Dating back to about as early as having cable TV, as a baseball fan I couldn’t wait for the Winter Meetings. For me, it was turning on ESPN and seeing Peter Gammons report live with every scoop and rumor. From the time I was a middle schooler, long before I ever had any inkling that my life would one day take me there, I had this vivid imagination and picture of the hustle and bustle that accompanies it.
Although I worked in baseball for nearly a decade, only twice did I get the opportunity to attend the Baseball Winter Meetings- in 2007 and in 2011. Minor league teams obviously have smaller budgets than their big league counterparts, and when you aren’t the GM or assistant GM, you kind of tend to be on a rotation of going every three or four seasons with whatever club you’re with (for example, I would’ve probably gone in December 2006 in advance of what would’ve been a third season at Double-A New Britain but I departed one month prior for a new job at Advanced Class-A Rancho Cucamonga, who did not dispatch me to the meetings that year).
The meetings are held in various places. Nashville, where the meetings were held in 2007, has long been a frequent stop. Dallas, where they were in 2011, is another. Orlando is a frequent flyer as host to the meetings. San Diego, where they are this year, is another regular host as is Paradise, outside Las Vegas. Other cities have hosted as well- the Winter Meetings date back to the late 1920’s- but in the past 20 years, they’ve consistently been in one of the four aforementioned locales minus single stops in New Orleans, Anaheim, Indianapolis and Washington DC. They have not returned to New York City, where they were the first several years and where league headquarters are located- since 1949.
The main reason for the frequent stops in Nashville, Dallas, Orlando and San Diego is space. With 30 Major League clubs, 120 affiliated minor league clubs (there used to be more), some independent league clubs who send a rep or two, and job seekers, that’s a lot of hotel rooms and a lot of conference space needed. New York City, for example, probably doesn’t have the availability to accommodate the event in the modern era.
But the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, which hosted the first time I attended in 2007 with Double-A Northwest Arkansas, couldn’t possibly be a better spatial fit for such an event. Adorned with southern charm and common areas bathed mostly in white, its a massive hotel with a feeling of almost being it’s own indoor city.
Not far from the check in desks is the lobby, whose adjacent common areas kind of serve as a hub for gathering, information sharing, seeing old colleagues and of course the rumors and gossip that everyone loves to hear about. Desks for ESPN and MLB Network would be present around this general vicinity (although in 2007, MLB Network wasn’t around yet and ESPN was still the standard bearer of baseball news and info)
So, after check in happens Sunday evening, what is everybody doing over the following few days?
The Minor League and the Major League Aspects
The minor league side attends presentations aimed at helping them improve elements of their business- be it sales, marketing, game presentation, anything under the sun really. These presentations are sometimes delivered by milb club personnel, or occasionally by outside experts in the specific field or topic. There will also be several roundtable discussions and breakout sessions in smaller rooms to allow front office personnel to collaborate on any number of topics.
Typically on average each minor league club will have a traveling party of two to six people at the Winter Meetings. They will split up for these sessions to soak in as much info as possible. This is where attending as a veteran staffer is a plus- I was on my fourth club at both Winter Meetings, so when I was attending session’s separately from my Northwest Arkansas colleagues, I usually sat with former colleagues I knew from my time with Savannah, New Britain, or Rancho Cucamonga.
The main thing you’d want to do would be to avoid job seekers. One of the other elements of the Winter Meetings on the milb side is the PBEO job fair (professional baseball employment opportunities). Candidates come from all over who want to break into baseball. Usually they’re young, not far out of college, but occasionally you get older candidates too looking for a career change or to follow a dream. Many come hoping to score face time with big league personnel, but they don’t really conduct much hiring at the Winter Meetings. Most of the open positions are minor league jobs.
How to Find a Job With a Major League Club
It so happened that in December 2007, we had several open positions in Northwest Arkansas, as 2008 was our inaugural season. The team had just completed a move from Wichita, KS and only a few staff members made the move, so several of us were new on staff (many hired from other clubs, plus a couple locals) and needed to fill seasonal roles including a PR/Media relations assistant role and a production role, both of which I was involved in hiring for. When you are the contact for a job opening, anytime you are in the lobby, or at the bar, if your lanyard with badge was visible (everyone had to have them on during the meetings to access events), you were liable to get roped into conversations. Team issued quarter-zip pullovers were the primary defense- they could help you keep your name part of the badge concealed a bit
Perhaps one of the more enduring memories of the Winter Meetings is how the 2007 search for the PR/Media Relations Assistant culminated. I had several candidates and some great possibilities that I interviewed at the job fair, and then while I was walking to an event on Wednesday night, I bumped into Josh Castillo, who had been a gameday intern for the Inland Empire 66ers the previous season while I was with Rancho Cucamonga and was at the meetings looking for a job. San Bernardino, the 66ers home, was 13 miles down Foothill Boulevard (signed as Route 66 of course), and often when the Quakes and 66ers played each other, you’d find both staffs at a nearby bar drinking together.
So Josh and I knew each other. I asked him what he was looking for, we talked about my assistant position over a couple drinks and I offered him the job, which he accepted. He was an excellent assistant, he later had the opportunity to work as a PR Coordinator with the Dodgers, which is his favorite MLB club. Despite that difference, we worked extremely well together and he remains a friend of mine.