Humboldt Beacon (http://www.humboldtbeacon.com)

Meet the Lobby Dwellers: The underground culture of baseball's Winter Meetings


By Daniel Brown, Bay Area News Group

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Far below the posh hotel suites, where executives try to trade millionaires, a bustling subculture of the Winter Meetings lies in wait.
The Lobby Dwellers arrive early and stay late. They do so because they are dedicated and because they often have no place else to go. The Lobby Dwellers are fresh-faced college grads in new suits waiting for someone such as a Billy Beane or a Theo Epstein to make the mistake of strolling through the hall.
A quick word could be their big break.
And, crazy as it sounds, sometimes it works.
“I’m particularly sensitive to help,” Beane, the A’s executive vice president, said. “In many cases, this is their first job opportunity. I probably spend more time down there when I walk through than most because I have a daughter that age. I can imagine her being in that situation.”
The Lobby Dwellers are sewn into the Winter Meetings fabric, as much a part of the scene here as juicy rumors, Scott Boras press conferences and the Rule V draft.
This year, the sprawling lobby here at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, offers an ideal set up. For one thing, it offers a centrally located watering hole where alcohol flows late into the night. It’s like a singles bar, but with doubles, homers and on-base percentage, too.
“You want to meet someone, but you don’t want to come on too strong,” Michael Plaisance, 22, of Alameda said. “That could easily turn them off. They could completely block you out.”
The lobby here is also just one flight down from the media headquarters, where notable names are being whisked to and from the MLB Network or ESPN sets. In the span of a few hundred feet, you might walk past Jack Morris (here all week after his Hall of Fame selection), Cubs Manager Joe Maddon (always up for a stop-and-chat) and renowned reporters like Jayson Stark, Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal (trying to hustle up their next scoop).
Somewhere in the lobby, a few hundred 20-somethings dream of growing up to be just like them.
“Its a refreshing part of the Winter Meetings. I just wish we had more time,” Giants General Manager Bobby Evans said this week. “I was a job seeker at one point. I didn’t come to the Winter Meetings then, but I understand the passion that these young men and women have. I wish we could help every single one of them.”
There are a trio of Lobby Dwellers here from the Bay Area, friends all looking to crack into the baseball business. I asked them how many hours a day they spend in the lobby.
“All of them,” Plaisance said
“The majority of the day,” Evan Giddings, 23, said.
“Unless you’re at an interview or out to get a bite to eat, pretty much all the time is spent in the lobby,” Greg Korn, 22, said. “I feel like it’s just being there to be available. You never know when you’re going see someone that you want to approach.”
Korn, an Oakland native, comes equipped with business cards, as well as a business and economics degree from the University of Oregon. Korn, like the other smart people here, did tons legwork long before boarding a plane. They e-mailed teams in advance, hoping to get an audience for 10 minutes or so.
Teams are open to such conversations because the Winter Meetings give them a chance to do a lot of face-to-face interviews over a short span. There is an annual minor league job fair here, sponsored by Baseball America.
There is no such formal avenue for major league jobs, but many teams line up meetings for those seeking entry level jobs. Internships are big here. The A’s say they have also hired a few scouts at the Winter Meetings over the years.
“I would say the majority of interns we hire throughout the season would come through interviews that people do here,” said David Forst, the A’s general manager.
The Giants plan to hire three public relations interns. They began narrowing down the field to 15 candidates weeks ago with a questionnaire. One of the questions on the list was, “Will you be at the Winter Meetings?”
Beyond that, Evans said his staff will find at least one morning during the Winter Meetings to meet en masse with a group of ambitious young people who want to work in baseball.
“We get a good group together and talk through some of the questions and give them a chance to answer our questions.”
In general, the kids are looking for baseball operations jobs — analytics have opened the door for more college grads with fancy degrees — but there are a few aspiring broadcasters here, too.
Just ask Pedro Gomez, of ESPN, who gets reminded every time he makes his way through the Lobby Dwellers. Gomez is impossibly affable, so he’s incapable of giving anyone the brush off.
“It’s ‘Mr. Gomez! Mr. Gomez!'” he said with a laugh. “You know me. I’m going to stop and I’m going to talk.”
Youngsters ask Gomez for tips in broadcasting. But that can be a short conversation.
“I’ll say, ‘What are you doing now?’ And they’ll say, ‘Well, I’ve been out of college for three years and I’m working with my dad,”’ Gomez said.
“And I’ll say: You need a path. You need to be doing something, even if it’s local high school games on your computer. Anything.”
On the other hand, there are a few high-powered executives who can walk through this maze without being bothered. They are called women. Staci Slaughter, for example, can stroll right past job hopefuls who have no idea they wasted their shot at a Giants executive vice president who oversees media relations, public affairs and marketing communications programs.
“When they see women here,” Slaughter said, “they think we’re moms going to Disney World.”
In general, though, the Lobby Dwellers are on the ball. They strategize and network. They are plugged into teamworkonline.com — a website that lists all kinds of jobs in professional sports from concessions to mascot jobs to parking attendants to front-office analytics positions.
The Lobby Dwellers here are essentially doing the same thing baseball executives are doing here — making their best offer and waiting by the phone for someone to say yes.
“Everybody is in the same boat,” said Theron Simpson, a Seattle native, who is at his second consecutive Winter Meetings. “Teams are doing so many things here. Hiring an army of interns is not what they’re focusing all their time on.
“A lot of times these guys — myself included — are waiting for an e-mail or a text or a phone call from somebody who might have 10 minutes in between meetings to talk to you really quick.”
Said Traven Tapson, 22, of Carmel: “You can’t let a day with no responses get to your head. Because that’s what a lot of this is. It’s emailing, sending resumes.”
It can make for some clogged walkways over these four days, but baseball is happy to have the Lobby Dwellers on the scene. Patrick Courtney, the chief communications officer for Major League Baseball, does his best to stop and talk, too. He’s happy so many people want to work in the game.
“You realize the odds are difficult, right? But there are a lot of really good people out there and they’re very talented and they’re looking for an opportunity,” he said. “So a lot of times, I just talk to them about my own past and tell them: ‘Look, the most important thing is to get yourself in.”
In this case, getting that foot in the door can mean stepping into lobby.