Opryland provides grand setting

Home of country music hosts 2007 Baseball Winter Meetings

By Lisa Winston / MLB.com | November 30, 2007 5:00 AM

Travel Tip No. 1 for the upcoming 2007 Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville: Wear comfortable shoes.

From Dec. 3-6, the 106th annual meetings return to the Opryland Resort and Convention Center for the fifth time since 1983.

The hotel itself is a popular vacation destination, featuring nearly 3,000 guest rooms. Despite the grand scale of the site, it is still overbooked, forcing several participants to shuttle to and from Opryland out of overflow hotels.

Even if you're not a fan of Nashville's biggest export, country music, few will fail to be mesmerized by the Opryland resort itself. It encompasses nine acres of indoor gardens, waterfalls, fountains and even a river running below the dazzling glass atriums.

Within all that real estate, which seems to cover about three zip codes, are dozens of shops, restaurants, bars, and, for these few days, a few thousand members of the "fraternity" of professional baseball.

Scattered throughout the complex, which appears to be the size of a Class A Minor League city, are the meeting rooms, ballrooms, conference rooms and, of course, the trade show site, where GMs, owners, agents, front-office executives and job seekers will be talking, trading and plying their wares throughout the four-day event.

And while most of the Winter Meetings participants will not be kicking back, floating down the indoor waterway on a motorized boat, partaking of gingerbread cookie pedicures at the day spa or playing a few rounds of golf at the Gaylord Springs course, a popular PGA tour stop, their days and nights will certainly be filled with activity.

The Major League hot stove trading season got started even before the general managers landed at Nashville International Airport as the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays completed a six-player, mini-blockbuster trade. Delmon Young, selected No. 1 overall by the Rays in 2003, will head to Minnesota as the key component in a deal that will send MiLB.com's 2006 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Matt Garza to Tampa Bay.

The trade will likely spark a busy few days of players swapping teams in Nashville.

Some upper-echelon talent is expected to be dealt, including another Minnesota pitcher, two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, as well as Florida Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera. Contending teams have been putting together packages of their blue-chip prospects in the hopes of acquiring either of the top two prizes this offseason.

But while the movers and shakers on the Major League side will be retreating to coves, cubbies and the Jack Daniels Saloon to talk trade, the hundreds of representatives from Minor League organizations will be keeping busy with an array of meetings, parties and round-tables of their own.

The scheduled events kick off Monday morning with the one-day Bob Freitas Business Seminar, a series of up-close-and-personal round-table opportunities for Minor League executives to discuss just about anything and everything that affects their business.

The seminar, which has been a staple of the event for 17 years, will take a break to allow its participants to attend the Minor League Baseball Awards luncheon at 12:30 p.m.

Minor League Baseball will honor its most deserving front-office executives for outstanding performances over the course of the 2007 season. Among the awards to be handed out are the coveted John H. Johnson President's Trophy for overall excellence by a franchise, the Larry MacPhail Award for promotions and the Warren Giles Award, given annually to an outstanding league president.

Monday evening's highlight will be the grand opening of the Trade Show, one of the keynote events of the meetings.

You could spend all day just browsing the seemingly endless aisles at the convention center, checking out products and services from more than 300 companies looking to fulfill all of a team's needs from ticketing services to apparel to mascot costumes to ballpark entertainment.

The Trade Show, which started as a modest one-room event in 1965, is now a three-day bonanza, which has its invitation-only opening night Monday and runs through Tuesday and Wednesday. Attendees should always leave ample time to stroll through the aisles, sample the wares at the booths that offer ballpark food and allow extra time to stop and chat with just about anyone involved with a Minor League team.

Among the participants roaming the Trade Show booths and Opryland hallways will be a few hundred hopefuls whose business cards do not yet bear the name of a Minor League club.

The Winter Meetings are also the site for the annual Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities Job Fair for those looking for work in Minor League Baseball.

The PBEO Job Fair hosts as many as 500 job seekers each year, with teams conducting on-site interviews to fill their slots, ranging from concessions to groundskeeper to sales executives to public relations.

On Wednesday, Minor League Baseball will welcome a new president as the official elections take place at 4 p.m. There won't be much intrigue involved in this election though, as chief operating officer and vice president of administration Pat O'Conner will take the reins from incumbent Mike Moore.

Moore steps down after serving as president of Minor League Baseball since 1991, a period of unprecedented and continued growth.

On Wednesday evening, O'Conner will have a chance to celebrate his presidency along with hundreds of other Winter Meetings participants at the annual gala, held this year at the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville.

The host city always puts on a good show at this party, and the Wildhorse was chosen for its award-winning menu and 66,000-square-foot spread.

But the front-office executives and fans of the Minors will not want to party too late, not if they want to get to the next morning's marquee event, the Minor League Rule 5 Draft, which begins at 9 a.m.

Trying to explain the draft in a few paragraphs is nearly impossible. In a nutshell, young players who have been in the Minors for more than four or five years (depending on their age at the time of their signing) who are not protected on their organization's 40-man roster become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.

At the Major League level, teams who have room on their 40-man roster can select an unprotected player for the cost of $50,000. That player must remain on their active 25-man roster for the following season or else be offered back to the original organization for $25,000.

Only a few players stick with their teams in a given year. And only a few go on to superstar status. But over the years, there have certainly been more than a few Rule 5 success stories. The most notable in the last several years have been Santana, taken from the Houston Astros in 1999, and Florida Marlins All-Star second baseman Dan Uggla, selected from Arizona in 2005.

Last year's draft had three successful picks: pitcher Joakim Soria with Kansas City, outfielder Josh Hamilton with Cincinnati and catcher Jesus Flores with Washington.

After the dust has settled from the Rule 5 Draft, the meetings officially end Thursday night with the annual banquet, the most formal event of the week (though "formal" is more of an excuse for attendees to pull out their sparkles and sequins).

Held at Opryland, the featured performer this year will be Grammy Award-winning singer Pam Tillis, but the spotlight also will be on whoever is named this year's "King of Baseball," given annually for lifetime contribution to the game.

Ultimately, when it comes to the Winter Meetings, it's all about the lobby. A central location where people can see and be seen, catch up with old friends and contacts and make new ones. There is no better "people watching" place than the main lobby of the event's official hotel.

Opryland's expansive setting (and numerous bars) make it a little trickier to specify a true "central location," but it guarantees that the participants will get more than their fair share of exercise.

Looking ahead, as many will inevitably do, the 2008 Winter Meetings will take place in Las Vegas for the first time, with upcoming events staged in Indianapolis (2009) and Disney World (2010).

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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