With the baseball hot stove heating up to an almost unbearable temperature, I decided to take a trip. Not just any trip, a trip to the 2006 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort
. Time to see what these Winter Meetings are all about. And maybe get an inside scoop. You never know, maybe, just maybe, I will be the first place the world finds out where the Great Gil Meche will play next year.
Because I have to pay the bills, the trip didn't start until 4pm Eastern Time. Unfortunately, a trip to Lake Buena Vista also meant missing a key city rec league basketball playoff game. Oh well. We were 0-7 going into tonight. How much of a Cinderella chance did we have? But I digress. Off to the Winter Meetings. I am going to Disney World!
For the sake of speed and coherence, what follows is a chronological diary of sorts. I know The Sports Guy has pretty much cornered the market on running diaries, but anything less would become a blathering of philosophical prose. And who needs that?
Left for the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. It's about 60 miles to Lake Buena Vista, I've got a half tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it'll soon be dark, and I'm wearing sunglasses.
Arrived at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. Wow. Not only did I beat traffic by averaging about 85 on the highway, but this may just be one of the nicest resorts I have ever seen. Hopefully I'll see someone as rich as Lou Whitaker
pull up in a stretch limo.
Entered the resort like I owned the place. No Lou Whitaker, but there were a few limos outside by the valets. Began strolling around. Found the Professional Baseball Job Fair, where hundreds, if not thousands, of aspiring individuals converge attempting to land jobs in professional baseball. You know what they say, "those who can't play, work". I wonder if this is how Theo Epstein or Mark DePodesta started?
Continued my mindless wandering through the exquisite halls of the Swan Resort. Found the Phillies reception room empty. Probably either closed for the evening or closed due to disbelief that the Phillies would pay recent additions Wes Helms and Adam Eaton more than they paid Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton.
Moseyed across the concrete boardwalk from the Swan Resort to the Dolphin Resort. Walked by gigantic outdoor fountains of, you guessed it, swans and dolphins. Entered the Dolphin Resort, and in moments was in a spacious lobby/lounge with a huge Christmas tree in the middle and a pianist off to the side playing Christmas carols and all of today's great Baroque hits.
Began to wander around the lobby/lounge. Unfortunately, out of the hundreds of people there, few had name tags, and those that did were usually labeled either "media" or "job seeker" or "Kenosha Blue Ducks." Hardly the people that will tell me where Dan Kolb is rumored to end up. That's the problem with high-end job fairs/ corporate gatherings: the important people never wear name tags. You are supposed to know who they are. Would you know the Brewers' or Devil Rays' general manager if he wasn't wearing a name tag?
Continued walking around. There were people from everywhere there. It was like baseball Mecca. There were representatives from dozens of minor league teams (what is a Savannah Sand Gnat?) and even international representatives. Who knew there was an Israeli Baseball League?
Hey, a familiar face: it's Kenny Williams, GM of the White Sox flanked by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. They look like they are holding court, lounging on a couch with several lackeys chattering around them.
Made my way to one of the many alcohol stands around the Christmas tree. By the way, shouldn't they limit alcohol availability at a place where hundred million dollar deals take place? No wonder Gregg Zaun got nearly 8 million dollars. Gregg Zaun.
Bought myself a beer. $5.50 for a Bud Light? Slowly sip the what better be the best damn Bud Light I'll ever drink.
A chance to talk to Ozzie Guillen! Introduced myself as "just a fan here to take in the Winter Meetings." Always the gentleman, Ozzie excused himself from the three guys he was talking with, pointed to one and explained "That was just my former lover." The sensitivity training
worked well, didn't it Ozzie?
It's former Met, Giant, Brewer outfielder Darryl Hamilton! There is Lou Pinella and former Red superstar Tony Perez! And there is Tommy Lasorda! I wonder if Lasorda would convince me to come down if I was up in the Christmas tree.
Seemingly out of nowhere I came across a gaggle of reporters with their recorders out huddled around someone. That someone was Scott Boras, uber-agent supreme. Was I at the cusp of baseball history? Was something huge happening right in front of me?
