ORLANDO, Fla. -- When the Winter Meetings kicked off Monday morning at the Dolphin and Swan Hotels in Disney World, the common theme was one in which vision played a huge role.
Mike Moore, president of Minor League Baseball, addressed the attendees of the general session's opening, giving an impassioned speech regarding the game's youngest fans. It's his vision that the children who follow today's game become invested in it on every level and not just approach a day at the ballpark as an isolated instance of entertainment.
That premise is the driving force behind his "Fan For Life Program," which he hopes will be up and running in time for the 2008 season. Moore wants to use the 2007 season as one in which personnel in the Minor and Major Leagues can work together to put forth the best possible program by which children can become more involved and invested in the game itself.
"It's been said that children are out best national resource, and they are," Moore said. "Our future is with the young fans of today. I would hope that everyone here would endeavor to join us in making them fans for life.
"I've always been fascinated with seeing kids have a great time at the ballpark. You see them having fun but you wonder how many of them will be long-term fans. We have so many good thinkers that we want to take some time and develop some ideas. The people at Major League Baseball might have some ideas as well."
So while the Winter Meetings, particularly for the Minor Leagues, is about business, Moore's intent is to see that the younger fans remember that this is still just a game and is something that can be enjoyed for years to come and is not just a youthful obsession. He closed off his speech with a poem, one that spoke to his vision.
The business side of the game was also addressed as the four-day get together of baseball's hierarchy got into full swing. There are more than 3,000 officials on hand representing nearly 160 Minor League clubs as well as representatives of the Major League teams, making this week arguably the most important one of the year. Conferences will be held for public relations staffers, the Job Fair kicked off Monday morning while the Trade Show opened later in the evening, making it all a special day for those involved.
Pat O'Conner, Minor League Baseball's vice president and chief operating officer, also spoke of his vision: that all of the teams and ownership groups in Minor League Baseball work as one toward achieving a collective goal rather than being short-sighted and simply looking at the needs of individual clubs.
"We've already experienced growth unparalleled, and we've achieved nearly every goal and every challenge," O'Conner said. "But if we lose sight of how we got to this point and overlook the collective benefit of the group, we will lose."
He pointed, as a example, toward a need for an umbrella insurance policy for all clubs in the National Association, one that will be cost-effective and helpful for everyone in the long run, rather than an individual making their own arrangements. It's similar to the points he made last winter in Dallas.
While it might seem as if O'Conner was chastising his membership, such was not the case. He was simply sharing his vision of the NA working as a cohesive unit in the not-too-distant future.
The Opening Session was also highlighted by the presentation of the 2006 League Executive of the Year Awards. Those honored were Joe Napoli, Toledo (International League); Mike Schline, New Orleans (Pacific Coast League); Gustavo Ricalde Duran, Leones de Yucatan (Mexican League); Chuck Domino, Reading (Eastern League); Greg Rauch, Montgomery (Southern League); Pete Laven, Arkansas (Texas League); Thomas Volpe, Stockton (California League); John Katz, Salem (Carolina League); Bill Paperniak, Daytona (Florida State League); Jim Jarecki, West Michigan (Midwest League); Donald Moore, Greensboro (South Atlantic League); David Burke, Hudson Valley (New York-Penn League); Todd Rahr, Boise (Northwest League); Mike Mains, Elizabethton (Appalachian League); and Danny Tetzlaff, Casper (Pioneer League).