Fear and Loathing at Winter Meetings: Part 3

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The biggest pool in Las Vegas resides at the Mandalay Bay. Photo by dronepicr via Wikimedia Commons

By: Max Wolpoff

THE AWKWARD MOMENTS

LAS VEGAS – In a large conference room at least a 20-minute walk from any hotel room in Mandalay Bay, the job fair opened to around 500 potential job seekers. At 8 a.m., and not a minute earlier.

For those of us who could be there early, either to pick up our pre-registered pass or to register for the event to the tune of a few hundred dollars, various shades of blue and black suits mixed with the occasional grey and brown in a largely empty corridor outside the Oceanside Ballrooms.

I stood around talking to three people for most of the day: my friend from home, a kid who was distantly related to a baseball Hall of Fame player, and someone from Alabama who my friend did not know despite going to the same college.

As awkward first encounters go, there is a lot in common with most of us at this job fair. I doubt anybody is here in spite of a burning hatred of the game of baseball and is now seeking some measure of employment. If hate-watching a TV show is a thing, hate-working at a job could also be a thing.

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View of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino. Photo by Diego Delso via Wikimedia Commons

In this secluded corner of Mandalay Bay, we cannot hear the TV crews setting up their live coverage to find out where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will end up. The casino is a floor down and an eight-minute walk from the closest point of the convention. At least the Internet works in this place.

I often wonder how much electricity this city uses. The casino lights pretty much never go dark, and after the slot machines went digital instead of rolling pieces of paper with various fruits or pictures whirring in front of your hoping eyeballs, electricity usage has to be high here. There are a few pictures scattered about the place that tout the hotel’s use of solar panels in reducing its carbon footprint, but how high is the electric bill in a place that never stops the party? I may never know, but it is easy to get lost in that thought staring at people lose hundreds or thousands of dollars playing the Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Killer Bunny slot machine.

It also goes up with the camera crews here setting up studio lights around the walkways. At any given time, someone I interact with could be a potential employer or co-worker, both with a team and with a media company. That tension to be nice fills the air. It is pretty much frowned upon to purposefully blow off someone trying to introduce themselves to you, even if you are in the middle of a lovely conversation with somebody else about broadcasting in the Cape Cod Collegiate Baseball League last summer.

The “workshop room,” the fancy name for the place where a few baseball big wigs get to stand at a podium and read their pre-prepared statements about the trials, triumphs, and tribulations of working in Minor League Baseball, was full to capacity to today. I did use three “T” words on purpose, if you were curious.

The fear is easy to notice. At the slightest breath into the microphone to test it, the room went silent. A nervous laugh broke the icy start, but it would stay that way most of today. Nobody wants to make the first mistake and be remembered as “the one who messed up day one.”

A few people came underdressed for the fair. Ties were mostly on for the men, skirts or dresses largely the choice of the women.

There remains that fear of approaching someone new. Even in a job fair where anyone could quite literally be your boss in a few years and knowing them when both of you were bright-eyed unemployed people may help your cause later on, people largely stay close to the ones they knew coming in. I was no different.

LUNCH BREAK AND NETWORK SPEED DATING

Following a few hours of reading pre-written clichés that barely landed as jokes, the speaker series allowed a conference room of 500 young people a break for lunch. In a five-establishment food court, it took over an hour to get a footlong steak and cheese from Subway for $12. Everything is more expensive here. Just like Manhattan, nothing is grown here. Unlike Manhattan, there are no cheap alternatives to the big, brand-name stores. At least not on the strip.

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The New York New York roller coaster on the Las Vegas Strip. Photo by Andrew Mason

My friends thought I had found a different group to eat lunch with, even though I left my bag at their table. The tables also do not move; they are attached at the legs to the floor. I am still eating away at the crumbs of a bag of chips that I hastily stuffed in my bag to get back to the conference room faster.

There was supposed to be a full networking hour, it ended up being thirty minutes. One great line came out of the old baseball guy who I walked in on in the middle of his talk about life in baseball that proceeded to continue for 20 minutes once I found a seat.

