What do the Baseball Winter Meetings mean to you? "I know equally as many people who dread the Winter Meetings as who love them," writes Jesse Goldberg-Strassler on the eve of baseball's big event.
The Meetings, depending upon your perspective, are a party, a chore, an adventure, a once Major League institution now mostly co-opted by the Minor Leagues, the best four days of the year, a necessary evil, an escape, a potential for opportunity, and a place where there are entirely too many recent college graduates clad in nearly identical shirts and ties walking around in hopeful, muddled, awestruck groups and clogging up the hallways.
The Winter Meetings this season run from Sunday, December 2, through Thursday, December 6, at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville.
The Meetings in question are myriad, convening everyone from umpires to league executives to board of directors and beyond, with breaks here and there for a nice bit of eating and drinking. For certain members of the baseball hierarchy, this can mean nothing but meetings, hour after hour, with very little kicking back to be done. If the venue in question turns out to be slightly confusing in its orientation, this can also mean a lot of harried walking here and there.
The opposite of this experience, though, is had by the bright-eyed, fresh-faced job-seekers, their cheeks or legs newly shaved, their hearts pounding furiously. They have been told that a trip to the Winter Meetings is the best way for them to find a job in baseball, and so here they are, their hopes high and their confidences fragile. Job seekers rarely walk anywhere in a hurry, since there is rarely anything for them to hurry to. If, by the graces of G-d, a prospective interview is offered and arranged, it becomes the most important matter in the job-seeker's entire world, necessitating an early arrival. Otherwise, the job-seeker's Winter Meetings is spent in inexorable limbo, in search of any better way to distract himself/herself until the good news finally arrives. As Red Barber termed it in an interview with NPR's Bob Edwards, life becomes more about the destruction of time than anything else.
The job-seeker's saga: Walk through the Job Fair. Walk around the Gaylord Opryland. Walk around the Trade Show. Walk back to the Job Fair. Consider walking back around the Gaylord Opryland or Trade Show. Take it from me: The job-seeker's feet are just killing him or her by the second day of the Winter Meetings, to say nothing of his/her outlook as the disappointment and frustration rises. But if the job-seeker does come away from the Meetings with a job, the entire event transforms into Christmas -- or, in my case, the first night of Chanukah. (Ed. note: Luckily, the Gaylord's annual Christmas-tree show runs in a hall adjacent to the trade show.)
Then there's the Trade Show vendor, readying for the grand opening on Monday night and persevering, with great stamina, though long days on Tuesday and Wednesday. The vast majority of Trade Show attendees may well be job-seekers -- but every now and then a Buyer walks down the aisle, occupation clearly delineated on her/his name tag. At this sight, the vendor springs upward with anticipation, eager to show off the wares. Information is exchanged, hands are shaken, but time will only tell whether a true deal has been struck. The days and weeks following the Trade Show see the vendor in earnest follow-up mode. Whether the vendor enjoyed a productive Winter Meetings may not be determined until after the new year has arrived.
For those who enjoy the Winter Meetings the most, however, it's because the annual event presents the ultimate of experiences: A welcome reunion.
Despite email, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, et al, connecting people over great distances like never before, there still remains no substitute for getting together in person with one's greatest friends and acquaintances.
There is something about the National Pastime, too, that cultivates particularly close, strong, dependable relationships. No one understands the strains, constraints, and exhaustions experienced during the daily grind of a long, hot summer like a fellow colleague in baseball. The season brings people closer than a normal workplace atmosphere ever could. Beyond this, over the course of the seasons, interns receive promotions, employees change teams, and friends say their farewells to accept positions elsewhere, moving up the ladder to accept greater opportunities.
The steady flow of the passing seasons thus spreads friends apart -- and the Baseball Winter Meetings brings them right back together. Stories are retold, horror tales of the past are laughed at all over again, news of recent marriages and photos of new babies are shared, and everyone catches up in a clamor of jubilation and hilarity.
Accordingly, the atmosphere at the Winter Meetings, particularly as day turns into, grows loud, festive, and uproarious. Those who attend would not want it any other way.
Yes, it's true, you can find great annoyance and frustration at the Winter Meetings, whether with the teams' employees, the job-seekers, or the vendors in attendance.
These all pale in comparison to the abundant sight of hearty handshakes and bear hugs between old friends, sharing an evening together for the first time in far too long.
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler is a Ballpark Digest contributing editor and the Voice of the Lansing Lugnuts. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Speaking of the Winter Meetings: Ballpark Digest will be exhibiting in the trade show. We'll have comfy chairs! Drop by and take a load off. We'll be in Booth 1328. In addition, you can meet Jesse Goldberg-Strassler in the Ballpark Digest booth as well: he'll be there on Wednesday, 10-1, to discuss his latest book, The Baseball Thesaurus.
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