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At MLB winter meetings, seamheads can see and be seen

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2013

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Scott Boras sits at a table on the second floor of a Disney World hotel with a Cheshire-cat grin on his face.

Waiting for him to finish a radio interview are dozens of reporters, from Baltimore and Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Chicago, all ready to pounce with questions about Boras clients, his relationship with specific owners, the state of the sport.

No topic is too grand or too mundane and Boras is still talking 45 minutes after he started, the end nowhere in sight, sweat finally appearing on his forehead thanks to the hot bank of television lights as he remains pinned against a wall.

Music mogul Shawn Carter — better known to one and all as Jay-Z — may have fired the first shot across the bow last spring when he signed then-Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano away from Boras Corp. That was a major splash for his new sports agency, Roc Nation Sports.

But Boras, with a client list still stocked with stars, knows he can still move the needle. And there's no better place to do that than the chaotic industry convention known as Major League Baseball's winter meetings.

Part job fair, part executive gathering, part frat party, the four-day winter meetings have it all. Thousands of baseball people, from minor-league job seekers to equipment managers, converge every December. Almost none of them leave the hotel, this year Disney's Swan and Dolphin Resort just outside Orlando.

The lobby features a swirl of industry folks, team front-office personnel, scouts, coaches, managers, ex-players and hundreds of writers all searching for the latest scoop.

Around every corner, and there are many in the sprawling complex, is a suited agent sunk into a plush sofa having a hushed phone conversation. Turn left and you see Peter Gammons, the famed former Boston Globe writer and ESPN analyst. Turn right and legendary Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda is glaring at a colleague. Jim Leyland, recently retired after a successful run managing the Detroit Tigers, still came to the meetings. He can't quit the sport quite yet.

A giant, white Christmas tree dominates the center of the main lobby, hovering over the MLB Network set, where smiling television personalities trumpet the latest signings or trades.

ESPN and a dozen regional sports networks have sets on the second floor just outside a giant media room, where hundreds of writers crank out copy or attend the relentless shift of press conferences, two at a time on opposite sides of the room, conducted by each of the 30 big-league managers.

Meanwhile, there is actual baseball work to be done before the throng hits the lobby bars late at night, the scene resembling a college house party where personal space is non-existent and the hard-cores don't head up to their rooms until 3 a.m. or later.

No matter. General managers like Washington's Mike Rizzo have a checklist of things to accomplish and one meeting after another in the team's suites. There are talks with agents and other executives. Lower-level front office personnel do the same, scrounging the lobby for information to bring back to their bosses: Who is available, who is looking for too much money, who might be unexpectedly traded?

"I've been through a lot of them," said Rizzo, a longtime scout and later a scouting director for the Arizona Diamondbacks before joining the Nats in 2006. "Some are better than others, some are busier than others. And some you make more impact at the meetings than others. But they're always interesting. Because our whole staff is here and that's important. It's the first time during the year that you get together with all of your guys. There's some camaraderie, some team building and there's some planning things that go on. It's an important time."

It is also a place for old friends in the game to reunite. The number of backslaps and handshakes in the lobby is off the charts. But the meetings are also a last refuge for those in danger of falling out of the sport to hang on in desperation.

A recently fired coach is heard asking a friend about potential openings in the minors for a different organization; a former player, out of the big leagues for six years and out of professional baseball for three, says he's hoping to meet with a general manager and earn another chance. He has stayed in good shape, after all. It is a futile hope and you walk away from the conversation sad for him.

There will still be a final spasm of moves on Wednesday night, groaning reporters fielding calls as sources dish details on impending moves. Thursday morning brings the Rule 5 draft and then the great skedaddle to the airport. No, we never did see Mickey or Minnie. Or even the sun.

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