Fear and Loathing at Winter Meetings: Part 5

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By: Max Wolpoff

GIVING UP

LAS VEGAS – A few of the 500 who started this convention are sitting against the wall outside the waiting room and complaining about coming all this way for absolutely nothing.

Some of the people who have the right credentials on their resumes, one I met from Long Island included, are getting multiple interviews on the third day of this job fair, with her first one resulting in a serious offer. The job would keep her close to home, but she wanted to keep everything open for the rest of the day just in case something else fell into her lap.

As for the quitters, a few are at the slot machines and craps tables with their “JOB SEEKER” badge dangling from their neck. The crowd sitting and waiting is thinning out a little, and it will be close to empty on Wednesday.

At this point, the only people hanging around are the ones naive enough to hope for a call (like myself) and those who have interviews lined up for the rest of the convention.

The baseball media is concentrated in this complex as well, and just about all of them are chasing the same rumors and half-truths about trades and the Rule 5 Draft coming up. Late last night, it broke that Miami and both New York teams were trying to orchestrate a three-way trade. Every insider needed to independently find this information and send their own tweet, even though they would pretty much arrive at the same exact information as whomever had it first and it would save all of us a lot of time if they just retweeted the work of the one who beat them to the scoop.

Today, a few trades and rumblings are rolling through the mobile notifications in the Oceanside Ballroom. Between bouts of complaints and hopelessness and phone calls that offer a blinking flaslight of hope at the end of despair tunnel, we complain that the only trade to happen today was a non-big-name right-handed pitcher going to Pittsburgh.

A film crew from one of the many journalistic outlets is patrolling the entrance and got one interview and a crowd shot before leaving the job fair story to one tall guy who decided to wear a tie today after two days of not doing so. Each and every one of us has a reason for being here and holding out hope, or sitting against the wall outside and giving up the search entirely.

The academic paper I am reading for one of the final papers I need to write before I board the flight back to Boston has a consistent spot where the copier faded the words, making it illegible in parts. There was one great line in the first few pages that I cannot use because of the copying error.

One place in Florida offering some jobs has some pretty bad reviews on their Google Maps page. The people who had bad experiences took out newspaper articles to detail their bad times at this one stadium. The one person who knows someone who interviewed with them said it was about as awkward as it could be.

The only thing giving me much energy is listening to the playlist I made for the week’s festivities. The song as I type this paragraph is “Raining Blood” by Slayer, one of the best and hardest songs to play in Guitar Hero 3 the video game. It took me about 20 tries to finally get it right when I played.

The postings are slowing to a trickle. Some half-hour segments go by with no new sheets of paper with the same bad handwriting offering the same entry-level and low-paying positions.

No phone calls and no emails, but a few of the people I met yesterday got back to my thank you emails from dinner last night. There are fewer and fewer reasons to believe that anything will come of this trek across the country. I have met some cool people, but my fellow seekers will not help me in the immediate setting.

I still have two more nights in this city of sin and excess, and the hope I arrived with is slowly fading into the abyss of a new dark age. Simply sitting in the big ballroom is enough to drive someone without a call, or a hope, to madness.

TALKING SHOP

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Troy Tulowitzki at batting practice. Photo by Arturo Pardivila III via Wikimedia Commons

The Blue Jays cut Troy Tulowitzki while I munched on a breakfast sandwich from the Johnny Rocket’s downstairs in the food court. It is past noon and Champions League soccer is kicking off across Europe. The TVs on display of ESPN, ESPN 2, a local news channel, and CNN are each blasting their own stories, muted, to a crowd.

Main topics of conversation include any free agency or trade news coming out of these meetings a few ballrooms away, our time at school, struggles getting a call, difficulties with the interviews, and just about anything we can find in common with someone who was a stranger mere days ago.

