned."
"Eastern League members have been fortunate to have been honored with this award three of the last four years and four of the last seven," McEacharn added. "This record reflects the commitment of all Eastern League members to make a difference in their community.
The Express' win followed four consecutive nominations for the award. In doing so, Round Rock became only the third team from Texas to pick up the honor since its inception in 1966 and the first since El Paso earned the honor in 1993.
"This is quite an honor for us," Express president Jay Miller said. "We, as an organization, strive to give our fans the best of baseball because they represent the spirit of the game."
2006 was a huge year for Round Rock, who began in the Double-A Texas League in 2000. The Express broke the all-time attendance record for that level five years in a row.
In 2005, the club converted to Triple-A. The Express has ranked among the top teams in fan support among all Minor League teams in both seasons in the Pacific Coast League.
The award recognized the team's special link with the community through unique promotions, devotion to community events and a never-ending support of charitable projects. In 2006, the organization created Miracle League Field, a specially designed and constructed park available to 14,000 handicapped children in the Austin area.
"We've assembled a seasoned and diverse staff which consistently comes up with new and innovative ways to give back to the Express community, which is what baseball in Central Texas should be about," Round Rock founder and chief executive officer Reid Ryan said.
Created in 1976, the Rawlings award is presented annually to a woman in Minor League Baseball who has made an outstanding contribution to her club, league or to baseball. Forlini was nominated for the honor by McEacharn.
"Ashley's contributions to the Phillies organization and the Reading community are numerous," he said. "She is a role model not only in the baseball industry, but equally importantly outside the baseball industry."
During her tenure, Forlini has implemented and supervised the Reading Phillies' internship program, coordinated Reading's between-inning entertainment, overseen the group sales department (which established an all-time high sales mark in 2006) and overseen the "Squires" -- a group of children in grades 3-5 at Lauer's Park Elementary School in Reading who help operate the youth baseball stadium built by the R-Phils Baseballtown Charities.
After serving as an intern with Reading in 2000, Forlini was hired full-time. In six years, she has progressed through the organization from group sales assistant, to director of fan development, to director of group sales and fan development and to director of group sales and game presentation before being named assistant general manager at the end of the 2006 season.
The Giles Award is presented annually to a league president for outstanding service. Since McEacharn took the post in 2003, the Eastern League has set numerous attendance records.
He started working for the league in 1997 on former president Bill Troubh's staff, ascending to vice president for three years before becoming the 11th president in the league's history.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.