Winter Meetings News & Notes

NASHVILLE–Finally, after two days of the Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland, I have been voted off the island and am heading back to Durham in the morning. This place is so big that the Batavia Muckdogs might play here next season.

With nothing left to do, I thought now would be a fine to empty my notebook. So here it goes:

Few stories on the business beat have been bigger than Lee Landers’ dogged effort to find a team to fill the void in Pulaski (wait a second, are we back in Orlando?) Yes, for the second straight year, Landers has spent the bulk of his time trying to find a team to play in Pulaski after the Blue Jays pulled out late in the 2006 season. Landers believes Pulaski is close to landing a suitor in the Mariners, yet nothing has been finalized.

Seattle representatives attended a pair of Appalachian League meetings on Wednesday following a late November visit to Pulaski’s Calfee Park, but the Mariners have yet to commit for 2008. Landers said Seattle has set a Dec. 14 deadline for making decision–a date that may be hard to extend considering Pulaski officials have received bids from independent clubs that may be hard to turn down with a second straight dark season looming in the near future.

"I feel better this time this year than I did last year, but the result is the same," Landers said. "We have nothing to hang our hats on."

Batavia Troubles

Rumors surrounding Batavia’s financial troubles are true, but three days at the Winter Meetings have not led to a result. A column by the Buffalo News’ Bob DiCesare outlined the Muckdogs financial troubles, which has left the New York-Penn League club in debt and without a lease for the 2008 season. While neither Batavia GM Dave Wellenzohn nor NYP league president Ben Hayes woulddiscuss the situation, the issue was brought up in league meetings over the past few days.

Any resolution to the situation is not expected in the near future.

"We’re talking with the club and collecting information," Hayes said, deferring any further comment until a later date.

Replacing O’Conner

Minor League Baseball plans to announce a new chief operating officer on Thursday morning, filling president elect Pat O’Conner’s former position. I promised both O’Conner and MILB spokesman Jim Ferguson that I would not reveal the new hire’s identity, but he was a general manager in 2007.

Giant Improvements

After increasing attendance by over 20,000 over the past three seasons, the San Jose Giants have grand plans to increase the trend. The Giants signed a five-year extension to remain at the landmark Municipal Stadium, and received a $200,000 in financing from the city that they plan to put into adding roughly 600 seats and significantly boosting their group seating facility.

The Giants long-term future in San Jose remains in doubt, since an Athletics move to neighboring Freemont could result in the Giants being forced out of town. However the team plans to push along and CEO Jim Weyermann said they are in negotiations to land a naming rights deal for the stadium, money the team would plan to put right back into the 1940s-era ballpark for several upgrades that includes concessions, parking and upgraded player development facilities.

Promotional Seminar Changes

I’ll try and get an official confirmation on this tomorrow (Thursday), but apparently MILB’s board of trustees has voted to ban independent league teams from attending the sport’s annual promotional seminar.

Eastern League clubs boycotted the promotional seminar in 2007, expressing their disapproval in sharing ideas with non-affiliated clubs that they consider threatening their territorial rights.Apparently their effort has proven effective.

"We feel that when get together with members it should be with (MILB) members only," Eastern League president Joe McEacharn said. "They are not part of us. Why should we let them hear our best and brightest speak at the promotional seminar."

As I said, I have not spoken with anyone from the board of trustees and hope to find details on the new regulations involving the promotional seminar on Thursday.

It’s About Time

Longtime Birmingham Barons employee Joe Drake is finally getting a taste of the Winter Meetings.

After 53 years with the club–Drake started with the team in 1953 as a ticket-tearer earning $1 a day–the team’s ticket manager earned his first invite to the offseason event. Drake was ushered around the meetings by several team employees who seemed to enjoy his presence at the event as much, if not more, than he did.

A country music fan who was thrilled to meet Gary Carter here at the Opryland, Drake said that the event otherwise has not been overly impressive (there were not enough seats around the sprawling hotel, he complained). And it certainly should not be easy to impressive the veteran baseball employee, who has seen such legends come through Birmingham as Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Josh Gibson, Lorenzo "Piper" Davis, Rollie Fingers, Minnie Minoso and Tommy John.

Drake began his career at the historical Rickwood Field, and the team’s annual game at the old ballpark is a homecoming of sorts for him.

"Joe is treated like a celebrity there," said director of promotions and ticket operations Jeremy Neisser. "Anybody has come to Rickwood seems to know Joe. Every father or grandfather comes up to see him. It’s like a family reunion."