November 27, 2006

I'm Going to Disney World

For the first four years of this site's existence I rarely went anywhere, save for a random long weekend somewhere or my annual trek to the SABR convention, so it's a bit of shock to my system that I'll soon be packing for my second trip in a month's time. A few weeks ago I headed to New York on business and, stemming directly from that, Sunday afternoon I'll be flying to Orlando to cover baseball's annual Winter Meetings for NBCSports.com.

The week-long event features thousands of representatives from every major-league and minor-league organization, as well as agents, media members, job-seekers, and assorted "baseball men." I'm not entirely sure what to expect, although Alex Belth's wonderful essay about attending the Winter Meetings in New Orleans back in 2003 gives me at least some idea of what I'm getting myself into. Belth began his piece by calling it "one of the oddest experiences I’ve ever had" and went on to write:


Smack dab in the middle of the hotel lobby is a squared-off bar area that is raised up off the floor by a couple of feet, carpeted and outfitted with tables. The room is populated with up to several hundred men--agents, scouts, front office assistants, kids looking for jobs, and of course, the members of the media. Essentially, it is a big cocktail party. Groups of guys cluster together and chat. It's the kind of scene where you see a guy pull another guy aside and say, "Step into my office." The rest of the men stand around nervously, as if they were limo drivers at the airport waiting to pick someone up.

It is an inherently tense and uncomfortable atmosphere. The mood isn't dour, it's just forced. After all, this isn't a social gathering, this is business. The teams are in the business of signing players and making trades; the agents are in the business of selling their clients, and the media's business is to be up in everybody's business. As a result, everyone is checking everybody else out. This is amusing. When I first walked in, I was getting the once over too. Some guys shot me suspicious, dark looks, as if to say, "Now who the hell is this?" Others looked at me more openly, with curiosity, as if to say, "Who the hell is that?"

The attention doesn't last long, but it is steady. Once one guy determines you are nobody that interests them, another guy is staring at you. And this isn't just me, of course. This is what the entire room is doing to everyone. It is a very strange feeling, watching a room full of guys checking each other out, eyes darting from face to face. The overall effect has the awkwardness of a seventh-grade dance, except there aren't any girls.

As someone who was awkward at many seventh-grade dances, it should be right up my alley. Belth goes on to describe the "objects of desire" as "more famous men" who basically get gawked at constantly like they're supermodels. He also talks of "reporters doing laps around the bar, looking for their next lead" and "agents on their cell phones arranging meetings." My plan, for now at least, is to be somewhere in between.

In fact, my primary goal is to simply take in the atmosphere, much like Belth did a few years ago, and report back about what exactly goes on at these things. To flip around the old saying, this is my first rodeo, so I have no delusions of breaking big stories or getting scoops. Instead, I'll try to be the ultimate fly on the wall (or limo driver waiting to pick someone up at the airport) and take good notes as it all goes down in front (or at least within ear-shot) of me.

Of course, with so many big names around, I'll also be trying to secure a few interviews for NBCSports.com, which is why I'll be equipped with a video camera in addition to pen and pad. Terry Ryan will be there, as will Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, John Schuerholz, Ken Williams, Walt Jocketty, Brian Cashman, Omar Minaya, Kevin Towers, Dave Dombrowski, and the rest of his 29 counterparts. I'll be pestering them all to come on camera with me, so we'll see if it's possible to go 0-for-30.

While GMs are undoubtedly the headliners, I'm looking forward more to meeting some of my favorite writers. ESPN.com figures to send guys like Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark, and Keith Law, while FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal will surely be pumping out his usual dozen columns per day with all the latest rumors. Beyond that, this will be my first chance to actually meet the Minneapolis Star Tribune's LaVelle E. Neal III, whom I've called the "Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com" for years.

I'm hopeful that being "online friends" with LEN3 will compel him to shield me from Jason Williams of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (and Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune, if he's there), but if not there should be some good footage of me being beaten to death by a rolled up newspaper in the hotel bar. I also hope to meet some of the Baseball Prospectus gang, who are now veterans of the Winter Meetings after once upon a time coming into the experience with the same deer-in-the-headlights look I'll surely have.

For anyone else reading this who's planning to be there--whether you're a big-time mainstream media member, lowly blogger, faceless front-office slave or none of the above--please drop me an e-mail. Not only would I enjoy meeting up with you in Orlando--I hear there might be some late-night drinking involved, in which case the first one is on me--I might be able to get you some camera time. You know, assuming all the GMs aren't lining up to talk to me.


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