It's not a well-known fact but baseball's winter meetings are about much more than just bored sportswriters hanging around a hotel lobby waiting hours for a general manager to walk by.
After growing tired of playing the "Is Jake Peavy a Cub or Not?" game, I took the shuttle from Bellagio over to the Las Vegas Hilton on Tuesday afternoon, intent on viewing MLB's annual winter trade show. Populated by companies hoping to sway the folks who control the pursestrings of major- and minor-league teams, the trade show represents the other half of the winter meetings that the public rarely sees.
Name a product associated with baseball and it was at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Bobbleheads. Computerized ticketing systems. Scoreboards. Beef jerky. Logoed umbrellas. Firework displays. Special entertainers like Dave the Horn Guy. Cutting edge and environmentally-responsible promotions like the "green" shopping bags above.
Oh, and don't forget the urinal television, as eagerly hawked by Matt Peterson in our main image. The floor john made for the best floor display, even though I imagine Peterson might have had to shoo away some rude and confused folks once the HOK happy hour booze ran out.
At any rate, I walked around, viewed these exhibits and talked with these people so you didn't have to. Continue below to find a colorful photo review of products at said trade show.
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Bobblehead companies are everywhere at the trade show and considering America's thirst for bobbleheads, that probably comes as no surprise. JF Sports Marketing of Mayfield Heights, Ohio produces about 750,000 bobbles per year, including the Obama-Biden tandem bobble that the made specially for the Democratic National Committee last month. Sadly, I could not confirm if they sent all their McCain-Palin bobbles to Zaire when the Republicans lost.
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Mark Stanke of Team Heads tried with all his might to insist that Mallory Cerra be the only included in a picture while wearing his fine products. I didn't blame him, though not enough to finally get him to place that gator atop his noggin before saying cheese.
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"How can I be sure that this is indeed the world's largest jersey?" I asked Doug Verb (left), president of Action Sports America.
"Because the sign says it is," said Verb, who also sells hot dog launchers.
"Let me put it this way," Verb said. "Have you ever seen one bigger?"
"I have not."
"Well there you go," said Verb of the 15XL monstrosity. "'World's largest jersey, then.'"
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To paraphrase a line from Casino: "And the Mr. Redlegs in the sky watches us all."
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John and Maureen Whaley of Animal Fair Sports are hoping their Wacky Wavers catch on as affordable promotional items in ballparks across the country. I didn't make the connection at the time, but with those puppets on his hands, John looks a bit like Captain Kangaroo.
Also, the look on Ryan Braun's face is just a bit creepy, don't you think?
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You need magnets? MagnetsUSA has magnets. As a magnet lover — I have every Chicago baseball season calendar magnet for the past 15 or so years — I talked so much to the woman at this booth that eventually she lied and said she had to be somewhere else.
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Stephen Wolford (left) is President and CEO of Fan Cans. He laughed and smiled politely as I ran through several "jokes" about having had enough of his garbage, about how I thought his business stinks and about how placing his garbage cans in Yankee Stadium might attract the wrong kind of action from visiting Red Sox fans. When I was done, he punched me in the face.
(Kidding, kidding. Wolford's cans were actually one of the more impressive items at the fair and I think you'll be seeing them in a lot of ballparks very soon.)
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I actually didn't get the names of these guys or their pitching machine, so I'll try my best to recount our conversation, though it's possible I might just recite another line from Casino.
Guy on the left: "There's a lot of holes in the desert."
Guy on the right: "And a lot of problems are buried in those holes."
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In my opinion, Cindy Maniates of Aardvark Mascots had the best-looking mascots at the trade show. However, seeing their inanimate forms scared me just like the time my six-year-old self peeked behind the curtain at Showbiz Pizza, only to find a lifeless Billy Bob standing behind it.
As regular readers might be able to tell, I've never quite recovered from that incident.