There are three kinds of job seekers at these conventions, he told his riveted audience. The first is the suspect: here for all the wrong reasons, like fame and glory, closeness to players, that sort of stuff. The second is a project: the person who has the talent, but needs some coaching or refining to make into a valuable worker for your team. The last is the prospect: someone who fits the corporate puzzle just right from the get-go.

He proceeded to spout on in cliché form about the importance of working hard and showing up, and working hard, and making sacrifices, and did I mention working hard? The nights are long, the job is endless at times. Having two summers experience in baseball is a bit of a lifesaver at this convention. Not only is it great experience to draw from for the interview process, it gave me a “yeah, I know that” air for a lot of those lines about the work. One of the speakers made it very clear that baseball “is not a lifestyle. It is a LIFE.” His emphasis, not mine.

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Someone I did not know approached me between speakers and said “Roll Train.” I knew instantly that he knew me from the Bethesda Big Train, but I did not work with him. He worked there two summers prior to my arrival, but was in the same intern group as the current assistant GM, who knew I would be here.

In as industrial an event as this, where potentially 500 people are applying for the same few positions, the interview process is compared to speed dating. I have 10, maybe 15 minutes to convince you why I am the best among the bunch. The “networking hour” was the same way: 15 minutes with someone in the business and a chance to ask a few questions. In a room with over 50 tables for the occasion, each person got two chances. I ended up with a sales director for a team in Texas on my first try, and the Human Resources directors for an AL and NL club at the MLB level on my final try. Not bad given the randomness of the whole situation.

Then came the big reveal of the job posting room.

FEAR AND LOATHING AT THE BIG BOARDS

It was just like it looked in the pictures of events prior, because apparently nobody has thought to put the whole process online or in digital format. A few hundred jobs sorted by category today, by time posted the next three days, crowded by scores of hopefuls trying to land that low-paying job in a city they may never have heard of.

Even though there are reminders posted throughout the convention that there is no photography allowed in the job posting room, lo and behold that is exactly what people did: take a picture of the jobs they wanted, went to the waiting area, filled out the job number on their resume, then dropped it in a box.

I am dehydrated from wandering these convention halls with only an 8-ounce bottle and the few refill tubs stationed at the wall in most of the rooms. Despite not being outside all of today, the desert still got to me. I am currently chugging sink water to get some life back in my brain to remember my day.

It is past 4 p.m. The first round of jobs is all we get for today, so that meant three broadcasting jobs and a general internship with an MLB team for me. One of the people I met said he dropped 22 resumes, some for jobs he did not even want. I never understood that strategy. I am here for a very specific kind of job, and that is it. I see no point in wasting the time of the people across the table, and my own time, in applying for something I do not want to actually do. “Interview practice” or not, it is more time I can spend meeting my contemporaries in the waiting area.

We were all told to have a charged cell phone for communication with the teams, including to put the number on our resumes if it is not there already. Some of us will start getting calls from area codes we have never seen and are expected to trust that it is a baseball team wanting to interview us for that job for which we dropped a piece of paper in a box and hoped to hear about. Where there used to be pay phones are now charging stations, and I have a feeling space could be premium by those walls with job seekers competing with the journalists here for the transactions and rumors.

If you ever wanted to mess with someone at these meetings, call them. The excitement of getting that first call will fade if they see your caller ID and you can imagine the look on their face, or they may pick up and you can pretend to be a baseball executive calling about the such-and-such position.

Some of us in the job seeker crowd will get lucky tomorrow. The jobs they dropped paper for will call them and set up an interview time. Others will have to wait a while to get that first call. Once the resume goes into the bin denoting what job number it is, fear takes root. It starts as a seed and grows, time as its water and sunlight, before it photosynthesizes into a distraught mess on the convention floor wondering why I came out all this way to get rejected and have my dreams crushed. Dreams are meant to be crushed, it is nature’s way (if you can tell me the musical that last sentence is from, I applaud you).

For as much as I want to keep typing away — because talking about these meetings is so much more fun than the final papers I need to write – I know that the end of the semester looms in two weeks. I may need some time to coalesce the advice I got today into anything meaningful to talk about in future posts. It is all a blob of clichés and technicalities swimming around my cortices (cortexs?) looking for the hippocampus to convert it into long-term memory.

