DFA: A BLOG ABOUT LIFE ON THE BASEBALL MARGINS: December 6, 2007
Live From Nashville - Our Man Ric Grieff Submits His Second Post
Here I am in Nashville, at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, so sprawling that’s it’s like an airline hanger with potted palms or a humongous glassy mall with Delta river boats, a waterfall and some cornball “Country Christmas” show that actually had Jesus in overalls and Santa riding some bucking bronco. I heard they had to give maps to the guests to help them find their rooms.
But it’s where the action is, where the major league baseball Winter Meetings are being held this year, and where everybody – team execs, agents, PR flacks, the media and a few of us players – meets to schmooze, talk trade, promote their products or in the agents’ case, their clients and get loaded. As one writer put it, “It’s a lot like a huge singles bar, only instead of girls there are GM’s.”
Everybody but me. I’m here because, frankly, I’m looking for a job. Hoping to catch on as some team’s AAA catcher and who knows, maybe even get called up to the Show when their first three or four catchers on the depth chart go down with torn hammies, broken wrists and steroid suspensions.
This hotel has a million lobbies, and it’s easy to get lost, like I did this morning. (My sense of direction sucks anyway, and teammates used to razz me that I wouldn’t know where home plate was if the third base coach didn’t point to it.) I thought I was headed into the main conference room, but when I got inside, everybody was wearing, like, King Arthur unis and metal chest protectors. Some bozo wearing Coke bottle glasses inside his armor helmet comes up to me and says, “Good morrow, my lord. Thouest a strapping lad.” I thought he was some gay guy coming on to me, so I slugged him. Turns out he was there for the “Medieval Quest” computer game convention and was just, like, acting like a nerd from back in the day.
Anyway, I apologized to the dude, but by then two guys dressed like Harry Potter dragged me out of the place while hitting me with their wizard sticks. What was I thinking? Why would Pat Gallick, Scott Boras and Peter Gammons all be wearing leotards? I mean, the dude still could’ve been gay – although I’m not sure if there were gay dudes back in those kingly days. (Maybe they had their own table, you know, behind the Round Table.) Even if they didn’t, this guy could’ve been like a modern day gay dude dressed up like a Middle-Age dude.
Still, I was out of line. I admit it. I guess I’m just on edge, with my situation being so up in the air. But then, I’ve always been a scrapper. O.K., that’s not really true. I hate scrappers and hustlers. I always told myself that no matter what I did, I would not become one of those hustlers. I would sink or swim on my own mediocre-ness. That’s how I got to be on the verge of being in the Show.
Turns out I was on the wrong floor, but I found the Winter Meetings eventually. I was stopped by a security guard who asked me who I was. I told him that I was Rick Grieff and that I was a ballplayer, but he said my name wasn’t on the list. I lied and told him I was a major leaguer who played for Pittsburgh. I mean, heck, nobody knows who’s on that team anyway. Probably not even their GM, to judge from some of the moves they’ve made.
The guard wasn’t impressed. “I’m a hoops guy,” he said and turned me away. Luckily, I found a name tag on the ground. It belonged to a minor league bunting instructor named Ozzie Santangelo. So once I snuck inside, I had to constantly keep correcting people who, you know, read my name tag and called me “Ozzie.” I had a nervous moment when a couple of guys – scouts from the Texas Rangers, they said they were – swore that they knew Ozzie because he, like, worked for them, and were, like, “you’re not him.” I immediately made like I was laying down a beautiful drag bunt and running down the first base line and away from them. Although I never actually met Ozzie, I remembered hearing somewhere along the line that was Ozzie’s signature move whenever he wanted to avoid somebody. He’d just lay one down and keep on trucking. So that’s what I did! LMBOTOM! (Laughed My Behind Off to Myself).
So I split and blended into a sea of white guys – the older ones in their 50s and 60s with receding hairlines and comb-overs, the younger ones with receding hairlines and goatees. A lot of the execs were wearing light-colored sports jackets, like beige and cream, with open collars. Stuff you’d find at Burlington Coat. And too many had on those string ties, spangled denim shirts and Western hats. Regular rhinestone cowboys.
The few players who were there, for various reasons – to accept an award at the BA dinner or because they lived nearby and wanted some face time with their agent – dressed better, designer head to toe with serious bling. Although some of the blacks and Latinos insisted on wearing PhatFarm-kinda stuff. You know, baggy everything and baseball caps. To establish their street cred.
The agents dressed best of all – they wore their power in custom-tailored suits and Swiss watches. I saw Scott Boras palavering with some GM, a phone book-sized folder under his arm full of stats about one of his clients, maybe Andruw Jones. I could fit all my stats on the back of a matchbox.
I wore my best suit. It’s an Armani, but not a Giorgio. It’s by his younger brother, Emporio. Nice looking suit, though, black with silver pinstripes. I wore it on the plane, and a good thing, too, as the rest of my luggage got lost on the way from the airport to my digs. I couldn’t afford to stay at the Gaylord, where rooms were going for $400 a night, so I booked a room at the Buck Owens Buckaroo Motor Lodge a few miles from the Gaylord. (Needless to say I couldn’t afford the Gaylord, where rooms were going for $400 a night, but which was O.K. because I had my portable DVD player that I carried around with me wherever I went, and I could play my New Age tapes like “Tropical Paradise,” that if you could listen to it without nodding off, really made you imagine you were in a tropical paradise instead of a lousy motel room with plasterboard walls, a ratty foam mattress and a stale mint on your pillow.)
