It’s T-12 hours until my flight to Phoenix, Arizona is scheduled to take off. I don’t know whether to be giddy I’m getting away from the mess that Hurricane Sandy has left my East Coast brethren or guilty that I’m not going to have to deal with the inevitable aftermath.
Truth be told, this trip means a lot to me. I am heading to the First Pitch Arizona Fantasy Baseball Symposium put on by Baseball HQ’s Ron Shandler and Rick Wilton. It’s at this event that I first met Rob Leibowitz and Lawr Michaels, some twelve years ago. Jason Grey would be on the list as well though I technically met him earlier that summer at his wedding reception.
If I had to list the top-ten weekends in my life, that first conference would no doubt be front and center. I’m still not exactly sure why, perhaps because Ron advertised the event more, but there was a plethora of fledgling fantasy baseball web sites along with Mastersball and CREATiVE SPORTS that attended the 2000 symposium. Trace Wood of LongGandhi.com, John Mosey of John Mosey Baseball along with Bob Kohm and Byron Cox of Rotojunkies.com were also there.
Jason, Rob, Lawr, Mosey, Trace and I comprised what came to be called “The Evil Panel.” Part of the festivities was a unique auction that was the brainchild of Ron. Instead of the participants tabling names for bid, in essence controlling the flow of the auction, Ron thought it would be interesting if players were instead nominated by an independent panel not participating in the actual bidding. Furthermore, in order to really alter the dynamic of the auction, there was to be a bit of madness to the method of the nomination order. Basically, Ron’s instructions were “I want you to <insert naughty word here> with them.”
So the Evil Panel convened and concocted several schemes to incur the wrath of the unsuspecting participants. The initial irritant was waiting to nominate an upper echelon player. As you know, the early stage of an auction is replete with the better players. Not this time. Part of the majesty of this experiment was not only being unsure of when we would call out a player, but also IF we would do so. The bidders had to decide whether to jump on what appeared to be an early bargain or save their funds for someone they liked, taking the chance we would opt to make him available. If nothing else, waiting to bring out a top player sent the message this was not going to be your normal day at the office.
Some of the participants figured out we were instructed to be bastards, others were downright pissed at us. My role on the Panel was to track the winning bids, announcing the team purchasing the player and the amount. To further the consternation, without even letting my fellow Evil Panelists in on the ploy, I purposely “forgot” or “mispronounced” the names as I called out the winning bids, which further irked some the participants, even putting a couple of teams on tilt. Some other means of tweaking the participants were calling out about twenty injury riddled players in succession then tabling every Pedro in the Majors before finally offering up Pedro Martinez, then the consensus best pitcher, if not best player in fantasy baseball.
The auction took place in three stages and after the second stage, we literally had half the assembled conference members upset with us. Keeping in mind we all were trying to establish web sites and earn credibility and reputations, perhaps we went a bit overboard, but we were only doing as we were told. Fortunately, Ron sensed what was occurring and defused the situation setting the stage for a much more comfortable final stage where we could focus on making sure we were able to fill everyone’s roster within the allotted time. But that didn’t stop us from one last gag, as we had purposely withheld nominating a single New York Yankee, making the participants ponder if the plan was to continue to shun the Bronx Bombers the whole time or save them for the end. The initial plan was to indeed omit the Yankees, but we eventually relented and the last twenty or so names auctioned were Yanks.
As it turned out, doing the Evil Panel ended up being beneficial as by the end, everyone understood this was as much of a laboratory as it was a draft. It was a fantastic way for my fellow panelists and I to get to know some people and in effect put our web sites on their radar. Though, I am pretty sure most of them still think I’m a moron for continually forgetting and mispronouncing their names.
While I have preferred to take a passive approach when it comes to building a reputation and making a name in the industry, I would be lying if I said I was not a little proud about the fact I was the first one of “my crowd” to be asked to speak at and not just attend the conference. I have always sort of relished if not enjoyed playing the role of the trusty sidekick, but it meant a lot to me to be asked to be a speaker before my buddies Jason and Lawr. Of course, we are all now regular speakers and are psyched to finally welcome Brian Walton to the fraternity as he will be participating as well.
There have been many other special personal moments over the past twelve years. Attending the seventh game of the 2001 World Series with Jason is a memory I’ll never forget. Being asked to take John Hunt’s spot in the inaugural XFL draft was a thrill. Having “my own table” at the tenth anniversary symposium was really neat. The set-up was each speaker was assigned to a table and was joined for dinner by a group that wanted to meet him. I am anticipating another very special moment this year as Rick Wilton, who has been battling cancer is expected to make his anxiously awaited return after missing the last couple of years.
Looks like I answered my own question – giddiness trumps guilt.