The Baseball Winter Meetings will be held next week (December 5-8) in Dallas. I went to the Winter Meetings in 2009 (Indianapolis) and 2010 (Orlando) as part of the delegation from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). The Indians didn’t do much at either of those meetings, and it looks like this year might be kind of low-key for them too.

The Winter Meetings are actually three big things happening at once. The stuff that gets the most attention are the meetings and wheeling and dealing among team owners and player agents. Concurrently with that are the baseball trade show, which is where I spent most of my time when I went, and the PBEO job fair. The trade show is where vendors and organizations set up their wares to get contracts for the upcoming season or to gain exposure. Need some big foam Number 1 hands to sell at your minor league stadium? Want to start selling Dippin’ Dots in your concession stands? The baseball trade show is where you find all that stuff. The great thing about the trade show is that you could feasibly feed yourself for the three days of the fair just by wandering around and getting food samples. It’s also a great place to pick up free swag. Let’s see, a selected list  of the things I got at the trade show include a Webkinz for my daughter, TONS of big boxed chocolate squares (from an insurance company), a panda hat (made by the guys who started selling them outside Giants stadium during the 2010 World Series), a cool faux leather drawstring bag that looks like a baseball, half a dozen sample ball caps from minor league teams, a Slinky, Matchbox cars, and scads of pens and notepads. Seriously, if you ever go to the baseball trade show, bring an extra suitcase.

The PBEO job fair is for people who want to work long hours for shitty pay. In other words, kids who want to get a job in baseball. If you’re young and want to start working your way, this is the place to be. If you’re lucky, you might get some interviews. If you’re really lucky, you might get a job offer, usually from a minor league team or sometimes with one of the leagues.

Honestly, the best part of the Winter Meetings is the people watching. The lobby is where everybody hangs out to see, be seen, make contacts, and drink. It’s odd to see players and other big names you know just walking through a crowded hotel lobby like a normal person. Last year Indians player/manager hero Frank Robinson walked right by me and all I could do was watch him walk away. I felt like the little kid at the end of Shane. I did manage to get Tony Perez’s autograph when he wandered through the trade show. He signed it “Tony Perez, HOF 2000″ just in case you forget what year he was inducted.

My first year at the meetings, Tommy LaSorda was having a conversation with a couple people in the lobby. A big  horseshoe shaped ring of people spontaneously formed around him with maybe a 6-8 foot buffer in between where no one dared stand. You could see all these reporters and job seekers and team employees from Class A to MLB  and schmucks like me standing around studiously NOT looking at LaSorda but doing their best to “happen” to catch his eye so they could strike up a conversation.

People-watching aside, the Winter Meetings are the place that remind you that baseball is a business as well as the greatest sport ever invented. I won’t be going this year, because I don’t work for SABR anymore. But I will be reading about the developments at the meetings via some of my favorite baseball writers (and favorite people): Christina Kharl at ESPN’s SweetSpot, David Laurila at FanGraphs, and Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com.

Like the rest of you, I’m looking forward to seeing what (if anything) the Indians do at the Meetings.

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