The official lanyards are on display every few tables to make sure we all know who holds the power in Las Vegas. The only people on the level of the casinos themselves right now are eating pizza and Chinese food while drinking out of Starbucks cups in jacket-less, tie-less attire. The women among them, however, are still expected to maintain traditional femininity while discussing batting averages and Sabermetrics with their colleagues. Even though the men have no jackets at lunch break, the women in this small sample size still have their full outfit on. They are so comfortable in their seats of power. The wooden throne may break easily, but it is enough to let them stay there and not challenge them.

New friendships formed in the struggle a short ride up the escalators are coalescing around a shared identity with the game of baseball. Each of us has separate reasons for wanting to be in Sin City for four days, and most of them have the same classic tagline: “I’m just looking for an opportunity.”

While opportunities abound for those with the right lines and buzzwords on their resumes, the rest of us are chained to the idea that the right person will pick up my resume and want to give me a chance to prove myself. Just let me get in front of their face and I can show them who I am.

Lines grow long here around now, since the other major conventions like the rodeo and X-LIVE (I don’t think it is adult entertainment related, but in this city, why not?) are also allowing a break for sustenance at around the same time as postings become null in our job room.

Someone invited me into the Job Fair’s Facebook group chat, and now I can see how people are trying to pass time in Vegas while exchanging tips on interviews. Arrangements for off-resort gambling are abundant in the history of messages, mixed in with a few “watch out for X company/team” advice threads. A few of the social circles are organizing ourselves in packs of support, and assuming an “us or them” mentality. The social groups largely are determined by the table you sat at by chance on the first day, since many of us are such creatures of habit that we keep going to the exact same tables each day. No wonder we want to work in baseball.

I know I should get back upstairs, but the food court has a row of power outlets at the high chair bars. My computer and phone both need a recharge as much as I do. For a convention that knew there would be massive amounts of people on connected devices that need a lot of electricity to last all day, I would hope someone would put two and two together and organize a way to have readily accessible charging stations without needing to sit against the wall with the quitters outside the ballroom. My hope for that, much like the one for a job of some sort, is lost to reality.

The film crew was out at the crossroads of the casino and the convention centers getting an interview with someone while I stood in line and waited for food. It is just about impossible to capture the enormity of such an event in a 90-second news package, even if it is one trade that affects your station’s local market.

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Fear is rising again among the ranks of the hopeful. As fewer jobs are posted with the ticking clock, and the phone remains silent, it is easy to give up and join the quitters along the wall outside or on the casino floor. After all, the bright lights and funny images provide endless entertainment, and you may never leave because there is no clock and no window to know what time it is in these gambling halls.

An API Source reporter is pecking away at a slice of pizza between scrolling and tapping at her phone screen in the chair across from me at the bar. She is eating the pizza with a fork and knife, possibly to avoid getting grease stains on her fingers to be transferred to her phone between bites. Lunch is a necessary intermission to continue her day chasing the latest whispers and rumblings from inside the closed-door meetings. No time for her to talk to anyone about her time here. She is back to work, without eating the pizza crust.

CONSPIRACY TIME

Someone across from me made a serious suggestion of going to any nearby store to buy a wig and a fake set of boobs to apply to become a ball girl for an MLB team. There has been a grand total of 10 postings today, and none since 11 a.m.

While a few people are the lucky ones who get some sort of face time with the executives who wield the power around here, most of us have migrated from waiting room to the food court and back to the waiting room, with a few adventurous ones checking out the free merchandise available at the Trade Show. Just about anything you could imagine at a ball park — from the padding on the walls, the stadium lights, the scoreboard software to run video, to the thin sheets of paper food gets served on, hats and shirts, and various promotional items that almost always draw the eBay crowd to buy tickets, grab the item, and leave — is available at the Trade Show.

I already have my tin foil hat on and I am in full-on conspiracy mode as my phone continues to sit silent. The speakers on day one, the ones who seemed to suck us in and relate to us with their stories of triumph from the job fairs of years past, are now ghosts as they wander the hallways and not help any of us with our chances. The big board with the table assignments for the teams all seem to be busy, but not with any of us.

The sketchy sports complex that has bad Google reviews is currently interviewing one of the people I met, even though the Facebook group chat advised her against taking the offer.

