Where it all happens – My Turn – Column
If you’re at all like me, you’re in your mid-30s and about 5-6, and you have a nose too big for your face. Wait, too specific. Let me start over.
If you’re at all like me, you were captivated by last October’s baseball drama and, as an enthusiast of the sport, you were relieved to see the Chicken Little Society, slink away, no longer proclaiming the onset of baseball’s demise.
However, at this time last year, we all were surrounded by naysayers, skeptics and cynics. The television ratings for the 2002 playoffs reached an all-time low. There was the strange scene of Michael Eisner hugging John Travolta once Team Disney captured the World Series. But mostly, there was that misguided caterwauling about the sky falling down around us in pale blue chunks. It was that uproar that prompted me to write a book.
I recalled the energy that all but careens around hotel lobbies every December, when baseball’s royalty and proletariat get together–otherwise known as baseball’s winter meetings. This is a manic four-day event that brings together baseball personnel from every level. It is the sport’s networking pinnacle.
Last year’s winter meetings crackled with that positive energy. Getting in the Game chronicles this crossroads of baseball personnel, who can be categorized as either beggars or choosers–or sometimes both. The book follows the progress of three “beggars,” named Andre, Erin and Darren. Each experiences the dizzying highs, the stomach-churning lows and general angst-ridden hours that are par for this crash course in power networking.
Picture the cantina scene from Star Wars, with every baseball has-been, never-was and wanna-be jostling for a piece of the action. Major league general managers circulate after holding their organizational meetings. They break bread with player agents, many of whom pitch their human products with the kind of understated humility usually associated with a Don King press conference.
And deep in the shadows of baseball’s who’s-who, the underreported working class buzzes. Never have you seen so many sharp young people in business suits scrambling for that first job in baseball–most likely somewhere in the minors. Remember, not even Theo “Wunderkind” Epstein started as the general manager of one of the world’s most famous franchises. When Epstein first broke into the game as an intern, Juan Epstein had a better shot at the Red Sox gig.
But as the winter meetings illuminate, that first job–crappy as it may be–is the pass code to a life where grown men chase a ball all over a large, green meadow and get paid to do it. After all, what would you rather see when you’re punched in at work–a bang-bang play at the plate or a guy named Earl changing the toner in the copy machine?
This week in New Orleans, the race for these jobs is under way again. An organization called Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities is on hand to play the role of Roger Lodge in this Blind Date mating dance. It’s fascinating to watch, but only if you don’t get too close. The job hunt, like an eclipse of the sun or Liza Minnelli, is best viewed from afar.
I don’t think I’ll be writing any books this time–in fact, after three or tour hurricanes, I don’t think I’ll be reading any books this time. But after soaking up the passion front last year’s meetings, I’m going back. It reinvigorates one’s baseball soul to see how many smart, talented people are willing to cash out of well-paying nonbaseball jobs for the chance to make eight bucks an hour in Helena, Mont., pulling the tarp. It reminds us that the sky isn’t falling in the grand old game’s universe after all. Rather, in the words of Johnny Nash, “It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day.” See you in N’Awlins.
Josh Lewin is a baseball announcer for FOX and the Texas Rangers. His book, Getting in the Game, was published in October.
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