Suitcase Chronicles: From Indianapolis
Wandering around Willy Wonka's Baseball Factory
INDIANAPOLIS—I arrived to the Winter Meetings with the same set of questions as everyone else:
Would Commissioner Selig ride around on a six-ton elephant surrounded by feather-clad dancers?
Would brass spittoons be found in every corner to accommodate attendees' habits?
Would Scott Boras transform into a hologram so he could literally be in more than one place at once?
And what the hell is a gala? And why is baseball having one?
I navigated a labyrinth of cold skyways and peeked into shadowed corners in my search for answers. I found very few.
I never saw the commissioner. As far as I know he really could've been riding around like Hannibal. I also never saw a spittoon, but I did see spit cups near the trashcans of every hotel lobby. I even saw men in suits taking turns spitting into an empty Miller Lite bottle.
I questioned several people about the gala and never got a good response. To this day I still think it's a type of apple. My quest for answers took me to all corners of Indy's downtown, reaching the brink of frostbitten toes. My most fruitful moment came when I wandered in the trade show, which I almost failed to escape.
Held in the Indiana Convention Center, it was the baseball version of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. It offered everything, so I decided to try everything.
I first approached Fireworks Productions. They claimed they could make a night sky look as bright as the Arizona sun, with as much boom as a "shock and awe" campaign. I immediately asked for a demonstration, but they refused. I then asked if they could perform at my niece's upcoming birthday party. Again they refused, so I left disappointed.
Next I passed a weird looking sausage stand. "Mexican Sausage Dog," the sign claimed. I asked what it was.
"It's basically chorizo."
"Well, why not call it chorizo?" I wondered aloud. Then I remembered that we were in America, and Americans speak American.
"We think this sounds better. It'll make a great addition to your concessions. Look at how little grease it has."
With this he showed me the drip pan, impressively covered in red, fluorescent grease. He offered me a 2-inch sample, which I accepted with the fervor of Violet Beauregarde. Indeed, more grease existed within the sausage dog, and I felt it drain inch by inch down my esophagus as I consumed it.
Going to a nearby booth, I picked up a bat. I took a few dry hacks as a man with the vigor of Billy Mays spoke of the incomparable quality of yellow birch. Not only would these bats lead to 50 percent fewer breaks, but they would also increase my batting average by 20 points. (Even then I would only be a .180 hitter.) After twenty minutes of wood talk, I escaped and found one of the highlights of the day.
The Dippin' Dots stand also offered free samples. I asked if they were the proper cure to chorizo and accepted a full serving of banana split, which I devoured within fifteen seconds.
Nothing goes with Dippin' Dots quite like beer, so I went to the Miller Lite stand and received a sample of Blue Moon. I was told by the girl that I was allowed three samples, so I made a mental note to acquire all three.
While sipping my six ounce beer, statues came to life. This was the Randolph Rose Collection, and I decided to inquire about the series of sculptures.
"So if a person wanted a brass sculpture of himself, would that be possible?"
"Well sure, how big would that person want it?"
"Oh, full size for sure."
"Send us a picture, give us a year, and you'll have a sculpture."
"A year! The statue won't even look like me after a year! And how much will this cost?"
"And what could I get for $22?"
They laughed. I decided I might have to settle for a bobblehead.
In fact, around four different groups claimed to make the best bobblehead. I asked if any would be interested in making one specifically for me, as I knew this would be the only way I would ever have one made. I offered the aforementioned $22. They all declined.
This talk of sculptures was making me hungry. Luckily I passed the stand for Quick 'n Crispy Greaseless Fryers. I asked how a person fried something without grease. They said you just put it in the cooker and it crisped it. I thought about telling them that toaster ovens had been invented long ago, but instead I just sampled a couple of sliders. Dousing them with ketchup, they tasted pretty good even without the grease.
Next to the fryers I found the Sharp Sports booth. They really didn't have anything that interested me other than the Japanese men surrounding it. One of my goals for the Winter Meetings was to seek out Asian men, much to the chagrin of my wife. Like most baseball men, I am curious and would love to play overseas baseball. Unfortunately, two of the well-dressed men were running the booth, while the other two were attending the job fair. None were representatives of actual Asian teams, so I'd have to pursue these men elsewhere.
After eating my sliders, I stumbled upon more sausage. (Fitting that it was a sausage fest.) I couldn't pass up more free sausage, so I used a toothpick to stab a large piece oozing with grease (had to make up for the greaseless sliders), and ate it in one bite.
At the Phiten booth I asked what would happen if I completely wrapped my body in their titanium coiled product. They seemed less than amused when I suggested that I might not only solve the mystery of the Bermuda triangle, but also cure the esophageal cancer likely to afflict me after all the sausage.
Finally I found more ice cream, this of a dairy-less, powdered variety. I listened to the lady explain the process of just adding water to the mix before giving me a large sample. Reminding me of a cross between powdered eggs, a bad protein shake, and Dairy Queen, it was the perfect complement to my previous sausage adventure.
After playing in a few inflatable kids zones and asking if I could become a Zooperstar, I decided my time at the show was nearing an end. After all, it was nearing 5 p.m. The day before I had trailed Tony La Russa into the trade show around this hour. They turned him away. Not even La Russa could bend the rules in this fantasyland.
On the way out I made my last stop. The Jack Daniels stand was calling my name, so I inquired about the Gentleman's Jack. The JD girl explained the smoothness of the product and poured me a full glass of it. Yes, it was smoother than regular JD, but whiskey is whiskey. And I had a full glass of it.
So, after consuming several types of sausage, two types of ice cream, a burger, a beer, and a glass of whiskey, I left Willie Wonka's Baseball Factory with my stomach rumbling. Yet I fared better than Veruca Salt.