While the Major Leaguers are wheeling and dealing upstairs at the Gaylord Opryland, most Minor League teams are conducting trade discussions of a different type on the Convention Center's ground floor.
The Baseball Trade Show is an annual exercise in pure capitalism, placing hundreds of vendors into the same room as hundreds of clubs and stadium operators so supply and demand can work their magic. The big boys like Rawlings and New Era hold down sprawling displays on primo real estate in the front of the room while start-ups and mom-and-pops hawk their wares from smaller booths toward the back. Virtually anything your club may need, from promotional jerseys to pitching machines, box seats to beer taps, can be found here.
I spent a few hours browsing and came up with this shopping list for my own hypothetical backyard ballyard:
1. It didn't take long to figure out the first rule of Trade Showing: If you want to draw a crowd, you need to feed them. Numerous booths offered candy or snacks, but the food vendors naturally had a leg up in the enticement arena. Danielle Hauserman, business development manager for Baltimore-based Tulkoff Food Products, stood as proof of the old adage that among the hot dog-grilling masses, the woman whose garlic sauce-coated French fries can be smelled from farthest away is queen. Tulkoff mostly sells to food service companies, but their foot traffic was decidedly retail on Tuesday. "There aren't many food vendors here," Hauserman said. "So a lot of people came by looking for lunch today." That may appear true now, Danielle, but you can't prove that Cut4 won't expand into the stadium concessions business someday.
2. A half-century ago, outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower warned America about the dangers of a growing military-industrial complex. The veracity of that threat is still up for debate, but it's hard to argue the armed services and their contractor network haven't done much to advance temperature modification technology. Witness Power Breezer. Currently employed on military bases in Africa, Afghanistan and the Middle East, the Florida-based company is looking to expand their mobile cooling business to a dugout, bullpen or practice field near you. Regional sales manager Freddie Brock claimed his product can cool a 3,000 sq. ft. space by up to 27 degrees within minutes, far dwarfing the capabilities to your average mister. Don't look now, Ike, but the era of players combating the dog day games of summer with hatfulls of ice water may soon be at an end.
3. "How many times have you gone to the batting cage?" Jamie Morrison asks. "Loads. How many times have you gone to the pitching cage? Zero. That's why we invented this." "Loads" might be overstating it in my case, but I had to agree that I'd never dropped quarters into a machine for the opportunity to throw my own baseballs. Thanks to the Mojo Pitching Cage, I can now change that in the fan experience zones at a half-dozen Major League parks and twice as many Minor League stadiums. Morrison and his partner, Joe Lewis, started their company a decade ago when Lewis was an Independent League shortstop-turned-reliever taking one last shot at the pros. There were plenty of throwing nets and bounceback screens available, but nothing with a realistic batter and catcher to throw at. Mojo filled that void, and now any aspiring hurler can plunk life-like synthetic batters in the comfort of their own home for as low as $5,000.
4. Hoot and Holly of the Orem Owlz conceived a junior mascot naturally this season, but most big-headed team representatives have far less auspicious origins. Many, in fact, are born in Rick Scollon's workshop. Scollon Productions has been crafting costumes, characters and mascots for more than 40 years, with current representatives of the Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers and about 20 Minor League clubs among their credits. I inquired about having a mascot version of myself created and learned that it would take only $5,000 and 6-8 weeks. "That would include a whole body," Rick said. "Because you wouldn't want to sculpt a head and then just put it on yourself in street clothes. You've got to have a costume and then the hands and the feet all to scale to make it look right." And what about mascot dance lessons? "There's other people that do that, we don't."
5. One of those people might be Nathan Priddy. Owner of SweetRight Entertainment, Priddy is half of the SweetRight Brothers traveling mascot team, an act which performs at Minor League Parks across the country each season. "We have a big one and a little one," he said. "The little one is actually the older brother and he's the brains of the operation. The big one is the goofy, younger always-getting-into-trouble brother and so we always have to corral him and bring him back into line." Priddy spends much of the Winter Meetings networking with new teams in an effort to expand his nationwide tour even further. "It helps when we send our information out to all the teams. People look at it and go, 'Oh, I remember them from Nashville. They're the guys with the cars and the T-shirt gun."
-- Ian Kay / MLB.com