July 3, 2012

2012 SABR Convention Recap

As a Minnesotan news that the annual Society for American Baseball Research convention was coming to Minneapolis this year initially made me sad after attending eight consecutive SABR get-togethers in Cincinnati, Toronto, Seattle, St. Louis, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Long Beach. For me a big part of the fun has always been traveling to another city, seeing games at an unfamiliar MLB ballpark, and generally just feeling like I'm on an actual vacation.

(Our remake of Reservoir Dogs, from left to right: Jaffe, Dimino, Milazzo, Moore, Gleeman.)

At times it did feel weird to have it in my backyard, but as someone who lives in the suburbs and tends to stay home most nights going out eating, drinking, and shit-shooting with a bunch of non-Minnesotans in downtown Minneapolis for four days was an incredibly good time. Toss in a few local friends joining the fun, perfect weather, and the chance to see everyone fawn over Target Field and the convention experience proved to be every bit as great as usual.

(My seat at Target Field on Wednesday afternoon.)

Wednesday afternoon I headed to the Marriott, met up with my convention roommate and longtime SABR friend Joe Dimino, and walked to Target Field to watch the Twins-White Sox game with John Bonnes and Christine Bonnes. Three of my favorite people and first-row seats down the right field line made up for an ugly Twins loss and after baking in 90-degree sun for six innings we retreated to the in-park Town Ball Tavern for beer and air-conditioning.

(Intro to the hotel bar, from left to right: Temple, Leja, Webber, McCullough, Gleeman, Traven.)

That night I went to dinner at Hell's Kitchen with old convention friends Dimino, Mike Webber, Anthony Giacalone, Anthony Milazzo, and Mike McCullough, plus Fan Graphs and CBS Sports writer Jack Moore, Baseball Prospectus writers Bill Parker and Michael Bates, former AG.com sponsor of the week David Temple from TCPC Services, and Hardball Dynasty leaguemate Kevin Leja. Great food, better company, and I was smitten with our tattooed waitress Alexia.

(Webber and McCullough enjoy some local Grain Belt Premium at Hell's Kitchen.)

Back at the hotel with, among others, Mike Emeigh of Baseball Think Factory, Liz Roscher of The Good Phight, Cee Angi of Baseball Prospectus, and Wendy Thurm of Fan Graphs we had an intense debate about which MLB player put on the most weight during his career--Tony Gwynn was the consensus choice--and then closed down the bar. Predictably but stupidly I overslept the next morning and missed Twins president Dave St. Peter's opening remarks.

(Left to right at the hotel bar: Dimino, Emeigh, Temple, Roscher, Webber, Thurm, Parker.)

Instead the first thing I saw after groggily stumbling downstairs was a bunch of guys arguing about Lou Gehrig's career RBI total, followed by longtime friend and Hardball Times writer Steve Treder's excellent presentation about how 19-year journeyman Ducky Schofield was basically the Forrest Gump of baseball history. From there I went to The Local for fish and chips and big gingers with Giacalone, McCullough, Moore, Webber, and Kyle Eliason.

(Left to right at Brit's Pub: Moore, Gleeman, McCullough, Bonnes, Milazzo.)

After lunch I saw Paul Hensley's presentation about the Twins' almost-dynasty of 1965-1970, which is a topic that interests me following my "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" write-ups of players on those teams. Parker, Bates, and Angi hosted a Platoon Advantage happy hour get-together at Kieran's. Bonnes hung out, as did AG.com reader and local horror writer Axel Kohagen, and I had a great chat about the online baseball writing world with Angi, Moore, and Roscher.

(Switching to bourbon neat after three hours of Jameson seemed like a good plan.)

Once happy hour was over a big group of us went to Ike's Food and Cocktails for dinner followed by drinks outside on the patio at Brit's Pub, which was just about perfect way to end a fun official first day. We closed Brit's down, of course, and I successfully got Moore hooked on big gingers before I eventually ceased with the Jameson and tried to make Angi and my HardballTalk blogmate Craig Calcaterra proud by switching to neat bourbon.

(Ryan speaks to the people smart enough to set an alarm clock Friday morning.)

And then because I don't learn from mistakes I overslept again the next morning, missing Twins general manager Terry Ryan's one-man "panel" appearance. Once awake I ran into old friend Darren Wolfson of 1500-ESPN and KSTP-TV, who was shooting a piece on SABR for that evening's news. Giacalone gave a really good presentation about MLB's expansion in 1969 and I also saw Robert Garratt's presentation about Alvin Dark's controversial career.

(My famous "Jay Leno concentrating while sitting between Bates and Parker" impression.)

Lunch and margaritas at Masa followed with a group of 17 that got broken into three tables, with mine consisting of Giacalone, Dimino, McCullough, Eliason, and Hardball Times writer (and fellow SABR convention recapper) Chris Jaffe. It was outstanding Mexican food for not a ton of money. That night was SABR's group outing to Target Field for the Twins-Royals game, with a stop at Kieran's first for some more Jameson.