As of now, here is what I can tell any job seekers out there who think sports, particularly baseball, are for them: get ready to miss every wedding, birthday, child birth, anniversary, Fourth of July BBQ, and concert you ever dreamed of. If it is happening during baseball season, and you have a game, you are working. That was what I took away from today. Baseball is a way of life. If that way of life scares you, or if your family is too important, keep it on radio or on television for your entertainment. Not everyone is cut out for this line of work.

KNIGHT TIME THEATER

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T-Mobile Arena on a Golden Knights game day. Photo by Max Wolpoff

LAS VEGAS – Somehow, there were cheap tickets available to watch the Vegas Golden Knights play the Dallas Stars tonight.

If there is one thing the Knights became known for last season in their run to the Stanley Cup Finals, it was there unforgettable, predictable, over-the-top pre-game ice show. It features a snazzy video intro, ice projections of various makes and designs, and two people on skates: one is the Golden Knight who gets to win every battle, and the other is assigned to represent the visitors and lose every night. They become locked in a swordfight at center ice, until the Golden Knight eventually knocks his opponent’s sword away from his hands.

The now weapon-less fighter skates to get it, then fire appears on the ice projections to block his path to the sword. There is a mock castle at one end of the arena, where archers are positioned to shoot pretend arrows toward the ice, making it appear as if the flames were actually shot onto the ice. The designated loser first goes to the middle of the ice, then to his right, then to his left, and each time is blocked by projections of flames. He then kneels before the Golden Knight in a gesture of submission, followed by the Knight’s victorious roar, accompanied by the sell-out crowd. It is just like WWE: designed for crowd reaction, clear heels and faces, and a winner designed to get the biggest pop.

The house lights then fall dark, and a massive three-dimensional rendition of the Vegas logo (a Magneto mask with the outline of the letter “V” in the middle) drops slowly to the ice while heavy electronic music plays. Amid all this, the two combatants have skated off the ice, the Golden Knight to the home locker room and his opponent to the Zamboni doors at the opposite end. The referees enter in the darkness, but a few fans can see and boo them anyway. Then tonight’s opposition actually enters the ice to cheers from the traveling fans and boos from the locals. The public address announcer loudly yells, elongating every word, “It’s Knight-Time” to wild cheers as the heroes enter the ice through a narrow tunnel, viewable by those who paid enough money to watch them enter through windows similar to viewer windows in an interrogation room.

Every hundred or so women in attendance had this sparkly gold jacket on reminiscent of 70s disco. The arena was awash in Golden Knights grey and gold, even I, who unknowingly wore his grey polo shirt after changing out of the suit I was in for most of the day. I did have my one bit of sports merchandise that I brought for the week – my Washington Capitals skull cap – on to compensate. “VGK” adorned everything from scarves and hats to shoes and necklaces.

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The strip’s Statue of Liberty rocking a Golden Knights jersey. Photo by ZappaOMati via Wikimedia Commons

The arena video board – nicknamed KNIGHTTRON – showed memes and short clips from various scenes in pop culture. KNIGHTTRON parodied Star WarsGame of Thrones300, Ric Flair’s “WOOOOOO” from WWE, Rambo, and others that I lost track of. Flair’s face came on the screen in “Kilroy was here” fashion during play to prompt fans to yell his catchphrase.

There was a young couple in front of my seat. The man was bringing the woman to the game to meet his parents, I believe, for the first time. After every Knights goal, they kissed. As they held the lead late in the third period, they sat closer together. There was also a man in Nike shoes, sweatpants, a William Karlsson shirt, a yarmulke, and his tallit under his shirt. There were old couples, young families, and an array of friend parties dotting T-Mobile Arena that night. Even Marlins Man needed a break from the baseball stuff.

Every Knights’ goal came accented with a standing ovation and casino slot sound effects for each player involved in the scoring as announced through public address. Every penalty by Dallas came with the Vegas crowd yelling “shame” repeatedly, a reference to Game of Thrones.

