Fear and Loathing at Winter Meetings: Part 4

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Photo by Max Wolpoff

By: Max Wolpoff

FEAR AT THE WAITING ROOM

LAS VEGAS — Every broadcaster is waiting anxiously to hear back from the limited teams looking for a new voice for the 2019 season. For each of these positions, prospective employees each have a reel or link of broadcasting samples that the teams are expected to listen to in full before deciding who to interview and then hire.

With a few dozen broadcasters applying for each job, and an inning of play-by-play averaging around 25 to 30 minutes each, team executives also needing to review applications for the other positions, do the math and it means few of us will hear the call for an interview.

Meanwhile, we keep waiting every 30 minutes for new positions to be thumbtacked to a board for ten people to stand around it and try to read small handwriting or small type font. My bad eyesight means I have to fight for space to see if this team wants a broadcaster or not.

There is a woman here with her dad. She is getting interviews while dad parks at the tables with a “JOB SEEKER” pass, even though he is dressed in a three-button long sleeve shirt and jeans. He is the least-dressed person at today’s event, and is largely here as a sounding board for his daughter to unload her interview struggles.

Parents, take this as a warning. Do not be that parent. Let your child succeed or fail on their own terms. Do not follow your child through the doors, taking a seat from another applicant. This woman is sitting separate from the pack, going over resumes and interview tips with her dad to keep her schedule in check. Over the top.

A man in a bowler hat just stood up and shouted something to the room. I cannot hear him over the light conversation around our table, but some brave soul raised his hand and got an envelope for his trouble. Not a clue what that was about.

Ties and suit jackets are the calling card of the day, for most of us. There is someone walking around with an untucked shirt, no tie, no jacket, and listening to something on his old-model iPhone. He is also in sneakers with dress pants. Sunglasses dangle from the neckline of his light blue shirt.

There are a few outlet sitters outside the Oceanside Ballrooms trying to charge phones and computers to keep up with the speed of the event. I changed my computer for maximum battery life to avoid running into trouble trying to read through a college thesis on the Racine Belles and their downfall.

The ones who get the big call get messages of good luck and fist bumps before they go off to try their luck at the tables in a boarded off room. Executives file in and out with regularity, most of them dressed business casual with some team or corporate logo adorning their chest or their backpack. The interviewers know they have the control. This is their way of instilling fear in all of us before they dive into picking apart our resume for not meeting their fairly unknown and unrealistic standards for prior experience.

If baseball wants to get young talent in the door, with new ideas and a limited fear of trying something bold and daring, lower the bar for the recent graduates from three to five years of experience to literally anything lower.

I am trading Spongebob and WWE references with a man from New York. It feels like I am back in high school with my friends at lunch.

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Max in a black and red suit ahead of calling a early December 2018 women’s ice hockey game at Conte Forum

BREAK TIME

LAS VEGAS — Around noon, the postings slow down in the big room. The jobs from the early morning are still up, so anyone really could have rolled out of bed around noon and did a mass resume drop for the early jobs and missed exactly zero time compared to the rest of the job seekers.

The job hunters do not have much regard for us. They will call at their convinience, not ours. The waiting room, the food court, the bathroom; if they call, you better pick up the damn phone and act like you are ready to talk to them. Oh, and you better have something to write down the information of where to meet them.

With the passing to the afternoon, it is time to migrate from the waiting room down the hall to eat at a crowded cafeteria with few chairs and fewer friends. At least the rest of the seekers are sympathetic to being the new person without a seat to eat.

Many of the executives are lining up outside and catching up with each other from their seasons that ended in August or September. For all the time baseball teams spend with each other, the connections they may have made from conventions past go off on their seperate ways from December to the next time their teams meet, if they meet at all.

A few of the men have ditched their ties, and now people are trying to organize plans for after the day’s events. In a hotel — nay, RESORT according to Mandalay Bay — where entertainment options are only lacking if you turn on your television, there is plenty to do around here. And if none of the options in their RESORT interest you, walk outside and go literally in any direction to find something to suit your fancy.

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The Las Vegas strip. Photo by Dietmar Rabich via Wikimedia Commons

Magic shows, strip shows, weed, fighting, absurdist shows, and the best people watching East of Los Angeles and West of New York.

The executives need to walk in the same door as the seekers, but the temptation is to avert your eyes, say “sorry” if you are in the way, and hide the required-to-be-worn name badge so they do not see how pathetic you look in submission to their assumed atuthority. These people may hold the key to the doors you wish to walk through, but they have similar stories to a lot of us from what we hear.