I scanned the room for people I knew, which wasn’t many, and in between handed out my business card:
Have Mitt, Will Travel
Backstop for Hire
and a copy of my DVD that’s a highlight reel of my career. Big hits, great plays, me congratulating the winning pitcher or, more often, the closer. It lasts six and a half minutes. And it includes some stuff from Little League that my aunt shot.
I met scouts, junior execs, a few beat reporters – sadsacks on perpetual deadline with rumpled corduroys and circles under the bags in their eyes – except for some dude who writes for the Denver paper and wears a ten-gallon cowboy hat and alligator boots with silver spurs, some radio guys (mostly Jews and Italians except for this one young Indian guy who unless I missed something his first name was Sweeney) and a couple of babes (more on them a bit further down). They all got my highlight reel.
I gave my last copy to a guy who looked young enough to be like my younger brother, but who turned out to be the Indians’ assistant GM. He glanced at it, then said, “Who’s your rep?”
“I’m in between agents at the moment. Trying to consider all my options.”
“Do you have a website?”
“Anything on YouTube?”
“No,” I said. “But I know you’re a little short in the catching department.”
“Where’d you hear that?”
“Don’t you worry about us,” he said. “We’ll be fine.” As he walked away, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Nic Lubinsky, a catcher I had played against in the Pioneer League a couple years back, buttonhole the same exec and stuff a copy of his highlight DVD into the Cleveland exec’s jacket pocket. I realized how sad-assed he looked and felt a knot in my stomach.
I went to the bar and ordered a Coke and caught the eye of an Asian chick who wasn’t no Lucy Lu – she wore geek glasses for one thing – but looked really sharp and professionally sexy in a black cocktail dress that fit her petite figure just right.
“You like country music?” I asked. I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“It’s O.K.,” she said.
“I’m more into New Age,” I said. “You know, ocean waves, the pan flute guy, monks playing tinkling bells.” (I’m a kind of tense guy, living on the edge and all, and the stuff relaxes me.)
She nodded absently.
“I’m not sure if that’s part of their monk training, or whether you have to know how to play the bells to get a monk tryout.”
“Speaking of tryout, I gotta be honest with you. When it comes to women, I’m a little rusty. So I wondered if you could, well, help me tune up.” I didn’t know what I was saying.
“I mean, you know, we all have these animal urges and most of the time we have to, you know, push them down because you know, nothing would get done if everybody was always…you know.”
She got up. “Excuse me.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s the alcohol talking.”
“Maybe you should tell it to shut up,” she said with an 8.0 perfect smile, and walked away, across the room, ending up on the arm of the Cleveland assistant GM, who I found out later was her husband.
I decided to duck out early. I had run out of DVDs and was bushed from the flight in. I had to make two layovers, from Sarasota, Florida, where I’m currently living (and where the White Sox spring train), to New Orleans, to Charleston, to Nashville. Besides I saw some MLB suits conferring with a couple of security guys and shooting menacing looks in my direction.
But on my way out I thought I heard a couple of big-time execs whose pictures I recognized from Baseball America say they were going to some country-and-western club called Cry in Your Beer. The last thing I saw was Tommy LaSorda back-slapping Jesus.
It took me 20 minutes to find my car, a rented Geely, which is a Chinese budget-priced model that I found out later wasn’t even officially allowed into the U.S.. I asked directions from a valet, and soon found a neon sign on the highway that read: “Cryin’ in Your Beer.” I figured it was the joint the suits mentioned, but the place was a dive and probably a biker bar, judging from the row of Harleys parked outside.
Every guy in the joint seemed to be wearing a plaid farmer shirt and dungarees – not jeans. Many of them had trucker hats and long beards – “Talibans,” we called them on my last Midwest League team. (We were the Great Lakes Loons, and the name fit.) The women had big, pouffy hair and so many layers of makeup, you’d need a hammer and chisel to find their real skin. This was the bushes, alright, and my Emporio made me feel like a city slicker.
Still, I thought I might impress somebody by dropping that I was a pro ballplayer here for the Winter Meetings. I tried it with a blonde at the bar, but she didn’t respond, and it hung in the air like a stale fart. Then a bunch of people started line-dancing, which is a sure sign that it’s time to hit the road.
Back at the motel I brought in some Arby’s and I was looking forward to watching an adult video – no, I’m not ashamed to admit it. Remember: Watching porn is safe sex. It was called, well lets just say it was a spoof of Lord of the Rings, except the rings the male actors in this film wore didn't go around their fingers, on their toes or through their noses. What's that leave? You can figure it out. But when I put it in the player I was shocked to see myself on the tape. Don’t get the wrong idea: I have never appeared in an adult film. “I was looking at my highlight reel. Which means that I must’ve given out the Lord of the Other Rings movie to somebody at the meetings – somebody who held his destiny and who knows what else in his hand.” .
I couldn’t believe it. I got really depressed, knowing that some VIP might be popping my DVD into his PC and thinking I’m some sort of perv. I started to get really depressed, and then I got relieved when I realized that they would probably just toss the DVD in the trash.
To pick up my spirits, I popped in the only DVD that’s always been a sure cure for the blues and much better than porn: “Tom Emansky’s ‘Mechanics of the Major League Catcher.’”