The most telling moment of Vegas’s hockey popularity came during the last TV timeout in the third period. KNIGHTTRON asked fans to scream when the phrase on the screen applied to them. First came “ALL THE LADIES” followed by a shrill, soprano screech. Then “NOW THE MEN” to precede a baritone yell. There was no slide for those who identify outside the gender binary. “LEFT-HANDED” and “RIGHT-HANDED” followed, with the latter firmly in the majority. “AMBIDEXTROUS? (WE HAD TO GOOGLE THE SPELLING)” got a few, very loud, very proud yells from the seated patrons. And, here is where I realized this was more than a hockey team, lastly came the dividing cheer for “TOURISTS” and “LOCALS.”

A few like myself cheered for being labeled “TOURISTS.” The rest of the 90 percent roared for “LOCALS.”

If this sounds anything like a viewing of Rocky Horror: Picture Show, where the audience is expected to know the script in advance and does just about everything they are prompted to do, I do not blame you.

I was skeptical about putting an NHL team in America’s gambling capital, even upset when the league made the official announcement that Vegas won a franchise and not Quebec City or Seattle. Seattle would get their franchise eventually, but not going back to Quebec made little sense in the way that a hockey game in the parking lot at Caesar’s Palace (which really happened, you can look it up on your own time) makes little sense.

The Knights won. As I walked up the stairs to get out of my section, the usher at the top had his hand out for a high-five. I instead gave him a wry smile and pointed to the team logo of the most recent Stanley Cup champions to remind him of that fateful night in June when Alex Ovechkin officially graduated from legend to icon, beating these Golden Knights on this ice to do so. He smiled and laughed it off, all in good fun. The Knights’ cheer squad and ushers from the lower bowl formed a “V” in the entrance hall to wave good-bye to fans as they exited, even stopping to high-five fans and take pictures upon request.

The air raid siren to start every period was cool. The Golden Knight from the pre-game show cheating to help us all win $10 off our night at Top Golf tonight (I did not use it) with our “seat locator” (not “ticket”) was cool. That image of the cheerleaders and ushers forming a big “V” to say good-bye and see you again is what makes me want to come back again. There is a bit of recency bias in that it was the last thing I saw on my way out the door, notwithstanding the “VICTORY IS OURS” digital sign similar to the Chicago Cubs flying a “W” flag after each win. T-Mobile Arena is a great arena to watch a game in, and the show is fine, but that kindness on the way out is a warm reminder of what makes this team and city special for the NHL.

Looking at the word count at the bottom of this draft as I see it, I have not written this many words my entire semester for this site. Some of that is my own fault with needing to take the LSAT twice and opting to take three reading-heavy courses. I had no clue how to format this piece when I took it on. All I knew was the Hunter S. Thompson style of chewing off the bone, no-nonsense gonzo journalism. There is no word limit or minimum I need to hit that forces me to expand on how the strip uses so much electricity all night. I say those things because I believe them to be relevant to the experience of a “small town boy meets big city” story.

At dinner, mid-bite into Nashville-style hot chicken, three separate prostitute advertisement vans rolled by, all screaming the same exact message in the same exact way: we send them to you, no questions asked, call this number. On two of the rolling billboards, the women in the picture are topless, but there is a black strip with the company phone number instead of seeing their nipples. Because we have to keep it civil for the young ones.

It is close to midnight on Day 1 of the convention and Day 3 of this rolling blog on how to find a job in baseball. I have no idea if any of the places I applied for will call me, or if I am doomed to sit and wait from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. with no contact from anyone behind the curtain. While possible for that to happen, I did not come across the country to leave that quietly.

Author: Max Wolpoff

Max is in his final undergraduate year, and prefers not to be remembered for his now-infamous viral goal call (https://russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2016/12/12/boston-university-hockey-announcer-channels-john-walton-to-deliver-viral-goal-call/). Between classes, applying for law school, and working for the Worcester Blades, he co-hosts “Scarlet and White” and writes the “This Morning in Sports” column. Max is from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. Follow Max on Twitter @Max_Wolpoff and on Instagram @maxwolpoff for the latest #MaxWolpoffSuitOfTheGame.

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