“What we hear” is a difficult phrase around these big conventions. It is easy to start a rumor in a place like this with everyone on edge. They only listen to the first minute of your demo tape unlesss they like you, they say. Nobody hires on the day the job is posted, they say. The executives will not hire after the interview even if it is the best they see all day, so we hear. I choose not believe any of it if I cannot verify it myself, or heard it from what I consider to be reliable sources.

At the top and bottom of every single hour, dozens of us rise like clockwork to see what menial positions are posted in tiny towns across America that we will beg and plead on our hands and knees for a chance to hit it big. “I just need to get my foot in the door,” is as common a pharse as the introductory “so, where are you from?”

All for what? To make a miniscule amount of money, eat bad stadium food because it is included in our job, and live with a host family or a bunch of roommates the team assings you? Just like any gambler, the hope lies in the possibility of winning big just once. Just one big win, and I can finally live large like the idols I watched do what I want to do for years before me.

mlb1Minor League Baseball players make minimum wage if they are lucky. People who work the line shift at McDonald’s make more money than someone hitting .300 and smashing 15 homeruns for the local single-A team. The Majors, and even the glimmer of hope they are even possible for the lowliest of professional ball players, are the only light that keeps the Minors going. Community support only goes so far in keeping an eight- or ten-thousand seat stadium full to keep the team afloat financially.

The 2 p.m. posting yielded nothing for the future voices of baseball teams. There will be more jobs for each half-hour, but the teams that need someone to talk for a three-hour commerical every night seem to be few.

Like any drought, there is hope the rain will come and yield fertile ground. Phones dry up with the passing minutes. Minutes turn to hours, and hours turn to days. Maybe it was a bad idea to wear the power suit to the posting day instead of the interview day.

WHAT THEY WON’T TELL YOU

None of the teams commanding broadcaster applications called back today. One person I met from Seton Hall claimed he heard back from a team close to my home in Maryland. For the rest of us, a slient day on job applicant lake, casting fishing line in the hopes that a picky fish will bite back.

Just about everyone who walked into the Oceanside Ballroom who already had a job walked in with an air of arrogance to them. They might not have been trying to, and this may just be the fear seed growing into a treeling, but an outsider glance would peg them as the villains in a movie re-enactment. They dressed more casually, some even wearing that accursed article of comfortable walking shoes: the sneaker. Even with walking through the same entrance way as everyone else, only a few brave souls were bold enough to stop them in their tracks and stuff a resume in their handshake.

Only two teams posted for broadcasters today, bringing the sum total to five out of the entire Minor League system. That is incredibly hard to believe. Out of the nearly 100 teams represented by MiLB, only five are looking for a replacement of one of their radio broadcast team?

Broadcasting jobs run the same way as elected office at most levels: you have to fight to get the job, but once you have it, you have it until you no longer want it, or do something stupid. That “something stupid” encompasses a lot, including but not limited to: any of the #MeToo crimes, something else illegal, or fraternizing with players in an inappropriate manner.

The same woman that had her dad with her knew the broadcaster for a team in the deep south. They play in the same league that she worked in close to her hometown, and he was just wandering around the job fair floor for reasons he never quite identified. He was nice and all, and his business card came in the logo of his employer.

After noon, the postings slowed to a crawl. One or two came out with each half-hour interval, but everyone with “JOB SEEKER” on their laminated pass dutifully checked every board again, even the ones that they saw hours ago and had not changed at all since the morning postings. Trips to that room came with a faint light of hope, and left with the darkeness of reality.

Walking out of the bathroom yielded probably the best conversation of the day. A man stopped me and asked what job I was looking for. “Broadcasting” I replied, hopeful for a flash. He dropped his head and admitted he hoped I would say baseball ops. He helped run a data analytics company, a fancy phrase for math people who make sense of the vast amounts of data baseball can produce any given game. As he went through and described what he did, I knew I would not fit in with that vision, but I had an idea.

I asked if his company did any hockey stats. There are already a plethora of sites that do heat maps for shot attempts, player comparison for Corsi, and “Fun” versus “Boring” metrics for overall excitement in game play, but only at the NHL level. He seemed totally lost on the appetite for advanced numbers in women’s hockey, the sport where I work.

One feature that I cannot get over is the “Remarkable” plug-in for broadcasters. According to him, the software scours the information about a player or team and spits out a “remarkable” stat or analysis point in readable sentences. I am used to doing all that research on my own, often relying on hand-calculated stats and incomplete data to draw anything out of the information my audience already has. Having a computer do it for me would save me headaches when trying to calculate the power-play efficiency of the next team to visit Worcester.

