NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- During the recently concluded Baseball Winter Meetings, thousands of individuals descended on the Gaylord Opryland Resort, hundreds in the hopes of finding employment in the competitive and often insular world of professional baseball. It was an intimidating task, to say the least.
Among the hordes of prospective employees were 16 students from Lynn University's sports management program. To say they had a leg up on the competition would be an understatement.
These students, under the leadership of professor Ted Curtis, did not merely roam the labyrinthine corridors of the Opryland hoping for a chance meeting with a prominent baseball executive. Instead, executives came to them.
Located in Boca Raton, Fla., Lynn University is a private institution founded in 1962. In keeping with his program's focus on "experiential learning," Curtis reserved a conference room at the Opryland and arranged for nearly two dozen baseball industry insiders to address his students. Over the course of three days, he and his students were educated on the finer points of the baseball business by seven Minor League general managers, four team presidents, a player agent, a director of legal affairs, Major League Baseball's coordinator of Minor League operations and several others.
In what must have been the low point of their Winter Meetings' experience, the students also were also visited by yours truly, who blathered on about the logistics of covering the Minor Leagues as well as his disproportionate interest in off-beat promotional items and theme nights. They can't all be winners.
Curtis, who clearly takes Lynn's mission of innovative and individualized education to heart, is one of two full-time professors in the 130-student sports management program. The trip to Nashville marked the second time in as many years he has taken his students to the Winter Meetings. He also teaches a class called "The Final Four Experience," which will culminate with a trip to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Final Four in San Antonio, Texas.
"Instead of the world's biggest job-finding trip, we wanted to treat this as a learning environment," Curtis explained. "The Winter Meetings is a living, breathing working laboratory on the business of baseball and I cannot imagine a better place for our students to learn.
"When people hear about the Winter Meetings, the assumption is that it's all about the GMs of Major League teams making trades. The reality is that is one half of one percent of what goes on here. I want the students to see that and experience that firsthand. By walking into the lobby, visiting the trade show, attending the job fair or going on an interview, they get to take it all in and see the reality of the situation for themselves."
For Curtis, trips like this one can reap benefits that are impossible to attain in a disconnected classroom environment.
"Obviously, it's very important to learn sports management theory and business theory, but once learned, how is it applied?" he said. "The best kind of education takes what is learned in the classroom and applies it to real life."
Of the 16 Lynn students who made the trip, six were upperclassmen. With the prospect of post-collegiate life no longer an abstract notion, these students were particularly motivated to benefit from their Winter Meetings experience.
The vast majority did more than benefit from the experience. All three seniors landed post-graduation jobs at the Winter Meetings, while five of the underclassmen secured summer internships (which they will do for university credit in addition to the experience). All eight remaining students have call-back interviews and other opportunities scheduled for the coming weeks.
Michael Blum, a senior who will be graduating at the end of the month, landed a job in ticket sales with the New York Mets.
"This was my second time coming to the meetings, so I had a much better idea of how to navigate the situation and what to focus on," said Blum, who transferred to Lynn a year and a half ago. "I had initially been leaning toward something in marketing, but when an opportunity with the Mets pops up, you can't really turn it down.
"I think what the Winter Meetings does is give you an appreciation for the business side of baseball, and it really makes you realize all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes in order to make it work. Now, in going on to the Mets, I can utilize that. They're soon going to be playing in a new field and they want new people with new ideas. I love that I'm going to be a part of it."
At the other end of the spectrum is Kristin Grey, a sophomore attending the Winter Meetings for the first time who previously interned with the Trenton Devils of the East Coast Hockey League.
"My passion is hockey, so my motivation for coming here was to get to know the baseball industry and figure out if this was something I wanted to do," Grey explained. "I don't have the knowledge of baseball that a lot of people have. When we got here, everybody was talking about Santana, and I was like, 'The only Santana I know is Carlos, and he plays the guitar.' I can't even begin to tell you how much I've learned over the past few days."
Grey left the meetings having secured another Trenton sports internship, this one with the Double-A Thunder of the Eastern League.
"At the job fair, I didn't see the Thunder listed as having any internships," she said. "But at one point I saw a couple of people walk by with Trenton Thunder name badges, so I worked up the nerve to introduce myself to them. Luckily, they were impressed by initiative and invited me to come down for an interview."
To Curtis, experiences like Grey's help illustrate his belief that the best kind of education is that which takes place in the "real world."