LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The annual Trade Show at the Baseball Winter Meetings was open for its first full day of business Tuesday, offering those in the game a chance to fill some exceedingly diverse shopping lists.
Want to schedule a mascot doctor appointment? Find the next giveaway item craze? Finally buy that high-powered T-shirt gun? If so, the Trade Show was the place to be. It's a one-stop shop for everything related to the national pastime.
And while attendees are provided with detailed maps and cross-indexed buyers' guides, navigating the Trade Show remains a daunting task. The nearly 250 vendor booths appear to stretch on to infinity, laid out row upon row through the entirety of two massive convention halls (and a connecting annex). Spending an afternoon within its confines is not unlike being in a casino -- there are no windows or clocks, cell phone reception is spotty and one is surrounded by smiling faces eager to take your money.
At least there are complimentary corn dogs (courtesy of Quik N' Crispy Greaseless Fryers, booth 1808).
I spent the bulk of Tuesday afternoon traversing the aisles, trying to gauge the latest and greatest products the sport has to offer. Below is just a small sampling of what I found, with supplementary content soon to come on Ben's Biz Blog.
Backpacks (Player's Pack) -- Michael Valenci of Player's Pack summed up his signature product succinctly: "It looks like a hat on your back." It's hard to argue with that description and also hard to argue with the potential of these durable team logo-embossed products (available as soft coolers and expandable kid's backpacks). Teams unwilling to make a major commitment can order Player's Packs in increments as low as 24.
Giant Jersey (Action Sports America) -- Doug Verb named his company "Action Sports America," making him an action verb. And the action Verb is engaged in selling the world's largest jersey. "How do I know it's the largest?" he asked rhetorically. "Because I made it bigger than all the other ones!" These massive (15-by-13) inflatables can be signed by fans and recent incarnations include a baseball toss game within the jersey. Despite their size, the jerseys weigh only 50 pounds. Verb recommends that teams set them up and away from the ballpark, in areas with high foot traffic where they can spur curiosity.
Mascot Health Care (Raymond Entertainment Group) -- Original Phillie Phanatic Dave Raymond, last seen on the pages of MiLB.com touting his Mascot Training Camps, is a legend in the field. He is a certified "Mascot Doctor," roaming the trade show in white coat and stethoscope. The services he offers include simple consultations to "Fur Rehab" to full-on "Mascot Interventions" designed to completely overhaul a team's underperforming costumed character.
Odor And Moisture Protection (Huppo) -- Perhaps not a potential giveaway or team store staple but surely one of the most unique and attention-getting items at the Trade Show. Huppo (pronounced Hoo-po) means "placed beneath" in Greek, and that's what men are supposed to do with it. It's a pouch of baby powder inserted in the underwear, and the powder is released incrementally in response to movement. It's hard to chafe at this idea.
Ponchos (Storm Duds) -- Gary Libman of Storm Duds is a big fan of Minor League Baseball's trend toward open concourses, and for a very simple reason -- they offer very few places to hide from the elements. And when fans are getting soaked by an unexpected downpour, they may well be moved to purchase a Storm Duds-designed team logo poncho or umbrella. "We've got you covered, that's our motto," Libman said.
Stuntman (Virtus Stunts) -- Ted Batchelor made headlines earlier this season when he ran around the bases at Savannah's Grayson Stadium -- while on fire. It was hardly an isolated occurrence as Batchelor has been lighting himself ablaze for the better part of three decades. He holds the Guinness World Record for "Longest Full-Body Burn Without Supplied Oxygen" and is currently attempting to become the first person to light himself on fire in all 50 states. Minor League Baseball certainly will be able to assist with that goal. Here's hoping you'll get to see him in action in 2011 at a ballpark near you.
Tattoo Sleeves (Coopersburg Sports) -- The ultimate show of team loyalty is a tattoo, but Coopersburg Tattoo Sleeves are the next big thing. The products, made of a nylon/spandex material, received a huge boost in prominence last season after members of the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen were seen sporting them. Now Coopersburg is bringing the product to the Minor Leagues, as unique novelty items to be sold in team stores.