Even though people are largely inclined to be friendly at these events, you need to offer them something to keep their attention beyond the pleasantries. If that is similar work in the line of a video production company at the Trade Show, then be ready to share some stories.

Despite invites to go for drinks with some of the other hopefuls, I opted to crawl back to my room on tired feet and immediately change out of my suit into jeans. School work will not finish itself.

The mere invite “let’s go for drinks” never appeals to me. I live straightedge: I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I dont’ do drugs. Las Vegas is probably the worst city for me to be in.

THE VEGAS MINUTE CLINIC

Water pounded my ear canal trying to clear an earwax blockage bad enough that I needed to sign a waiver for the nurse practitioner to “irrigate” my ears.

While the baseball media rushed to confirm the reports that the Mets, Marlins, and Yankees were somehow involved in a three-way trade for big name players, I was in an Uber that took an illegal U-turn on Las Vegas Boulevard to CVS.

I had ear problems since I got off the plane at McCarron International Airport, and now had some time to address it. The over-the-counter pain and wax dissolving drops from a Sunday morning run to Walgreens were not cutting it. This needed some serious work.

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Slot machines inside Las Vegas’ McCarron International Airport. Photo by Craig Howell via Wikimedia Commons

After filling out complicated insurance forms and reading over the waiver warning me of potentially a punctured eardrum from this procedure, I decided the risk was worth it since I could not hear much out of my left ear anyway.

I have had so many ear infections in my life, the family joke is that I was born with one. Tonight, following a day of no calls, no interviews, no emails, and no hope, I walked past advertisments for Grand Canyon visits, ATV tours of the desert, and a .40 caliber shooting range outside city limits to see what CVS Minute Clinic could do.

Ear irrigation works like this: a thing of hot water is pushed by a machine into your ear canal to break up whatever wax is blocking the view of the eardrum. The machines differ from place to place, but the patient must hold a water catcher under the ear and wear a poncho to avoid splash back onto clothes.

For fifteen minutes, the nurse practitioner used a waterpik like I used when I had braces nearly a decade ago to flood my ear canal with warm water in the hopes of clearing the earwax blockage so she could see my eardrum and judge its infection status. The left ear gave her fits. The wax was built up so thick, only a few chards and kernels came off, not enough to see through. On the right, it took less than one minute to clear the whole thing out. There was, in her judgement, more wax on the right than on the left, but the right was dry and apparently needed a slight bit of water pressure to knock it all free.

The pain was getting so bad on the left, she opted to stop. After writing and filling a perscription for ear canal drops, since that was for sure red enough to warrant something stronger than the cheap stuff in the store aisles, the computer glitched up. My medical file would not close because the computer’s “hyperspace is reaching its resource limits.” Neither of us had ever heard such a phrase used, let alone as a computer error message. It was so rare, she had to get a picture of it.

A quick Google search later and I find out that the phrase is used when the computer is running out of RAM or disk space to store whatever task is going on, and may even lead to the computer force quiting just to stay under that limit. How does a medical facility, small though it was, run out of disk space? Did CVS forget to pay for cloud storage?

Day two of this convention ended up as another waiting day. I keep trying to tell myself not to let the fear get to me. There are other options I can pursue, I remind myself. All else fails, you can return to BU for another semester and figure out the summer later. Besides, law school applications are due soon, and those need to be done if you really want to go.

Knowing how tired I got toward the end of the day, I need to turn in earlier than past midnight. My computer may look like an appealing pillow, but a real pillow will do a better job supporting my already stiff neck and shoulders.

Reading this piece over, I think back to the MLB mission to get more kids involved in the sport. It is a great game for kids to play. Baseball teaches the value of being an individual who is also part of a team effort. The game allows individuality to shine in bright spots, all in pursuit of a team goal. Then again, how does the sport expect to hire new, bright thinkers if the pool is limited to the people who can take 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. off from a Sunday to a Wednesday in mid-December and dress in four days of business formal wear, and those who can afford to travel and lodge themselves at these sorts of conventions in big event cities like Las Vegas?

It is not necessarily fair that only the people who already have a measure of financial privilege, even a limited one, are the ones that can find work in sports. Minor league sports are built on the sandy foundations of the hopes and dreams we carry to find the smallest measure of success, much like Vegas is built on the hopes of anyone looking to strike it rich against stacked odds.

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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