Winter Meetings sets baseball apart from the rest

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - There’s really no way to describe the Winter Meetings to someone who doesn’t follow baseball and have it

Family or friends who aren’t into sports hear what goes on and they generally react with the same half-hearted response.

“Ohh, that’s sounds, um, fun.”

I guess it’s not totally their fault. Describing the logistics and setup of the Winter Meetings in a personal ad probably wouldn’t sweep too many people off their feet.

The idea of a four-day sports orgy where predominantely middle-aged men spend 16-hour days chasing around rumors, all the while sporting the latest in oversized blazers and mustard-colored khakis fashionware, isn’t exactly the most appealing.

Of course, for baseball fans, the Winter Meetings is the pinnacle of the sport’s supposed “offseason.” Forget December 25th: these four days are the real Christmas.

This week, unlike any other major American sport, every team has hope. The NFL, NBA and NHL have their annual drafts during the offseason, allowing fans the opportunity to get excited about the next crop of fresh, young talent. Draft experts and talking heads fill the airwaves and Twittersphere with feelings of optimism. A 2-14 record last season? You mean Super Bowl or bust this season.

Baseball doesn’t do that. Its draft is in the middle of the season. In June, it’s hard to get pumped about a draft choice, knowing he can’t affect the outcome of your favorite team that season and likely won’t even be called up to the major leagues for another two or three years.

I know patience is a virtue, but who am I, Mother Teresa?

With the draft a somewhat dull affair, it’s the Winter Meetings that take center stage in the world of baseball. But what do the meetings look like? What do they sound like? Sure, you can watch the TV networks, all broadcasting from the nooks and crannies of the same over-priced, severely out-dated hotel, but what’s it like when business gets done?

Before my first Winter Meetings, I pictured some sort of Knights of the Round Table/New York Stock Exchange/Godfather family meeting hybrid, where all 30 general managers and their scouts sat around holding court.

Yea, not so much.

In reality, the Winter Meetings stretches out throughout a hotel, this year the cavernous and pastel-pink shaded Swan and Dolphin Resort in Florida. It’s a huge place, which allows the more than 1000 personnel to fit comfortably. There’s a slew of conference centers, one of the larger of which has been transformed into a media workroom. Picture rows and rows of tables, each filled with writers and bloggers typing and Tweeting the latest news.

To the side is the main podium, complete with a backdrop peppered with the MLB logo. The podium is only used a handful of times throughout the week, mostly reserved for the Meetings’ “bigger news.” This year, we’ve seen the Baseball Hall of Fame election announcement, the retirement of pitching great Roy Halladay and the player introductions of guys like Jared Saltalamacchia and Curtis Granderson.

Not exactly breaking news.

In the connecting hallway is the seemingly never-ending lineup of television sets. Regional affiliates like YES Network and NESN, to the big boys like ESPN and MLB Network are all represented, each with their own set, complete with camera crew and lighting. When action is happening, you need a pair of Ray Bans just to walk past everything.

Down a floor is the lobby. You know this one. The lobby is where the rumors fly, where the behind-the-scenes deals are proposed and finalized. It’s where business gets done.

Actually, it’s more like a crowded mess of media members on their phones and 18-year-old college job seekers, a 50/50 split of front office guys and boys aspiring to become the next great general manager. It’s loud, it’s suffocating and, to be honest, aside from the rumors, there’s not a whole lot of meaningful action.

The bulk of the actual wheeling and dealing takes place upstairs in the hotel rooms and work suites. That’s where the phone calls are being made, the analyzing and assessing of players going down and generally where the transactions occur. It’s also the place where members of the media meet with a respective team’s general manager and/or skipper each day to recap where the team stands. Most of the videos fans watch on our website are shot right in their hotel rooms.

Usually I have to buy dinner before someone lets me in their hotel room with a camera. But I digress.

Anyway, the Winter Meetings are certainly unlike any other event on the baseball calendar and one of the coolest events in sports. Any time you have a mixture of baseball gurus, media members and more rumors than a Real Housewives episode, it’s bound to be a good time.

Want to know anything else about the Meetings? Leave a comment and I’ll try and answer it as best I can.

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