Thursday, December 08, 2011

I Crashed Baseball's Winter Meetings! (Photos)

WM Windmill
Welcome to the MLB Winter Meetings, Texas style!

I'd made a mental note that Major League Baseball was coming to Dallas for its winter meetings and I wondered just what I could see. So I grabbed my fake press pass and video equipment and decided to crash their party and see what mischief I could get into. Frankly, I didn't have my hopes up. And I half expected to get run off.

Baseball is known for its snot nosed, pampered players and I feared the business of baseball might be much the same. But, man, it wasn't like that at all! I never really got a feeling of snootiness from anyone. In fact, I felt a feeling of openness and generosity in the air, like you could approach anyone anytime as long as your were cool. Still, I had a nervous edge to me the whole time I walked around poking my nose into anything and everything.

I'd always known the winter meetings were a get together of baseball's general managers, agents and the assorted player, and that it was a time for wheeling and dealing. But there were a couple of sidelines I did not know about. One was the hiring of baseball personnel, for everything from the front office to broadcasting to scouting and handling media events. I guess I always figured they put an ad in the paper like everyone else.

A baseball trade show was also on the premises but I could not get into it since I am not associated with a "sports related" enterprise. Should have worn my Yankee cap!

WM Anatole Front
The Hilton Anatole just west of downtown Dallas

WM Limo
It's an expensive joint

WM Asian Prints
The hotel has Chinese accents all around the place -
of which I highly approve!

WM Mao
Chairman Mao's offical portrait as reflected in the night glass
(channeling bbd)

The feeling was positively electric and I highly recommend any baseball fan to attend if they get the chance. It's held in a different city each year. According to what I was told it was last in Dallas in 2000 and before that 1982. So if it comes to your town, grab the chance while you can!

I kept hearing various baseball phrases (mostly forgotten) as I walked around:

"I think he should be in the hall of fame!"

"They're worried about their bullpen when they should be worried about their starting pitching."

Everyone had baseball on the brain!

WM Sign Crop
The full schedule

WM Atrium Above3
The atrium area is huge but is just one part
of the larger complex that is the Anatole

WM Diagram
This diagram gives an idea of the immensity of the hotel.
It's the perfect place for just such an event.

All the big shots were there - and I got my fair share. It truly takes a sincere dedication of time and energy to relentlessly wander for hours looking to see who is where and when. It almost takes a two man operation - plus the moral support of a cohort goes a long ways in shoring up the nerves. Gawkers like me stood out a mile among the suits and celebs. Everyone looks so busy it's hard not to feel like you might be pestering them.

WM Kurkjian
I stopped ESPN's "baseball guru" Tim Kurkjian
for a photo and a handshake

WM Ken
Ken Rosenthal knows all things baseball

WM Tom
Tom Verducci. I shook his hand for his very fine Yankee books

WM Peter
Legendary Peter Gammons at the NESN desk

WM Cash
Very busy Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman stops for a quick pic.

Ad hoc job interviews were happening all over the place. You could easily spot the open but private tête à têtes. The job seekers needed to buy a badge for proper access ($200!) and were called by cell phone when their time came. I listened in on one and it sounded like a Hollywood audition. "If you don't hear from me in three days I'm probably not going to call you." These poor schmucks were just dying to get into baseball. You could see it in their eyes!

WM Job Fair
Want to get into Major League Baseball? Winter Meetings is your chance!

WM Interview
Man on the right just finished an interview
for scouting for the Tampa Bay Rays

WM Eatery
A lot of business was conducted here, too

Naturally, this is a huge media event. Everyone wants to be the hotshot who breaks the big story first. I also saw much camaraderie as colleagues who hadn't met in a long while greeted one another with a handshake and a smile. Seemed like one, giant fraternity assembling for both business and pleasure. Professionalism was the order of the day. But the more successful you were the more you dressed down. It's the eager young turks who have to impress!

Yankee Entertainment and Sports (YES) network guys. I swear I
don't remember them looking at me when I took this photo.

Karl Ravich, ex-Red Sox Manager Terry Francona, and ex-player John Kruk.
Sportscenter is the holy grail of sports broadcasting.

Looking at the ESPN desk from above

The MLB Network was by far the best place to be to spot
baseball celebs. Everyone there was completely cool to boot.

WM MLB Room Reporters
Part of the control room set up for the MLB Network

Of course, there's much more going on than just what you see on TV. It takes an entire technical support crew to pull off a show. Again, even the crews were most gracious, chatting with the fans, being helpful. At the MLB Network desk, fans were even posing for pics sitting behind the desk like the hosts. One thing I didn't know is that most of the technical crews are local people and it's only directors and such the networks bring in.

No viewer ever knew the whole show was done between two elephants

WM Camera Man
One of the camera men for ESPN's desk

WM YES Screen
Peeking into a YES Network's camera

Overall, it was a damn fine experience! By the third day I was walking through the atrium as bored and blasé as any regular participant. They say NASCAR is fan friendly but I was pleasantly surprised to find baseball just as welcoming. There was only a smattering of fans there but if they knew what they were missing it would have been a different story. So if you are a baseball fan and the winter meetings come to your town, I have just one word of advice: GO!

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