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Hard work helps Futures Game grow
by Will Lingo
The Futures Game has become one of the best events in baseball, going through a few growing pains since debuting in 1999 to become a fixture in the mental datebook of the serious fan.
Most of you have just noticed the steady parade of prospects who have added their names to the Futures Game alumni roster, usually on their way to the major leagues and greater success.
And that's as it should be. The hours of hard work by those of us behind the scenes is supposed to go unnoticed, as long as we provide a few hours of quality baseball entertainment for you.
But seriously, there are some people who actually do put in hours of work to make sure the Futures Game comes off without a hitch every year. And it's time to recognize a couple of them who have been fighting for the game since the beginning: Sylvia Lind and Pat Scott of Major League Baseball.
To be sure, there are lots of other people who deserve credit for making the Futures Game a success. Jimmie Lee Solomon--who is now MLB's executive vice president for baseball operations, taking over from Sandy Alderson--deserves the most credit for ushering the game through the bureaucratic hurdles that stood in its way in the late 1990s.
Solomon got a provision for the game included in the Professional Baseball Agreement, which governs the relationship between the majors and minors, then convinced major and minor league teams that the game would be good for both of them.
But once the announcement was made that we were actually going to play such a game, Lind and Scott were the main people who dealt with all the logistics. And the logistics are pretty daunting.
Putting Travel Agents To Shame
Imagine that you have to get in touch with 50 minor league players, likely playing in 50 different minor league cities, and figure out how to get them to a major league city and back within 48 hours.
And unlike the All-Star Game, when the major leagues shut down for three days, the Futures Game is played in the midst of the minor league season, so the amount of time the players have off depends on the flexibility of their organizations. Players usually arrive on Saturday, play on Sunday and depart early Monday.
"These guys are typically not flying out of major cities, or if they are, they are waking up early to have someone drive them to the nearest major city airport," Scott said.
MLB handles all arrangements for the players, coaches and managers (including flights, hotels, per diem and tickets for other all-star events if they're available) and generally does a great job of letting the players know what a special event they're participating in--once they get them there.
"Last year, we had one player who decided his flight on Saturday was too early for him and he wanted to sleep in late," Scott said. "So he changed it to an evening flight that put him into Houston at 8 p.m., unbeknownst to us, his minor league GM or his farm director. That was fun.
"Last year, we also had two players experience flight delays and cancellations, only to finally make it to Houston at midnight without their equipment bags. I had to travel to the airport on Sunday, two hours before the game to personally pick up the equipment bags to ensure the players had their stuff for the game. Talk about cutting it close."
Building Foundation For Success
And that doesn't even take into account the last-minute player substitutions that inevitably occur when players are hurt or called up to the big leagues. Last year's MVP, for example, Aaron Hill of the Blue Jays, was the last player added to the game after Jays shortstop prospect Russ Adams pulled a muscle in his ribcage.
Lind and Scott and Co. got him there without a hitch, though. In the beginning, Lind and Scott were the only members of the MLB baseball operations staff dedicated to putting the game together. Now they have two other staff members who help in the planning, though it's still a very busy month leading up to the game.
"The first Futures Game was tough all around--from making meaningful player substitutions to executing the game with just two members of our staff and some random volunteers to hoping the stands would stay full after the softball game," Lind said. "We were the best little game that nobody knew about. Even the players weren't exactly sure what was going on, but they were awed by getting to play in Fenway Park.
"For some time after, I would give people a full explanation of what the Futures Game was before talking about it. Now I just mention it and people tell me about Alfonso Soriano or Adam Dunn."
For the first time since the Futures Game began, though, Lind won't be on the field with Scott this year, making sure everything comes together. She's on maternity leave and has had to watch this one from afar.
Scott and everyone else associated with the game at MLB know the drill now, and they'll try to pull of Futures Game No. 7 without her. It's a safe bet they'll do a great job again.
You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.