What’s missing without in-person Winter Meetings

The sports-related fallout from the coronavirus pandemic includes the cancellation of in-person Winter Meetings in 2020.

There won’t be a gathering in Dallas. For once, everything is smaller in Texas.

There won’t be media roaming the hotel lobbies and waiting at elevators to be led by public relations to the general managers’ suites.

There won’t be the managers’ press conferences in the media workroom and the off-the-record luncheon that last year was moved up to breakfast.

There won’t be a podium to announce the big signings and a stampede to the airport immediately after filing a Rule 5 story.

There won’t be my incessant whining about how it’s the worst assignment of the year.

One of my streaks is going to end.

The agendas will be conducted remotely, a fitting format in 2020. They’ll include Zoom conference calls with executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.

The suite visits easily can be transferred to video, though standing in the hallway until granted entrance has its occasional perks. Such as spotting Chris Tillman’s agents walking out of former executive Dan Duquette’s room.

Rumors immediately surfaced that the Orioles were ready to negotiate a contract extension with Tillman, but that was false. It came up, of course, but wasn’t the primary reason for the meeting.

winter meetings media workroom.jpgThis may come as a shock, but agents usually have more than one client.

We also found out about the Orioles’ decision to hire Brandon Hyde as manager at the 2018 Winter Meetings, though reports of a done deal were premature. Seeing the story reported on television as we sat in Elias’ suite was bizarre, to say the least.

Duquette offered one of his all-time best quotes during the 2011 Winter Meetings at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas.

After revealing more of his hires, including Fred Ferreira as director of international recruiting, Duquette said, “We’re putting the band back together.”

An instant classic.

Those meetings also brought us the Dana Eveland trade with the Dodgers, which cost the Orioles minor league pitcher Jarret Martin and outfielder Tyler Henson.

The Orioles designated reliever Willie Eyre for assignment to make room for Eveland on the 40-man roster. It took a week for the goosebumps to disappear.

Earlier in the day, the Orioles selected infielder Ryan Flaherty in the Rule 5 draft. DeMarlo Hale was hired as third base coach the previous day and Bill Castro as bullpen coach.

Duquette expressed interest in first baseman Prince Fielder.

Man, that was such a long time ago.

A much louder buzz was created during the 2003 Winter Meetings in New Orleans when the Orioles signed shortstop Miguel Tejada to a six-year, $72 million deal. Former executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan were beaming as they came off the elevator.

The meetings usually start slowly, but the Orioles were aggressive in December 2010 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., by making one of the best trades in franchise history, acquiring shortstop J.J. Hardy and infielder Brendan Harris from the Twins for minor league pitchers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey.

Hoey once told me that he’d like to be included in the alumni autograph signings at Camden Yards. I responded that he’s extremely popular in Baltimore based on that trade.

That conversation also took place at the Winter Meetings. I see Hoey in the lobby every year.

The “actively shopping Manny Machado” rumor also started at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista in 2017. Duquette denied it. A source in the organization denied it to me, saying the Orioles naturally would listen to offers but weren’t the aggressor.

This is when I first began looking up minor league stats on pitchers Walker Buehler, Jack Flaherty and Sixto Sánchez, among others. Names that the Orioles brought up in talks, per the source.

Machado stuck around until July 2018. The Orioles couldn’t pry Buehler from the Dodgers.

The return would have been a lot less than five players if they succeeded.

I covered the Kevin Millwood trade in 2009 in snowy Indianapolis, with the Orioles sending reliever Chris Ray and Rule 5 pick Ben Snyder to the Rangers.

It happened after I had to shoot down a report that the Orioles were trading Félix Pié.

The Rangers at various times wanted Tillman and David Hernández in exchange for Millwood.

Meanwhile, seriously, Indianapolis in the winter?

I sat in a bar and vented to no one in particular after spotting a framed photo of Johnny Unitas on the wall. But I digress ...

A remote Winter Meetings doesn’t require maps like they handed out at the front desk of the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, where I spent the bulk of my days trying to get from the lobby to the media workroom and back without firing a flare gun.

Worst location ever. I’d rather file stories from inside a cell at Shawshank.

I remember the 2003 Winter Meetings only because it was my first visit to New Orleans and I was young enough to jump out of bed past midnight after getting a phone call from friends screaming, “We’re on Bourbon Street. Get over here!”

Now it’s a noteworthy event if I stop by a lobby bar at 10 p.m. to make certain that I’m not getting beat on a story.

I almost missed the Rule 5 draft in Orlando seven years ago due to intense stomach pain that kept me up all night and had the front desk suggesting that it send an ambulance to the hotel.

Imagine if I had missed the Orioles selecting Michael Almanzar. I never would have forgiven myself.

Relief came shortly before the draft started and I made it downstairs. Looking back now, it had to be diverticulitis, which has flared up a handful of times and made it almost impossible for me to walk to my car after a game this summer.

A CT scan confirmed an infection caused by diverticulitis, or something along those lines, and a week’s worth of antibiotics were prescribed. Pretty sure there’s no actual cure for it.

It just can’t happen at the Winter Meetings. Really bad timing.

At least this year I’d be able to writhe in pain in my own bed prior to the Rule 5.

The Orioles helped the Reds get to the podium in 2008 - the first time that Las Vegas hosted the Winter Meetings - by giving them catcher Ramón Hernández in exchange for infielder Justin Turner and outfielders Ryan Freel and Brandon Waring.

Would have worked out a lot better for the Orioles if they didn’t expose Turner to waivers.

Freel played for three teams in 2009 and was in four organizations. He appeared in only nine games with the Orioles before they dealt him to the Cubs for speedy outfielder Joey Gathright.

So many stories were published that portrayed Freel as a crash test dummy for his violent collisions with outfield fences and teammates. He was nailed in the head by a pickoff throw at second base while playing for the Orioles. He also admitted in 2006 to having conversations with an imaginary friend, Farney, who was a voice inside his head.

Hilarious, right?

Freel died in December 2012 as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was subsequently the first major league player to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

The anecdotes about Freel no longer were amusing.

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