(Left to right at Masa: Jaffe, Dimino, Gleeman, Eliason, McCullough.)

I paid $40 for a Skyview ticket to the Twins-Royals game and then ended up not even finding my seat, instead standing around the open concourse chatting with SABR executive director Marc Appleman, Baseball-Reference.com creator Sean Forman, SABR web editor Jacob Pomrenke, and AG.com reader Hans Van Slooten. Once back at the hotel bar we learned that the Royals were also staying at the Marriott, which proved amusing (to me, at least).

(Left to right at Target Field before Friday night's game: Gleeman, Jaffe, Forman.)

I shared an elevator with former Twins reliever Jose Mijares and his incredibly good-looking girlfriend, although I was too worried about the flash or picture-snapping sound effect on my new phone going off to take a photo. I did, however, take a creepy photo of Salvador Perez after he silently sat alone on the same bar stool for two hours. And after drunkenly talking about going for 2:00 a.m. breakfast at Hell's Kitchen my dieting willpower narrowly saved me.

(Perez sitting alone at the hotel bar, with a cameo from Wyers.)

I woke up just in time for lunch Saturday, going to The Newsroom with a huge group that included most of the aforementioned usual suspects and Colin Wyers of Baseball Prospectus, whom I'll always remember sitting next to at Angels Stadium for Mike Trout's first big-league hit during last year's convention. After lunch I saw Garratt's presentation about Candlestick Park and Michael Humphreys' presentation about re-examining the value of defense.

(Too many people to name--and me way in the back--at The Newsroom.)

That essentially marked the end of the actual convention, but the fun was just getting started. Instead of going to the second game of the Twins-Royals doubleheader we decided to watch the game outside at Brit's. What started as a group of six having dinner at 6:00 p.m. turned into a group of 25 having drinks until they kicked us out at 2:15 a.m. I got a chance to catch up with former Twins blogger Will Young and Nick Nelson of Twins Daily stopped by briefly.

(Outside at Brit's Pub, listening to Forman and Webber.)

I had a great time talking about a whole bunch of stuff with Webber and Forman, who in addition to running the world's greatest website is also one of the people I look forward to seeing most every year. Eliason and Giacalone attempted to give me a post-weight loss pep talk about hitting on women--including Eliason hilariously suggesting that I visit his tailor--and I racked up a $94 bill despite eating less than $15 in food. In related news, vodka is good.

(Still outside at Brit's, left to right: Treder, Jaffe, McCullough, Eliason, Giacalone, Dimino.)

I had a tremendous drunken just-before-closing conversation about baseball writing, mothers, and phobias with Fan Graphs writer, editor, and podcaster Carson Cistulli, who cemented his status as one of my favorite people. As the bouncer was overseeing the group's exit a person who shall remain nameless asked him: "Can you tell me where to find the women who make bad decisions?" He wasn't sure, so instead we just decided to make our own bad decision.

(Still outside at Brit's and our group has multiplied.)

Apparently after the bars close at 2:00 a.m. the only place open downtown is Pizza Luce, so of course that's where I stumbled with Giacalone, Dimino, Milazzo, Moore, and Eliason. As if that wasn't dumb enough, once there we learned there was a line out the door filled with similarly stupid people and security guards were insisting on a (redeemable) $5 cover charge before frisking everyone on the way in. It was smelly, drunken, crowded, out of my element bedlam.

(Waiting in line for Pizza Luce at 3:00 am, which could have been the last picture of my life.)

We were in line behind three women in skintight white dresses, one of whom dropped her purse on the sidewalk as cash spilled out. Giacalone scooped up the money and handed it back, to which she said: "I'm sure glad you aren't poor." As we walked to the hotel chomping on pizza, a passer-by yelled: "They didn't slice you, huh? They let you get out of there with that Pizza Luce?" Oh, and a guy with two women on his arm asked for directions to Sex World.

(Mary Tyler Moore's nightmare starring Dimino, Milazzo, McCullough, Gleeman, Treder, Moore.)

And that's how my convention actually ended, eating pizza while stumbling back to the hotel at 3:30 a.m. with friends new and old, which I can assure you is a lot more fun than it sounds. I even managed to have the "guy who has lost 185 pounds in 15 months" part of my brain overrule the "guy who drank way too much and used to weigh 355 pounds" part of my brain enough to throw out the second slice after a few blocks, which I'm counting as a victory.

As has been the case since 2004 the SABR convention was my favorite four days of the year and while Minneapolis hosting the festivities changed some of what I love about the vacation it was great to hang out downtown with a mix of local and SABR friends. And the weather, Target Field, and great bars and restaurants made Minnesota a top-notch venue. Next year's convention is in Philadelphia and I'm already looking forward to regretting the cheese steaks.