FALbladesOnly one piece of advice, from another broadcaster who did get lucky with an interview today, came and seemed to be helpful: take my name tag off when not in the job fair. He said that we will get more people to talk to us if we look good, and do not have the tag that identifies us as desperate.

The other thing he told me was odd to hear: go to any of the resort bars and see if you can talk to anybody off hours. Grab a drink, shake a few hands, and talk shop without asking for any employment.

Again, this is one of the worst places to be as a straightedge person. His workaround that: order a Coke, get a lime, and pretend it is alcoholic. On appearances, nothing looks out of place. Appearance counts for everything in this business, they say.

How can I be expected to be myself while being just like “the guys” when I have to pretend to blend in and fit in?

Tin foil hat talking here, maybe baseball is not designed to accept new ideas from the job applicant pool. By making a job fair cost close to $300 to register, then factor in the expectation that we all dress in expensive clothing, stay in hotel rooms in an expensive city to stay in, and how teams are only looking for people who have the bank account to support themselves in a low-paying job for at least a few years while trying to make it to the Majors, baseball will never change. The prospective clientele basically looks like, was raised like, and thinks like the people tasked with hiring the same sorts of voices in their boardrooms.

How are any of us from the outside world expected to break the walls down and inject some serious creativity to a sport desperate to draw more fans to the ballpark, TV, and radio channels that carry those games with such a system in place?

The waiting room is basically a quarter-full, compared to yesterday at the same 3:22 p.m. clip when it was about 90 percent full and chatty with spirit.

Turns out, the woman here with her dad barely sees him since he lives pretty far away from the rest of the family. He decided that he would join his daughter so that they might spend some time together, since he hardly gets to visit home anymore. So, why buy a job seeker pass? Just to be emotional support, she tells someone loud enough that I can hear her a table away.

With some insistence, I allowed a fellow job seeker to read Part 4 of this series. I am of the belief that he enjoyed it because we are pretty much in the same boat this week. My series speaks to the fellow applicant who did not succeed at Winter Meetings, which are most of us, I suspect. The executives who interviewed a select few of us will probably not enjoy their characterization of hope sellers and arrogant bad dressers. I will not apologize for that.

One of the people I met on day one of this convention is so discouraged, he may not show up for the last day at all. An interview he lined up for later today got called off because the interviewer had “other things come up,” which I think is code for “I hired someone else.”

Another person, who told me she never graduated college and did pretty much everything she was ever asked to do for her home town team when she worked for them, is sitting across from our table right now unwinding from a day of interviews.

We have all been lied to about what is important. Education does not matter, and neither does knowing that professor who sends people here every year to get jobs. Your references will not matter, your demo tape will not matter, and neither will those photography samples you spent hours editing and laminating. Your resume can be as rudimentary and simplistic as a name, phone number, and a bulleted list of things you can do. As long as that list includes selling skills, and a willingness to live in shoddy housing with a limited budget, you might just get hired.

Fear has sunk in. I am now of the belief that travelling here was a waste of time and money, better spent sitting in my apartment writing the school work I should be working on instead of writing this rolling blog. This is more fun, though, and allows me a chance to scream in a socially acceptable way without drawing attention to myself.

OFF THE STRIP

Given how frustrated the insides of a Vegas strip resort made me the last few days, it was time to get out of the area entirely for at least one night.

I found a hibachi place comfortably enough away from the lights that they were barely visible in the night sky when I got out of the Uber that took me there. The Indian man who drove had been to D.C. to see the sights in 2013. I had to sadly inform him that things were very different around my home city since that time.

Driving along the road, there are billboards for personal injury lawyers, a giant “WELCOME MAX” with a picture of new Golden Knight Max Pacioretty, and a video board outside of a strip club advertising for their “IN-HOUSE PORN STAR PERFORMING EVERY NIGHT” screaming out into the desert air for customers.

The same injury lawyer who sponsors the penalty kill at Golden Knights games is in every few ads on local TV. There are many firms like his advertising for slips and falls, car accidents, insurance claims, and almost any way one could get hurt.

