On the first day, you can pick them out from a mile away: Dark suit, portfolio in hand, shoes freshly shined because mom or dad said that was a good way to get hired. It is the Job Fair at the Baseball Winter Meetings.
Here, scores of college students and recent grads -- they numbered more than 400 at this year's December meetings -- converged on the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville for the annual conference for the baseball industry. Along with major league clubs meeting with their minor league affiliates, and sports agents trying to nail down free agency deals for their ballplayer clients, this conference includes Minor League Baseball's annual job fair. For minor league baseball franchises, the PBEO (Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities) Job Fair is a convenient, one-stop, cost-saving way to hire part-time interns and administrators to assist with their upcoming seasons.
And there are plenty of 20-somethings who appear at the Winter Meetings certain that they will stun the establishment and, overnight, become the next great baseball executives.
But look around the hallways at the Gaylord Opryland a few days into the Winter Meetings and you will see dozens of these same kids either wandering the corridors aimlessly, meandering around the Trade Show seeking out any free stuff they can get their hands on ("Look! I got a foam finger!"), or not-so-politely stalking ESPN personalities. They came to the Winter Meetings without a plan and without realistic expectations. Often, they leave with only a few stories of famous ballplayers they saw walking across the hotel lobby.
Sure, we also brought a group of our students to the Baseball Winter Meetings. But since we are Lynn University, we did the Winter Meetings a bit differently -- we are, after all, one of the most innovative small universities in the country.
For the seventh consecutive year, we turned the Winter Meetings into a classroom. In our own private meeting space, our students spent four days meeting one-on-one with dozens of executives throughout baseball, from team owners and league presidents to sports agents and baseball writers.
Our students met with minor league officials, who told them that the realities of the business dictate that everyone does everything. "The nature of the minor league general manager is that you are really a master of all trades," said Ben Weiss, general manager of the Class-AAA Memphis Redbirds.
They met with sportswriters, who told them about the ever-changing nature of the industry. "Twitter has changed the way that we work," ESPN's Jayson Stark told our students at the marvelous SMWW Career Conference held annually on the Monday of Winter Meetings Week. "If there is a new medium that is invented tomorrow, I'm sure that we will use that too."
They met with some of the top leaders in the game, who encouraged them to chase their dreams. "You all have a passion for baseball - that is what brought you from Lynn University to here at the Winter Meetings," reminded Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. "Always keep following your passion."
They met with The Miracle League's spokesperson Laura McKeeman -- Miss Florida and a Fox Sports analyst -- and learned, from the intelligent young woman in the bejeweled crown, that not everything is as it appears. They traded business cards, learned what it takes to be a professional in the industry and schmoozed with baseball's elite.
And they learned that baseball is, first and foremost, a business -- a massive, sprawling, multi-faceted, serious, no-nonsense business that always needs new influxes of people who are ready to continue moving the industry forward.
Sounds like a job for our students. Thanks to their experiences in our classroom that is the Baseball Winter Meetings, we know that they will be ready.
Prof. Ted Curtis and Dr. Chad Barr may be found at Facebook.com/LynnSportsManagement and on Twitter at @LynnUSportsMgmt.