By: Max Wolpoff
WAKING UP IN SWEATS
LAS VEGAS – If any member of the baseball media were to walk into the waiting room and ask any of us for our story, we would provide a more compelling narrative than the rat tail chasing they actually do outside the boardrooms of the 200 to 300 trusted baseball men (and a few women).
Every whisper sparks a tweet, a tweet starts a rumor, and a rumor becomes a story faster than anyone can say “I was kidding.” Within a few minutes of hearing somebody say anything on the convention floor, in the Trade Show, on the escalator or elevator, or on any of the four camera set-ups that I have seen dot the resort, information is spread to every corner of the Internet.
Someone I met picked up a phone call from a New Mexico number thinking it was a team, only to realize it was enrollment for the Affordable Care Act insurance program. Again, just call your friend if they end up at this sham of a job fair. It would send them into a tizzy.
With 500 or so of us at this job fair, on top of the regular applicants that come in online from the people who could not make it to Las Vegas for whatever reason, the teams claim they are overwhelmed with the load of resumes. Even with the dearth of applications, the tables are just about empty on the final day of this job fair. The MLB teams are going to decide the fate of a few hundred prospects in the Rule 5 Draft later tomorrow, one of the hardest things to explain about baseball. I can count on my fingers and toes the people sitting in the waiting room at 8:46 a.m.
If any of these teams interrupt my Christmas dinner to ask me where I see myself in five years, I may just yell back that they should have asked me that when they had a chance to do so in person.
One-hit-wonder Daniel Powter is playing on the speakers with “You Had a Bad Day,” the unofficial song of the job fair for most of us.
Waking up today, the local NBC affiliate ran an updated story on the city of Oakland suing the Raiders and the NFL for “illegally” moving to Las Vegas, putting their home stadium for the 2019 season in jeopardy. The sunrise was the best it has been the whole week.
Honestly, as soon as I woke up, I surrendered to the reality that I will not receive a single call for an interview today. Instead of sitting in the waiting room and sulking, I have an appointment with the Mandalay Bay spa for an aroma massage. Never had it before, and I have no idea what I am getting into, but may as well try something new in my time here. The concierge asked if I wanted a male or female masseuse, and I said I had no preference.
An executive from a MiLB team in Florida just walked in with a team jersey and jeans. A power move, for sure.
A fellow seeker stopped me on my way back in from the bathroom and asked me how it was going. “Discouraging,” I replied. I let him in on my conspiracy theory, and turned down his offer to take his extra ticket for the big Gala tonight in fear that I would dress down every executive there for the frauds they are in orchestrating a whole event for them to laugh at us.
That is how discouraging not getting a phone call can be. Then again, for those of us who do end up getting calls and offers, we need to weigh the chance to gain a season of work experience with needing to survive on less than minimum wage for four or five months in a city we have never been to.
The same man in the bowler hat from a few days ago proudly announced he was offering free sales advice at a table in the waiting room to anyone who wanted it. He even had a baseball nickname to go along with his perceived authority.
We are discussing various gambling strategies and the exorbitant ATM fees for withdrawing cash to gamble. Seven dollars to take cash out? The man across from me made eight dollars by switching from machine to machine on penny slots after he made about 30 cents per machine, so he broke even.
A section of the wall separating us from the interview room fell down around 10:10 a.m., taking the middle states from the Dakotas and Minnesota south to Texas and Louisiana off the map of America displaying the teams represented by the Minors. It took a few minutes for two people to care enough to prop up the fallen wall against where it once stood.
THE MYSTERY MAN
I was hitting the bottom of the pit with the passing minutes. In an only partial joke, I asked a new arrival at the table if she wanted to participate in a violent revolution against the powers-that-allegedly-be in the interview room. She laughed it off and declined.
Maybe a total of 60 job seekers filed in out of the 500 or so we started this week with. An empty “Wednesday” section of the job board welcomed them at 9, 9:30, 10, 10:30, and 11 a.m. Some that I had met were already in the air or on the road to go home in this, the final day of sitting around and waiting for a non-existent call to come.
Midway through one of my many fear-based ramblings this morning, a fellow broadcaster walked through the double doors with someone else. He comes right to me, taps my shoulder, leans in to my bum left ear, and says “come with me.” Why? “There’s someone you need to meet.”
He was right. The man we met was a broadcaster for a single-A team, but also grew up a county away from me in Maryland. He never got much help when he came to Winter Meetings in our shoes, and wanted to bring some transparency to this convoluted process. One line, which would have saved me a lot of time if I heard it any sooner, was “It [hiring] won’t happen in the interviewing” for broadcasters.
He seemed to know every current broadcaster for every team within the MiLB system, and how to contact the hiring people with each team, as well as a “scouting report” on just about all of them. This entire meeting felt like that scene in a movie where the protagonist is down and out, staring at seemingly impossible obstacles and wanting to throw in the towel and do something else, then the magic man comes along and offers some piece of information that changes the whole scenario in a deus ex Machina sort of way. It reminded me of season four of Yu-Gi-Oh (the 4Kids version) where nothing made any sense, and the way the writers dug out of the plot hole was to bring in some previously unheard-of element into the story to resolve everything.
