ValleyCats attend baseball’s Winter Meetings!

This past week, members of the Tri-City ValleyCats front office staff attended the 2013 Winter Meetings in Orlando. Media Relations / Production Manager, Chris Chenes recaps the trip:

If I were to rank my trip to the Winter Meetings last week among my lifetime experiences, it would have to fall in the top 10. I grew up a huge baseball fan, and after four years of working in the ValleyCats front office, I have grown to appreciate and love the business of Minor League Baseball. One thing that I’ve learned the most, is that the minor leagues are not just about the play on the field, but more the family experience. In fact, you can argue that without the fun, family-friendly entertainment, a team would not survive.

To provide that type of product for the fans, the front office of every minor league team is filled with creative, hard-working, fun and down-to-earth people. Now picture all of them in the same place at one time, and what you get is the Winter Meetings. It’s an opportunity to get together with everyone in your profession to exchange ideas, and learn new ways in which you can improve your ballclub.

The Winter Meetings are spread across four days, and include workshops, seminars, league and departmental meetings, a Trade Show, Job Fair and social gatherings.

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The Winter Meetings change locations each year, and lucky for us, this year’s event took place at the beautiful Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, in Orlando, Florida.

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As much as we’d love to spend our day lounging by the pool, this was a business trip and there was plenty on our agenda to keep us out of the sun.

We all attended numerous seminars and workshops, officially known as the “Bob Freitas Business Seminar & Workshop Series.” They are broken down into five different categories including Sales & Marketing, Covering Your Bases, Grand Slam Operations, Licensing & Merchandise and Community & Media Relations.

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Minor League Baseball President, Pat O’Conner welcoming everyone to the Winter Meetings.

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Following opening remarks from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner on Monday morning, the first session I attended was “How to Become an Ace of HomeBase.” HomeBase is the online platform that we use to update our website, and I learned some helpful hints, tips and tricks, as well as what new updates are coming down the road.

The session was run by Major League Baseball Advanced Media. MLBAM manages MLB.com, MiLB.com, and each Major League & minor league team site.

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A new feature to look forward to for next year will be the game recaps. They will now include the box score at the top of the page, along with an optional video embedded above the story.

As we’re attending the different meetings, the lobbies of the Swan & Dolphin Resort are bustling with action. The Dolphin hotel is where the majority of the Major League officials and team personnel stay during the week as they look to improve their roster with trades or free agent signings. Each Major League team has their baseball operations staff present, along with the scouting department and most of the field managers.

The national baseball media is also present all week, including TV sets for ESPN & MLB Network:

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As you can imagine, we ran into plenty of current & former members of Major League Baseball. Here are some photos of just a few:

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Tommy Lasorda

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Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre, who were all named to the 2014 Class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Red Sox manager, John Farrell.

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New York Mets manager Terry Collins

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Curtis Granderson is introduced as the newest member of the New York Mets.

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American League Manager of the Year, Indians manager Terry Francona

On Monday afternoon, we attended an Awards Luncheon which recognized some of the top individuals and clubs within the game of baseball. Award presentations included the Joe Bauman Trophy which was presented to Texas Rangers prospect, 19 year old Joey Gallo. With 40 home runs, Gallo narrowly edged out former ‘Cat George Springer, and became the youngest player to ever win the award.

Other awards handed out included the Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year, Sports Turf Managers of the Year, Scouts of the Year and Baseball America’s Organization of the Year.

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After more meetings in the afternoon, Monday night was opening night at the Baseball Trade Show. The Trade Show featured more than 250 companies exhibiting their latest products and services to the baseball community. Items being showcased included equipment, player apparel, retail merchandise and promotional items.

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Here are photos from the huge Trade Show floor:

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Alexander Global, our bobblehead producer and the best in the business!

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Our hometown Pro Zone Lockers in the house!

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Aside from the Trade Show and Bob Freitas Business Seminar & Workshop Series, the Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities (PBEO) Job Fair took place in the Swan Ballroom. During the week, there are over 450 Job Fair attendees seeking a career in professional baseball, many of whom will interview with numerous prospective teams, and even receive job offers before they leave.

Each night in the lobby of the Dolphin hotel, executives of both Major League and Minor League Baseball congregate to network, enjoy a few drinks and share some laughs. It’s a crowded scene for sure!

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The 45-foot tall Christmas tree in the middle of the lobby is made completely with pink and white poinsettia flowers.

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Tuesday and Wednesday featured more workshops and league meetings, where we were presented with our 2013 Alice H. Nader New York-Penn League Championship Trophy, and 2013 Stedler Division Championship Trophy!

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Tuesday night was a special night, as we had the opportunity to have dinner with the Houston Astros organization and all of their Minor League affiliates. The idea came straight from the top, Astros president Reid Ryan.

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ValleyCats front office members with Astros team president Reid Ryan.

As mentioned in his speech prior to dinner, the Astros organization is one big family, and the minor league affiliates are a key part of that. Aside from Ryan, general manager Jeff Luhnow and field manager Bo Porter spoke to our group. It was great to be a part of, and I can assure you that the Astros are in great hands! Very shortly, they will start producing at the Major League level.

On Wednesday night, there was a huge gala that took place outside by the pool and cabana areas of the resort. It was another chance to get together with the baseball community and enjoy the evening.

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On Thursday morning, I had the pleasure of attending the Major League Baseball Rule 5 Draft.

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For those who aren’t familiar, the Rule 5 Draft is much different from the First Year Player Draft in June. Players become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft when they haven’t been added to their Major League club’s 40-man roster within five seasons of being signed (four seasons if signed at 18 years old). Any team is then eligible to draft that player, but there’s a catch.

A team that selects a player in the Rule 5 Draft pays $50,000 to the team from which he was selected. The receiving team must then keep the player on the Major League 25-man roster for the entirety of the next season. If the player does not remain on the Major League roster, he is offered back to the team from which he was selected for $25,000. Once a player is selected, he is automatically assigned to his new organization’s 40-man roster.

Notable players to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft include Roberto Clemente, Johan Santana, Dan Uggla and Josh Hamilton.

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Thursday was the only day where we had time to explore the area, and I couldn’t think of any place better than Disney’s Magic Kingdom!

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We use the Disney model as an example, to try and make the experience at “The Joe” as great as possible for our fans. There is so much to take away from the Disney experience, from exceptional customer service to great entertainment! I took in many of the sights, and with this being my first ever trip to Disney World, I was in awe of everything!

Here are a few photos:

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With the closing Banquet taking place that night, we could only spend a few hours at Magic Kingdom, which is not nearly enough time to do everything. I will definitely make my way back, that’s for sure!

We arrived at the hotel just in time for the Banquet, where some of the most prestigious awards in the baseball industry are presented.

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Awards presented included the King of Baseball, the John H. Johnson President’s Award, the Larry MacPhail Promotional Award, the Warren Giles Award, the Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award and the Mike Coolbaugh Award. The ValleyCats didn’t take home any hardware, but we’ll aim for one next year!

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a more rewarding experience than my week at the Winter Meetings. It left myself and the rest of the front office ready to get back home, and get to work to prepare for the 2014 season!

Although arriving back just in time for a snow storm wasn’t the most ideal “warm welcome.” With that, I’ll leave you with a few recent photos of “The Joe” covered in snow!! (Thanks to Ben Whitehead and Anthony Pettograsso for the cool shots!)

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