Friday, December 10, 2010

Return to the Winter Meetings

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

There are many baseball-related advantages to being a Tampa-based writer. I am 30 minutes from MiLB Headquarters, within an hour from at least five minor league ballparks, and the Rays are only a hop, skip, and a jump across the bridge. But one of the biggest baseball-based advantages to living in Tampa is that I'm in close proximity to the Swan and Dolphin Hotel, frequent host to the Baseball Winter Meetings.

Back in 2006, in one of my first-ever blog posts, I chronicled my first trip to the Baseball Winter Meetings. It was a fun time, highlighted by interactions with Ozzie Guillen, Omar Minaya, Jim Leyland, and Tony LaRussa. I was a fan, and they were larger than life baseball personalities. I was in awe.

Four years later, I find myself in a different phase of life. I'm obviously still blogging, but this time my goal is to be taken a little more seriously. I'm no longer blogging about baseball under an alias and I've reached out to various other writers through the years for support and advice. Although I may still clown around under an afro wig at a game, I now consider myself a legitimate writer.

Albeit a part-time one.

And that is a big disadvantage in a place like the Winter Meetings. Wandering the halls and lobbies of the Swan and Dolphin Hotel, I saw plenty of professional baseball reporters in their natural habitat. They were tapping away at their Blackberrys, tweeting rumors, breaking news, and using their network of sources like they were case workers at Interpol. All the big names were there: Jason Stark, Tim Kurkijan, and even the legendary Peter Gammons.

I was just a guy with a green notebook and pen that ran out of ink.

Of course, even though my chances of rubbing elbows with baseball's bourgeoisie were slim, I did take in the sheer magnitude of one of Disney's finer resorts. Trust me when I say the Mouse spares no expense. Giant Christmas trees, Santa Claus displays, and a quartet of carolers singing the sounds of the season were only a few of the temporary decorations. The hotel itself is also extravagant, with giant swan statues adorning its facade, fountains and columned walkways connecting the various buildings of the resort, and various restaurants, to include the famous Shula's Steakhouse.

Even though I didn't do much socializing with baseball's elite, I did talk to a few people. The first, and from a bus leagues perspective most important, was Minor League Baseball President Pat O'Conner. You may remember my interview with Mr. O'Conner from a few weeks ago. Fortunately, O'Conner remembered it as well. So we talked for a few minutes, but as the head of the organization responsible for organizing the Winter Meetings, Mr. O'Conner was quite busy.

So I continued my aimless wandering, once nearly running into Nolan Ryan and his bodyguards. I don't know if he was lost on his way to the Rangers' dinner reception or if he walked with security because of his stature as an all-time great, but seeing Nolan Ryan with a posse in tow did not surprise me at all. I think at this point Nolan Ryan has transcended baseball and become a legend - one of our few remaining links to the typical American, John Wayne-type hero.

A few hours later, I met with a few friends of Bus Leagues Baseball. Fellow MiLB fan Nykki aka @Nyk29 and fellow blogger Evan Brunell. Nykki was there for the job hunt, having traveled all the way from Washington State to be involved in baseball. That's dedication and best of luck to her.

Evan, on the other hand, was there with Over plates of overpriced salads, we talked about our backgrounds; how we knew the not-quite-legendary co-founder of Bus Leagues Baseball, Eric Angevine; our equal admiration for Tim Wakefield; and the latest news and nuggets from the day in baseball.

After finishing dinner with Evan, I decided to walk around the lobby a few more times to see what I could see. Within minutes I was a few steps away from former manager and front office guru Jack McKeon as he talked about his use of Josh Beckett in the 2003 World Series. I also talked briefly to Tampa Bay Rays owner Matt Silverman. As a Rays part-time season ticket holder, I thanked him for putting on a good product. I don't know if ownership people hear that very often, but I thought it was good idea to tell Silverman that I enjoy myself at his events.

As it was getting late I made an effort to network with at least one more writer before I making my grand escape. After seeing a tweet by Craig Calcaterra, friend of e-migo Jonah Keri and Blogger-in-Chief at HardballTalk at NBC, I figured I would take a chance to say hello to another complete stranger.

So I tweeted Calcaterra, namedropped Keri, and asked Craig if I could meet him. Craig was kind enough to meet up with me and talk blogging for a few minutes. In exchange for my business card, he imparted on me some writing and career advice - non-guaranteed words of wisdom for making it in the highly competitive field of sports writing.

And with that, and as rumors stopped and the baseball's bourgeoisie engaged in a late night cocktail hour, I again exited the Baseball Winter Meetings and made the trek back to Tampa, this time a step wiser and more networked than I was four years ago, but still with much more work to do.