From execs to ground crews, the men behind the MLB
Away from the clickety-clack of laptops and BlackBerries in the media workroom and the frenzy of trades and news conferences, the 30th annual Baseball Winter Meetings Awards Luncheon quietly took place on Monday. Well, at least as quietly as something attended by more than 1,200 people and Florida Governor Charlie Crist can be. This two-hour luncheon honors men and women at every level of major and minor league baseball, from executives to scouts to the grounds crew. It's the kind of event you don't hear about because you've never heard of many of these people. It's not sexy or glamorous. It's not about free-agent signings or blockbuster trades. Pardon me for getting schmaltzy, but without the hard work and dedication of everybody honored (and everybody in the room), the great game of baseball we love simply couldn't happen.
I was able to talk my way into the event (I can be very persuasive) and had a chance to witness the festivities firsthand. As luck would have it, I was even able to find an extra seat at the table of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. (Best nickname ever? Best nickname ever.) I sat next to the Squirrels' charismatic COO, Todd "Parney" Parnell, who might be the greatest character in baseball. His running commentary and insight into the ins and outs of minor league baseball was entertaining, informative and hilarious.
Crist made an appearance and welcomed everybody to the winter meetings. Crist, whose first job out of law school was general counsel of minor league baseball, thanked baseball for the economic benefits it brings to the Sunshine State. Professional baseball brings in more than $1 billion annually to Florida's economy. In his remarks, which lasted approximately five minutes, Governor Crist used the phrase "Sunshine State" six times, failing to reach the over/under, which we set at 10. For those who inquired as to whether Crist was tan, it was hard to tell; I was too enraptured with his gorgeous silver coif. His hair is so intimidating that longtime baseball executive Roland Hemond took the podium moments later to introduce the Scouts of the Year Awards and quipped that he might need to see Crist's barber for a new haircut.
The highlight of the luncheon was Baseball America's Organization of the Year Award, which went to the San Francisco Giants. With this honor, the Giants join the 2003 Florida Marlins as the only teams to win both the World Series and the Organization of the Year Award in the same year. The Giants were recognized for their ability to draft and develop young talent such as Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum, as well as for winning this year's World Series. Giants representatives graciously acknowledged everybody throughout the organization, including longtime general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy.
Here are some of the other highlights of the 2010 luncheon:
• Joe Bauman Trophy: This award went to the minor league baseball home run leader, Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals. He doesn't look like a slugger at 5-foot-11, 230 pounds, but he can hit the baseball a long way.
• Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year Award: This award went to Sharon Ridley of the Nashville Sounds, the Milwaukee Brewers' Triple-A affiliate. Sharon's official title is office manager, but she does much more for the team and, in her 23rd year, is the franchise's longest tenured employee. I had a chance to sit down with Sharon after the luncheon; keep an eye on espnW for that post later this week.
• 2010 Sports Turf Managers of the Year Awards: These awards recognize excellence in turf management and grounds keeping at five different levels: short season/rookie (Tommy Tamasko, Gulf Coast Phillies); Single-A (Chris Ball, Myrtle Beach Pelicans); Double-A (Shaun Meredith, New Hampshire Fisher Cats); and Triple-A (Scott Strickland, Durham Bulls). Chris Ball of Myrtle Beach has won the award five years in a row. "He's the Jimmie Johnson of sports turf managers," said Parney of the Flying Squirrels.
• Longtime baseball executive Roland Hemond (currently special assistant to the general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks) presented the three Scouts of the Year awards to Murray Cook (Detroit Tigers), Tom Davis (Atlanta Braves) and Mike Roberts (St. Louis Cardinals).
• Baseball America's Bob Freitas Organization Awards: Named in honor of the longtime minor league ambassador, these annual awards recognize the top minor league teams at the Triple-A, Double-A, Single-A and short-season levels. The awards go to franchises that are "on a path of long-term excellence and true parts of their communities." This year's awards went to the Louisville Bats (Triple-A), Corpus Christi Hooks (Double-A), Lynchburg Hillcats (Single-A) and Idaho Falls Chukars (short season/rookie).