Then he left with a handshake, disappearing into the floodlights of the convention center.
I finally surrendered and said my goodbyes around 11:30 a.m. to the few people I came to appreciate spending time with as the job fair went on. There were the usual “let’s keep in touch” and “let me know how things go” pleasantries from the jaded and confused crowd of prospective employees. Opting to get as far away from this hallowed hall as possible, I walked the floor of the casino by where MLB Network filmed, past the too-expensive Pete Rose autograph exhibit, and to a small Irish-ish pub for fish and chips. I needed to get away, clear my head, and ponder what the last six days were all about.
I left the job fair with nothing but business cards and a few new Facebook friends. Sitting in the waiting area for long hours and incessantly blogging my angry thoughts into WordPress drafts did not help my cause. The few applications I did send in may never be seen, which frustrates me the most of all the things I saw this weekend. I will save the big advice about this weekend for a different day, allowing all the lessons to gel into memories and phrases that generate simple sentences, rather than the running thoughts you read here.
With that said, I will allow this piece to guide you: if you have not taken a business class in learning how to sell, this convention will frustrate you. The people with business education or business skills or both ended up the big winners – even if an internship with team-provided housing and no pay is the job you got after 100 resume drops. These teams want to make money, and anyone who can help them do that is a shoe-in for face time in the interview room.
There is a certain amount of jealousy in hearing someone else’s phone buzz a few times a day while mine sits dead as a rock next to my running-out-of-battery computer. Then again, if I got to know that person answering a call for an interview, I am genuinely excited for that person. Fist bumps, high fives, and a few “you got this” messages of good luck are from the heart, even if I will return to work minutes later and rail about not getting anything.
If this convention was about meeting other job seekers and having stimulating conversations regarding the biggest topics in baseball, this was a successful few days. If this convention was about getting a job and finding broadcasting work for the upcoming baseball season, this was a flat failure, and possibly a step backward in personal development.
My opinions on this weekend may change over time. I may look back on these few days in Las Vegas as the best decision ever because it steered me somewhere meaningful later on. As of this exact moment, 1:28 p.m. on December 12, 2018, that is not how I view this job fair. If someone who also attended reads this and thinks I am a sore loser for spouting on for nearly 15,000 words by this point about not getting a job because they “did everything right,” that is a fair criticism. I will point out, though, that my experience here at Mandalay Bay is entirely shaped by the work I was looking for and the process as it was explained to me. Remember, I opted to forego the advice guides on this weekend and have as raw an experience as possible to get as close to the bone of truth as I could bite. To my own mental detriment, I think I succeeded.
AUTOMATED LYFT AND AN ANNIVERSARY
Following a much-needed relaxation trip through the resort spa, I was finally calm enough to rationally ponder what to do with my existence in the sports world. Realizing after doing some homework that I could not accomplish that on an empty stomach, I needed to find dinner. I knew the big Gala was happening here. Time to go back to Caesar’s to see that Italian spot I had been told about.
Even though I knew Lyft was more expensive in this city, I tried it first. “Would you like to try a self-driving car?” the app queried. Now this was a first. I knew about the advancement of artificial intelligence to the point where cars could now drive long distances without a human operator at the controls, but one for passenger pick-up seemed straight out of The Jetsons. I now had to wait a few extra minutes and pay a little more, but I figured I may not get this chance for a long time.
The Lyft app told me to go to the hotel main entrance, which is strange because the rideshare pick-up zone is one floor below the main entrance. Taxis and limousines have the top floor for pick-ups, while rideshares get to do drop-offs on the main level. Turns out, I would have been right to go to the basement level with the others riding Uber or Lyft, but the app said “MAIN ENTRANCE.”
Anyway, I happen upon a white BMW with cameras and sensors visible underneath the side mirrors, a driver and a passenger, the latter with a computer propped on his lap and his seat pretty far back. Getting in, there were two monitors: one at the front dashboard displaying the car in space and the objects around it as colored lines and bars. The word at the top center of the screen read “MANUAL.” Between the back row and front row was a monitor displaying my name and destination: Ceasar’s Palace.
The man in the passenger seat welcomed me, explained that I was not allowed to take any pictures or video while inside the vehicle, asked me to strap in, and gave a quick overview of the opt-in program they had with Lyft. This was my last chance to refuse to be chauffeured by a computer, but I was feeling adventurous.
The two men operate the car while on private property, but once we got onto Las Vegas Boulevard, the “MANUAL” changed to “AUTO” and the future arrived. The car had a display for the lights up ahead, changing from green to yellow to red in sync with the city’s traffic signals. It stopped a safe distance from the car in front when approaching the red light. It accelerated with surprising ease when the light changed to green.
