Every December since 1901, the "who's who" within the world of baseball have gathered at the sport's winter meetings. This includes representatives from all 30 Major League Baseball teams and their 160 minor league affiliate clubs. Throughout the four-day event, you'll find team owners, general managers, scouts, exhibitors and others who come together to discuss a variety of league business matters and conduct trades.

This past December, the annual gathering took place at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas. Six undergraduate Saint Leo sport business students were lucky enough to attend the exciting event.

Saint Leo students first attended the baseball winter metings in 2008 when the university served as the title sponsor of the Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities (PBEO) Job Fair. This is where baseball teams and baseball-related vendors with job opportunities gather to seek potential candidates to fill these positions. Saint Leo sport business students have attended these events several other times since then.

To qualify for participation this year, students had to write a one-page essay, meet a minimum GPA and preferably be at least a junior in college. The university's Sport Business Association chapter paid for the flights to and from Las Vegas. Minor League Baseball picked up the tab on lodging and several meals, and the College of Business covered other nominal expenses.

"They all really appreciated this opportunity, especially the chances to network and make connections," says Dr. Susan Foster, a longtime professor in the Saint Leo sport business program who accompanied the students. "A few brought their resumes and got to make some real connections."

Selecting the Saint Leo Sport Business Program

Jake Clark, a 20-year-old sophomore, was lucky enough to make the trip. He explains how he became a Saint Leo sport business major.

"I was debating what I wanted to pursue between this and engineering at a larger school. After I visited Saint Leo, I realized the opportunities and advantages of attending a smaller school and getting to know my professors. This program has gotten me in contact with some really awesome people, which I could not have done as easily at a larger university."

Another attendee, Ryan Girard, is a 22-year-old senior who says he's always had a big interest in both playing and watching sports.

"When I transferred to Saint Leo and did some research, I learned about the successful and growing sport business program that was offered," Girard says. "I can say that this program has been very beneficial."

Exploring the Minor League Baseball Headquarters

Before the winter meetings, the students paid a visit to the Minor League Baseball headquarters in St. Petersburg, Fla. for an orientation session.

"It was super nice and high-tech with multiple TV screens with the social media feed, a conference and theatre room, a break area with all kinds of snacks and drinks and all the different offices," Clark says. "The two coolest things were the wall of hats of all 160 minor league teams and the gold glove that sits in the front office of the executives."

Girard says getting to know the individuals who work there was quite an eye-opener.

"We were able to meet many of the individuals that work behind the scenes with Minor League Baseball and got a tour of the facility," Girard says. "It's very apparent that with the large number of minor league teams that exist today, a lot of hard work must be put in. The individuals at the minor league headquarters are very organized and do a great job creating a friendly and fun environment."

A Busy Schedule

At the big event in Vegas, students handed out registration packets, checked in attendees and worked at the store. They also attended some of the seminars and got to mingle with others.

Plus, they attended a special pre-screening of "Eck: A Story of Saving," a new documentary on Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley. The event was hosted by Matt Vasgersian of the MLB Network and Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa.

Students also had the opportunity to go to an invitation-only gathering with Tyrone Brooks, who works out of Major League Baseball's national office in New York. He has come to speak to Saint Leo sport business students at University Campus and wrote the foreword to the second edition of Foster's book, Experiential Learning in Sport Management: Internships and Beyond.

The winter meetings represented quite an exclusive gathering as students from only three other universities – the University of Iowa, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and St. Thomas University – had a presence at the event.

"It is very powerful when you have something like this on your resume, especially if you're looking to go into baseball," Foster says. "But it can be a big help if you're going into any aspect of sport business."

Several Brushes with Fame

Like all of the students, Clark was in awe of some of the big names he met.

"I got to meet Bucky Dent, a former New York Yankees player from back in the day, which was pretty cool because he actually took the time to talk to all of us from Saint Leo and talked to each of us personally, asking about our backgrounds and thanking us for helping out. Also, I got to greet Clint Hurdle, the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He shook my hand and thanked me as I directed him to the coffee and seating area."

Oakland Athletics executive vice president Billy Beane and Harold Reynolds of the MLB Network were just a few of the many other big names in attendance. The students also got to pick the brain of a minor league team president.

"We were lucky enough to have a private, sit-down talk with Andy Dunn, the president of the Vancouver Canadians [a minor league affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays]," Girard says. "This was a great experience that I will remember for a long time. He was awesome and gave us the opportunity to ask absolutely anything we wanted. It was apparent that he answered everything truthfully and wanted us to succeed wherever our careers would take us."

Scoring a Career in Baseball

Clark says he'd love to oversee a sports complex in the future.

"My career goal is to someday operate and manage a complex or facility, preferably involving baseball. After attending the meetings, I really think the best way for me to attain my career goal is to start in baseball and work my way up through the minors and possibly to the majors so I build credibility to the point where I can operate my own someday. But in this career field, you really never know where you might end up. You take the opportunities given to you and you have to be willing to travel."

As for Girard, he has his own big career goals on the horizon.

"I'd like to work in baseball operations for a team or facility and assist with player development, specifically with pitchers," he says. "Down the road, I'd like to operate a baseball training facility where young athletes can come and be trained physically and mentally on the game while passing down what I learned and experienced throughout the years of playing."

Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Dr. Susan Foster and are used with permission.