It was about ten minutes into a stunningly slow day in the Tuesday media room at baseball's Winter Meetings when I realized the only way I'd break a story today was if I stuck out my leg and tripped Joe Morgan. (Even the C.C. Sabathia deal was still hours off.) And then, could I post a blog reporting the fall before security threw me out? At the meetings, the beat guys break the stories even if I you have Gammons-like contacts because they have just one team to stake out, and there was little news to report anyway! Or so I thought.
Luckily, I found an out.
As I was roaming the halls waiting for a Scott Boras call or a rain-making incident to drop, pondering whether to blog about my industry—"Sportswriters and AOL Mail: Why Can't They Let It Go?"—an older gentlemen who I believed was Henry Gibson approached me. Since I'm well-versed in The 'Burbs, I obviously tried to run away as quickly as possible, but the deep freeze of the Bellagio ballroom had frozen my legs. Fortunately, the man wasn't Mr. Klopek and didn't to bury me in his basement.
The man was Henry Morgan, president of the Peninsula Pilots, a team in the Coastal Plain League based in North Carolina. Morgan had made the trip to Vegas in order to represent the squad at the sideshow of the Winter Meetings: The Annual Trade Show. This year it was being held across town at the super-sized Hilton Conference Center, home to Menopause: The Musical, which has been running at the establishment for the past three years. (Does "it" ever end?) Mr. Morgan, however, had more pressing matters to attend to than the "humorous celebration of women and the Change".
"Can you get me into the press room for Maddux's conference?" he asked.
"Of course not," I replied. "Can you get me into the trade show?"
"I'm sure you'll be fine," he said, with an air of disappointment. And he was right! Both about him being disappointed and me getting into the show!
And damn if it isn't a show.
Everyone from Ebbets Field Flannels based in Washington—specializing in throwback jerseys—to Baseband Bracelets from Florida—wrist-sized promotions!—make the long trip to the Winter Meetings every year where they pay good money to set up their mini-shops, press some flesh and peddle their wares. Most of the stuff littered across the giant mess on the floor is for baseball execs (i.e. new radar guns, jersey design outlets, pitching machines, scoreboards, stadium seats, etc.), but every now and then, as I aimlessly wandered the booths like an emo rock star, something hit me with the force of a giant fist. The first such instance came because it was, indeed, a giant fist.
Mark Stehle, the proprietor of SportsDisplays.com, was touting his latest invention, a giant blow-up balloon in the shape of a fist that could theoretically be used to celebrate by delivering a giant fist bump, Obama-style. Stehle, who made the trip out from Southern California, admitted that the President-Elect was a large inspiration for the product, but if you purchased the product, you didn't just have to limit yourself to the bump. Smack it against something hard enough, and it's a noisemaker. Deflate it, and it's a seat cushion. (And that's what we call a "hard sell".)
A few booths down I met my second Mark of the day, Mark Stanke, who was promoting his Plush Mascot Hat Thingy. Essentially, it was like my old Figment hat from Disney but with baseball mascots. (Note: The cute kid in photo is not your author, although he is definitely as attractive.) It's Stanke's third time at the Winter Meetings, this time from Kansas City. Stanke's not a fool, so he wasn't giving away his hats for free, which was just as well because your correspondent had plenty of other free material cluttering his pockets at the time.
In any trade show, the name of the game is swag. Everything from golf pencils to Dippin' Dots—if you haven't heard, this is the ice cream of the future!—to miniature candies were available to those visiting this year's show. Alright, fine. That stuff kind of sucks. But there was free beer. And, more importantly…free prostrate screenings!
I saw the sign from across the convention floor: "Free Prostate Exams" stenciled on the side of the bus. I sped-walk the 50 yards or so and saw a man lingering outside, standing near the slightly ajar door, seemingly trying to lure me in.
"So, what exactly goes on here?" I offered with a slight smirk, because no matter how serious the disease, butts are funny.
"Just like it says," said Skip Lockwood, the CEO of Zero: The Project to End Prostate Cancer.
Lockwood drives his ProstateMobile up and down the country, giving free screenings to an average of 200 worried gentlemen a day. It's kind of like that trailer from the fire department that would lock families in to show them the dangers of fire, but instead of pumping in smoke, it pumps in the digits of physicians.
"The first question most men ask is 'How big are the doctor's fingers?'" Lockwood says. Then he mentions the flat-screen TVs available inside while you wait.
Man-friendly health care, indeed.
So forget about the deep freeze of the Bellagio media room. You can have that. I'll take the only trade show in the world that offers free futuristic ice cream and prostate exams.
Well, maybe the second, after the Adult Entertainment Expo.