It still feels odd to sit at the bar and wait to be seated for dinner when the hockey and basketball games are mostly done for the day.

The only options on TV at the bar are the rodeo in a nearby stadium and the Tyson vs. Douglas fight from February 11, 1990 in Tokyo, Japan. I opted for the old boxing, since that is a sport I understand slightly.

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Photo by Octal via Wikimedia Commons

Douglas ended up winning this fight, and it mostly did nothing to stop Mike Tyson’s fame. He eventually won back the heavyweight title and his legacy catapulted to the superstardom he would achieve later. Tyson was a lot more than a man with a face tattoo and a lisp that had a role in The Hangover.

We sat at the corner of the hibachi table with a large family. The menu offered a basic hibachi meal for about seven dollars, and you could add protein options from there with prices dependent on the add-on. Chicken was the cheapest addition at about five dollars, and Kobe beef steak coming in at a whopping $49. Forty-nine dollars? Does it sing and dance upon delivery? Does it hit a fadeaway jump shot like that other Kobe?

Choosing three of the non-premium options triggered a special discount, so I did that, even if I was not that hungry. Truth be told, at $31, it was the cheapest dinner I have had in the city so far.

I am writing this last part while watching the new CBS show FBI. Even though it has pretty much the same formula as other crime shows already on TV, the plot of this episode is intriguing enough to draw my attention away.

The eldest of the family, Gayle and Jim, sat closest to me. They informed me they were from a town in Illinois midway between Chicago and St. Louis, Missouri. Two of Gayle’s children were at the table as well, one with his wife and the other without. The one without had his son there, who was there with his girlfriend celebrating her birthday.

They seemed to enjoy hearing about the struggles of finding work at the Baseball Winter Meetings in a way that evoked sympathy. I was more interested in hearing about Gayle’s grandson graduating from the Police Academy and stressing out over his speech for tomorrow morning. He texted draft sections of the speech to her last week while sitting with friends at a Golden Knights game so grandma could type it into a computer and email to his superiors for approval. I did not ask if it was the Caps’ visit or the Blackhawks’ visit.

Jim told me about how I needed to visit Wrigley Stadium at some point, and how he tried to enlist in the army. Twice. The first time, he failed the color blindness test. The second time, the night before his final test, his appendix burst. If not for us being in a public setting, he may have showed me the scar from surgery.

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It reminded me of my Anatomy and Physiology class during my senior year of high school. The public-school system gave us those color blindness tests, then an imaginary family to predict the chance the children had of being color blind. The reason it was an imaginary family and not our actual family came due to a scenario from years prior where a girl found out she was colorblind from these tests, and (since colorblindness is carried by the male sex gene) was told “oh, your dad must be colorblind.” She responded no.

You can imagine right now that this is problematic. It may have just been revealed that her “dad” was not really her dad. Turns out, though, that dad was indeed colorblind and just didn’t realize it. Phew.

The news does not come on for another hour, so it is on to The Rookie because I cannot seem to get enough bad crime TV. This is more like the crime shows I grew used to watching over the years. There is even a product placement on the back of the telephone in the office.

Our hibachi chef opted to wait until we all got our meals to toss us shrimp pieces to catch with our tongues. We went nine-for-thirteen in catching the cut-up bits. In my time frequenting hibachi establishments, no party ever did that well until tonight.

Perhaps the reason there are so many personal injury lawyers is that people in this city drive like lunatics. I thought Boston drivers were bad, but this tiny desert city has some of the worst drivers around, and none of them have been my Uber or Lyft drivers. Lyft, also, charges more than Uber for the same-ish ride.

My driver back, a Serb, was dealing with a 22-month-old daughter at home. He has lived in the Vegas area for fifteen years, he told me. By the time I changed into pajamas to watch predictable TV drama and bad ads, I knew I needed more sleep than last night. For whatever reason, I woke up twice prior to my 6:15 a.m. alarm.

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Photo by Max Wolpoff

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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