As the reporters still engulfed Boras with microphones (could there ever be a successful claustrophobic agent?), I again wandered about. Then I had perhaps the highlight of my night. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mets GM Omar Minaya. Being a huge Mets fan since I was knee high to a grasshopper I had to say hello. I walked up to Mr. Minaya. "Excuse me, Mr. Minaya, I am a huge Mets fan here to take in the Winter Meetings and I would like to thank you for all that you have done for the team." Wow, as excited as I was, that came out rather well. Omar smiled, shook my hand, said thanks, and walked away. I am still naming my firstborn Omar, Pedro, or Carlos if the Mets win a championship in the next few years.
Saw a group of Asian reporters comparing notes after listening to Scott Boras for a while. Could Daisuke Matsuzaka have signed with the Red Sox?
Again walked over to the Scott Boras congregation, but veered away when I saw Hall of Fame reporter Peter Gammons talking baseball with several other people. You don't miss an opportunity to eavesdrop on Peter Gammons. It's like being on hand to see Jimi Hendrix jam, Picasso doodle, or Emeril whip up a quick dessert. A true master in his element.
After trying to listening in on Peter Gammons yet not look like a stalker, I spoke with a reporter for the Fort Worth Star Telegram. After asking about the hubbub around Scott Boras (she defined it as nothing but a semi-daily update on the Boras family of clients), we discussed the differences between looking at the Winter Meetings from the perspective of a fan and a member of the media. For me, this was a Mecca of celebrity, a once-a-year occasion to be at the cusp of baseball news. For her, it was a chore, a long few days filled with 16 hours of being on the clock for 30 minutes of actual news. And not really exciting considering she speaks with ballplayers for a living. I guess it depends on perspective. I was still having a blast.
Hey, it's Jim Leyland and Tigers coach Lloyd McClendon. And Leyland doesn't have a cigarette in his mouth. I am surprised.
Wow, although Kenny Williams has left, Ozzie Guillen is still holding court by the couches.
Saw ex-major leaguers Ellis Burks and Bryan Harvey. Quick notes: For some reason a reporter wanted to ask Burks how J.D. Drew will do in Boston. How long ago did Burks play there? For how much less money? Yeah, of course Ellis can explain the pressure Drew will be under. Oh, and Bryan Harvey, recognizable from his trademark moustache, looked like someone straight from the Country Music Awards show. Boots, buckle, the whole nine yards.
Walked into the San Diego Padres reception room to find something to eat. I don't if I was supposed to be there but I had a free turkey sandwich courtesy of either the San Diego Padres or Walt Disney World. Mighty tasty.
Saw Tony LaRussa. Even though his Cardinals beat my Mets, I walked up, introduced myself, and said "Congratulations on your season, Mr. LaRussa." He replied "Please, it's just Tony." The genius just flows from him.
Ozzie Guillen is still the
person to talk to. Even soon-to-be-Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. has joined him. Ripken is one tall dude, by the way.
Spoke with one of the many job fair candidates. As she spoke about the importance of networking, I admitted I was just there as a fan. She did tell me one hot rumor though, not sure how true it is. Barry Zito to the Rangers for 17 million a year for 6 years
. Wow, my first inside scoop.
By the way, this master networker was so good, she got Ozzie Guillen to buy her a beer by claiming I bet her that he wouldn't. I am sure it helped that she was quite attractive.
Overheard Ozzie Guillen finally tell his posse "Let's go" and out he went. Suddenly the party got much less cooler.
Took one more walk around the lobby/lounge, once again checked out the Christmas tree and the pianist, saw ex-Giant, ex-Pirates pitcher Don Robinson and several other former major leaguers I recognized but I couldn't identify, and made my exit.
Wow. Why did I never visit the Winter Meetings before? For only $9.50 for parking and $5.50 for a beer I met or saw some of the biggest names in baseball and stood where the story of the 2007 season will begin. Unlike some of this offseason's multi-million dollar contracts, that 15 dollars was money well-spent.