If you get the chance, be sure to attend baseball’s winter meetings

After my daughter completed her internship with the Charleston (S.C.) River Dogs minor league baseball team, it was her intention to seek a career in the game. To that end she had to go to baseball’s winter meetings and I just HAD to tag along.

The year was 2009 and our destination was Indianapolis. Every major league and minor league team had representatives in attendance. At one end of the convention center would be a job fair. Some 700 applicants would vie for a chance at maybe 50 jobs.

While Ashley was at the job fair, I was off to the other end of the facility. There I could see owners, managers, general managers, players, agents and media members. I was like a kid in a candy store.

Though many faces were immediately recognizable, others just looked vaguely familiar. Players in particular are not quite as obvious out of uniform. I remember seeing Greg Maddux, but then another player appeared and I was drawing a blank. Soon a 6-year-old kid said “look grandma, it’s A.J. Pierzynski!”

He was right, of course.

At one point I noticed former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda. He came toward me and said “Hi” — a greeting that I returned. Later I wondered why I had not offered to shake his hand. That was a mistake that I would remedy years later when I saw Richard Petty at an LPGA event.

The Indy meetings were memorable for the ever present Jim Leyland. The then-Tigers manager had dealt Curtis Granderson to the Yankees in what was the biggest trade of the meetings. He was holding court every day in the center of the ballroom.

When the 2009 Winter Meetings did not result in a job for my daughter, we decided to go to Orlando, Florida, the following year. The meetings are actually misnamed as they are held early in December — technically before winter begins. Then again, as my daughter pointed out, spring training begins in February before, well, you know …

This time it was even more eventful. Seriously, if you are a baseball fan, a trip to the Winter Meetings should be on your Bucket List. I had so much fun at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort. I’d like to share with you five cool things that happened.

1 — While sitting on a bench waiting for my daughter so we could go to lunch, I saw an older man sitting in the corner booth of an open air restaurant. He looked familiar and I was certain he was a former player, but I just couldn’t pin him down. He kept looking toward the front of the restaurant and soon he was waving at someone that I did realize.

Eduardo Perez came to the spot and the resemblance was obvious. Yes, it was former Reds first baseman Tony Perez who looked like he could still play. Later that day I ran into Eduardo and asked him the following question: “did you have lunch with your dad today?”

His response of “I sure did” led to a 15-minute conversation. It was enjoyable and I came to the conclusion that Eduardo Perez is a very nice man.

2 — When my daughter showed up we headed to the cafeteria which was quicker and cheaper than any of the restaurants available to us. We got our food and sat down. Shortly thereafter a man went to a neighboring table and we smiled at each other.

The man ended up eating alone and I still wish that I had invited him to join us for lunch. Al Kaline is one of the most gracious people in any sport and he may well have accepted the offer. Can you imagine …

3 — I saw a group of media people surrounding a man who was holding fort and I wandered over. The man was making the argument that Marvin Miller, long-time director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As I was listening I glanced to my right and realized I was standing right next to Peter Gammons. After the crowd dispersed Gammons was granted a one-on-one conversation with famed agent Scott Boras.

4 — I was sitting in a chair with a large back in the middle of the resort’s ballroom when I heard three gentlemen chatting while standing by a table behind me. I had no choice but to eavesdrop as they were that close, though I probably would have moved the chair closer if it had been needed!

The three guys were Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, Jon Heyman of MLB.com and famed relief pitcher Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams. Verducci was explaining why it might have taken so long for Bert Blyleven to get into the Hall of Fame.

He told of Blyleven leaving the Pirates for a while early in the season because Bucs manager Chuck Tanner was going to go with a five-man rotation instead of the traditional four. Blyleven was unhappy with the decision for apparently selfish reasons, but soon rejoined the team.

The damage was done though and Blyleven was traded to the Indians at the end of the season, according to Verducci. At that point Williams said “you mean he was exiled” and I nearly came out of my seat. Had this Indians fan not been eavesdropping in the first place …

Verducci went on to tell another story. Blyleven — unhappy with the umpire’s strike zone in Fenway Park –started throwing batting practice fastballs down the middle of the plate, giving up nine consecutive hits before being removed.

The suggestion was that the baseball writers knew these two stories and chose not to vote for Blyleven, despite the fact that his numbers warranted consideration. He was eventually elected in his final year of eligibility.

For some reason the name of Terrell Owens just entered my mind…

5 — My daughter did land a minor league job at these Winter Meetings which was really cool for her. She has since been to the meetings as an interviewer rather than an interviewee. As for her dad, he hasn’t been back and it might just be time to change that. This year’s meetings are over, but next December …

I have to go. I need to start a Bucket List. See you next week.

Al Stephenson is The A-T’s sports columnist.

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