ValleyCats get to bat at baseball’s winter meetings, too

'From a minor league perspective, we’re really here for the business of baseball'
Baseball executives from all levels of the game gather for the winter meetings in Florida.
Baseball executives from all levels of the game gather for the winter meetings in Florida.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Giancarlo Stanton. Manny Machado. Marcell Ozuna. Scott Boras.

Those are the familiar names from the 2017 baseball winter meetings, held at Disney’s Dolphin and Swan Resorts here. But it is the names you haven’t heard about that might have the most productive week at the annual baseball conglomeration.

“There’s really a wide range of different business projects, relationships that we’re working on,” said Matt Callahan, general manager of the Tri-City ValleyCats.

Callahan is one of four ValleyCat staff members, along with assistant GM Michelle Skinner, chief operating officer and executive vice president Rick Murphy and ticket sales/operations manager Jess Guido attending this year’s meetings. The ValleyCats are one of more than 150 minor league teams on top of the 30 major league teams represented at the meetings.

“For everybody in baseball, it’s an opportunity to have a couple focused days with everybody in the industry here,” Callahan said.

Baseball’s winter meetings are known as the hub of off-season activity for major league teams. This year’s event featured the introduction of Stanton as a New York Yankee, news of the Baltimore Orioles shopping superstar third baseman Machado, and agents such as Boras seeking the highest bidder on a number of free agents.

“That’s the piece that is the legendary part of the winter meetings,” Callahan said. “You have two general managers up in a suite and they’re negotiating over players and then come out and announce a trade the next morning.”

But for Callahan and others down in Orlando representing minor league teams, the winter meetings aren’t about headlines.

“From a minor league perspective, we’re really here for the business of baseball,” Callahan said. “There are a lot of different tracks within the operation that you can kind of follow along and look for the best practices. You have owners from within the baseball industry. You also have other sports teams that come in and present. I sat through a presentation from the CEO of the [NBA’s] Orlando Magic on their business model and how they’ve tried to grow over the years.”

Callahan arrived with his contingent of ValleyCat representatives on Sunday. The first matter of business was attending Monday’s Bob Freitas Business Seminar and Workshop.

“Day one is a lot of learning, a lot of idea sharing,” Callahan said. “We’re trying to figure out what’s working within the market, what are the trends within the market from an attendance perspective, operational practices, marketing, digital media, anything that you can think of that falls under the business of baseball.”

Monday evening marked the opening of the trade show, where more than 2,000 vendors representing a wide range of companies display their products in hopes of striking deals with teams.

“The trade show is filled with vendors from all different aspects of baseball,” Callahan said. “You have everything from on-field stuff like guys selling equipment, L-screens, bats, baseballs, uniforms, to stuff that relates much more to what we do at the minor league level, which is the business of running the ballpark, getting people to the ballpark, and making sure they enjoy their experience.”

In past years, Calllahan and the ValleyCats have used the trade show to expand Joseph L. Bruno Stadium’s Fun Zone with a large inflatable slide, and also to replace the costume for SouthPaw, the ValleyCats’ mascot.

This year, Skinner has negotiated with merchandise companies in an effort to bring new products to the team’s in-stadium and online stores.

“As a league, the New York-Penn League, we have a series of meetings,” Callahan said. “We had a meeting [Tuesday] talking about scheduling, potential relocation for certain franchises, and just kind of going through the season that was for each team and looking ahead to any potential changes. That could be everything to dues on the road, hotel arrangements, stuff like that. This is a time when we get together and do a lot of brainstorming and also a lot of fine-tuning.”

The ValleyCats also meet with their Major League affiliate, the World Series champion Houston Astros.

Formal and informal idea-sharing and collaboration is the name of the game for meeting attendees.

“At the end of the day, everyone congregates in the lobby,” Callahan said, “both from major league and minor league baseball, so there’s a tremendous amount of networking going on.

“I think that’s the great thing about minor league baseball. Everybody wants to be successful on the field and with attendance and stuff like that, but the reality is we’re not in the same market, so we don’t compete with them. The more ideas we can share with one another and make sure everyone is successful the better off we all are.”

Another element of the winter meetings is the Professional Baseball Employment Opportunity Job Fair, where over 200 jobs and internships are posted by major and minor league teams for around 500 job seekers looking to get their start in the industry.

“I actually got my first job in baseball with the ValleyCats at the winter meetings in 2007 down in Nashville,” Callahan said. “We always post the internships down here because it’s generally a very good pool of students that are interested. Depending on the year, we’ll sometimes have full-time positions we’ll post here too.”

For the ValleyCats, the winter meetings offer opportunities they won’t come across in Troy.

“It’s easy when you’re back in the office to sort of get engrossed in the day-to-day and the meetings you have going on there,” Callahan said. “Having everybody coming down here and be altogether is a great experience. There may be a challenge we’re facing in Troy that somebody in California is facing as well. So to be able to have those resources and troubleshoot, share ideas and kind of work through good solutions is a great opportunity.”

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