The passenger did most of the talking while the driver’s hands hovered over the automatically moving steering wheel. The drivers on the boulevard of broken dreams (that was a joke) still do not let the self-driving car change lanes, he said, even though the car automatically turns on its turn signal when the navigation says for it to move into another lane. He told me about the top two levels of the five levels of automation. The highest level — his company’s eventual goal — is a car that can drive and navigate without any human assistance. This car was at level four, mostly operable by computer intelligence, but with a human override in case of an unexpected pedestrian running in front of the car.
I had long been a skeptic of the self-driving car movement within the technology world. These cars seem to me like giant computers prime to be hacked by some foreign governmental authority and sabotaged. “Sorry, officer, someone hacked my car and drove it right into Old Man Jenkins, I swear I didn’t do it.”
I once presented an idea to one of my classes of basically merging the rideshare world with the auto-driving world and having a city “order your ride” service to take away private cars from everyone. Admittedly, I did not think that idea through very well, mostly because I forgot we had to do it until 15 minutes before class started. I scrambled in my brain to find anything, and that was the first idea I hit on.
For a 15-minute ride down one street, this was a change of heart. I might just be willing to give the automation thing a try. Currently, the program is only available through Lyft in Las Vegas, and can only take you to and from destinations on the strip.
When asked by the post-ride survey what I would want displayed on the navigation tablet, I asked for a cable television-capable tablet with live sports. Think about how awesome that would be to watch the Bruins vs. Canadiens or Patriots vs. Dolphins while you go from the apartment to the bar because you were late getting out the door due to your pre-game ritual that has no actual value except for your own self-esteem? The question asked me to think big, and Lyft got my biggest request.
In cleaning out and packing up from nearly a week away from my Boston apartment, I found the snack bag I got on the first day. The candies inside made for a serviceable dessert, while the “SAVE THE DATE” for next year’s Winter Meetings in San Diego, California fell out of the same bag. Yeah, right.
The focus now turns to getting on the plane and maximizing five hours in the clouds knowing that I lose three hours due to the time zone change going back East. I still need to finish the papers I brought with me to be handed in by early next week, but the information is copied into paper form, making things easier to handle when in-flight Wi-Fi is not a guarantee.
A brief word about what happened two years ago today that still gives me pause about my career. Two days following completely losing my voice on an overtime game-winner for BU’s women’s hockey team, I walked into my journalism class to take my final exam. It was Monday morning, around 11:30 a.m. I put my phone to silent when I got in, took the exam, and walked out around 1:00 p.m. to put my headphones in and walk back to my dorm in the Bay State Road Towers. It had been a long week, and I wanted to hear some Killswitch Engage. Barstool Sports had other ideas.
Prior to coming to BU, I had never heard of Barstool except in its use as a means by which to sit at a bar. I was comfortable that I had enough sources for sports information, and let Barstool exist outside of my periphery. On that fateful day, Barstool thrust itself into my life.
I had clipped the winning goal call and posted it on my personal Soundcloud page on Sunday. I was proud that I finally got to call a big-time game-winner, and for the home team in a huge upset no less. Maybe two people were listening live to the Mixlr link for WTBU Sports on Saturday. Someone, I do not know who nor do I know how, matched up the video of the goal from the Internet broadcast with my audio. The video already had a few thousand views on Instagram and plenty of comments by the time I got around to turning my phone back on. I had four missed calls, a few dozen Twitter alerts, some Facebook and Instagram tags, and “ANSWER YOUR DAMN PHONE” texts from my brother.
What I hoped would be a normal Monday for me morphed into staring in awe as outlets one-by-one found the video, saw it was doing well, and just had to ask me for permission to use the audio. I got interview requests from hockey blogs. The producer of a show on MLB Network clandestinely reached out on Twitter to book me as a secret caller to surprise host Matt Vasgersian, who apparently loved the video when he saw it. My favorite podcast, The Steve Dangle Podcast, actually used my call on their first show that week.
I could barely study for my exams with the phone buzzing at near-regular intervals with someone else needing to congratulate, lampoon, or insult me. Two years after, I still remember every word of that call. It is a frequent joke among family. My grandfather on my mom’s side asked me the first time I saw him when I came home for the break, “so Max, when you’re calling a game, how come you don’t show more emotion?”
Now, I tell people to Google me because I know they will get a kick out of hearing 20-year-old me freak out live on the radio because BU just beat the No. 2 team in the country thanks to a goal from their captain, Natalie Flynn, who had not scored a goal in over a year prior to that night. Whenever I do this, I briefly become “the I didn’t do it kid” from that early years episode of The Simpsons when Bart gets famous for a hot second. There is a body of work to back up my claim that I am good at what I do, but this one play will live with me forever no matter what I do.
Look at the time! I leave this city in less than 12 hours, and most of that time will be spent sleeping once I force myself to stop typing nonsense into a WordPress draft. Maybe this whole enterprise will make sense by the time it ends, or it will just sit and fester as a bottom-less pit of maybes and what-ifs. The only way to truly find out is to call it quits for the night and allow the sun to rise in another few hours. A new day brings fresh perspective.