Winter Meeting 2019- A Smashing Success Complete with the Refreshing Winds of Change

Gluek’s – Downtown Minneapolis 1/26/19 1800 CST
The HRL Winter Meeting is now officially in the books and along with its near historic turnout was the ratification of new rules as well as the welcoming of new clubs and teams some of which look nothing like their 2018 former selves.

The meeting started off well with a packed house in attendance; owners and players representing their respective franchises all preparing to discuss and vote on two new measures; the longstanding and much debated change to allow minor league team names into HRL and a new conceptual gameplay change; a sudden death-like home run derby to limit extra innings. Nearly all teams were present and there would be no proxy vote on these issues.

The first brief order of business was the annual reminder that our good friend and colleague Small Pox would once again be coordinating an HRL Day with the Minnesota Twins and that per usual details on how to get tickets to this event would be forthcoming.

Next up was a bit of important business on a somber note and in recognition of a fallen league family member. Commissioner Truck detailed a plan he discussed with a few others earlier this week involving renaming the Jack Cust Award, given out annually as part of the year end recognition awards for tenacity, courage and the willingness to leave a little bit of oneself on the field at the end of a hard and graciously fought battle, to the Anthony Amon Award in memory of the beloved HRL family member lost tragically in 2015. Amon joined the HRL in 2008, and during his career, played for the Angels, Marlins, Yankees, Mets, and Pirates. He was a 2015 Eagan All-Star, and finished 2nd in the league with 155 K’s on the mound. The move was met with resounding applause and warmed the hearts of many who played with and knew Amon.  Well done.

The resolution to allow minor league team names was addressed first. This issue was discussed at Winter Meeting 2018 and contained more emotion than progress and was tabled for future discussion. While the tide had clearly begun to shift in favor of this passing, the traditionalists remained strong in number and determined to put up a good fight. The measure ultimately passed by more than just a narrow margin, 13-8 in favor of allowing minor league team names into the HRL. An unofficial caveat begrudgingly offered by a league veteran was to force teams to stick with rebranded names for at least two seasons. This likely would apply to all franchises but is potentially more of an issue with the introduction of what is seen as a plethora of new “bright shiny objects” into the mix. An unnamed and clearly unsupportive league member summed it by saying “These times, they are a changing. This isn’t the old HRL wrapped in tradition and pageantry. But hey, we’re bringing in all sorts of new players and that’s what counts for the league as a whole. If the noobs could always see things the old timers way then I think its time we old guys take a look at something new. Open mindedness baby.”

The second measure put to a league vote at this years kickoff meeting was the introduction of a sudden death-like home run swing off. This concept was introduced at the Wifftoberfest Tournament in Hopkins in 2018. The idea is simple; once two teams play the determined number of innings with a tie score a home run shoot out will be played. Each team will send an equal and predetermined number of batters alternately to the plate to face their own pitcher with one swing forthcoming. When the player chooses his pitch and swings, if it is a home run the opposing team will send its player to the plate under the same circumstances and if they hit a home run the alternating between top and bottom of the “sudden death innings” continues. Once a team hits an unmatched home run or fails to answer a home run hit the game will end. The specifics of this rule that was overwhelmingly passed during a league vote will appear in a formal notated addendum to the rules and communicated to all league managers from the front office. 

League business moved to the annual aligning of the divisions which had new twists this year. Initially, the Eagan and Hopkins City offerings will not be balanced between the two towns in 2019. This being the result of several factors. Hopkins will have two divisions of 5 teams while Eagan will have 3 divisions of 4 teams. League Commissioner Truck is at ease with this and doesn’t see any problems. “It will be a bit of a scheduling nightmare but if our scheduling guy can do what he’s always been able to do, it’ll be fine.” Another change is a trial of naming divisions after local establishments that teams might or might be encouraged to frequent after league play. “If we can hashtag these bars and restaurants and make appearances at them it might help with getting them to donate to our Wifflin’ for Wishes and other charity campaigns we’re involved in.” said Eddie Bauer. “We’ll try it and see what happens.” Teams selected their numbered ping pong balls out of the Championship Cup and after all numbers were drawn out, teams came up individually to place themselves into their chosen divisions. There was much jeering, boos and cheers as some teams aligned themselves with notorious rivals while others avoided league powerhouses. “Whoever comes into our division is just looking for an easy win.”, said first year owner Birdman of the Orioles 2.0. “They’ll be looking for easy wins but they won’t be as easy as last year. The 2018 Orioles are gone.”

While it hasn’t been that long or that cold of a winter this year, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the turnout or enthusiasm at Winter Meeting 2019. “The room was electric”, stated second year owner Kong of the Athletics, “It’s clearly one of the highlights of the season.” The event was also not void of opinion as baseball aficionados have professed for as long as winters before baseball seasons have existed “Hope springs eternal in the dead of winter.”

Moving around the room was a good test run at working the HRL Beat which I’m going to try to incorporate into my wiffle life this summer. In doing so, I was able to gather some insight from league members about this upcoming season. Here are some of the thoughts I was able to grab as the night wound down.

Neutron with the Athletics believes the 2019 A’s are in a position to open some eyes. “The team has worked hard to sign players and go with the youth movement. We have one last signing and once that piece is in place it will deliver those last 5 or 6 wins we’ll need to really call this season a huge success. Ownership is setting the bar high; a .500 season and a playoff berth. Yeah, some people might look back at 2018 and wonder if that’s realistic. That 2018 team is gone. This is 2019. We’ll be ready.”

Vlade, a free agency acquisition with the Hopkins Braves was succinct with his 2019 outlook. “We want the Rays. That’s all. I got nothing else for you Kong. The Rays. The Rays.”

Dr. Seuss, a league icon and traditionalist offered up his version of the night and 2019 as well. “I went 0 for 2 on the resolutions tonight. I’m an HRL purist. I get the trend with the rule changes and such to liven up the game but again I’ve been around for a long time. Change can be different. “ As far as the Reds are concerned the good doctor sounded confident. “We feel we’re good enough to have a strong say in the Eagan crown.”

Dodger superstar Psych sees the league evolution and some of its changes as a good thing. “The divisions with the new and revamped teams have a lot of parity. These changes we’re seeing and all the new players, this is a good thing for HRL. And it won’t be just this year. This is how it’ll be moving forward. Innovation, player movement, all the things that keep this league fresh.”

Huck Finn with the defending HRL Champions the Rays thinks that this will be another year that includes surviving as the champs which he points out is never easy. “You know, we’re a humble team who works hard and well, it’s paid off. We know that we have a target on our backs and that everyone whether they’re kidding or not is coming after us. That’s alright. We’re right here where everyone can find us. It’s what pushes us to try harder.”

Tootin of the Kardinals seems to like when some things just stay the same. “We’re not going to get sucked into this whole ‘competitive’ thing. We feel we fill an important niche in the league; we have fun, we’ll give you a run for your money and a good game here and there and hell, we’ll even win our share. Maybe even more than our share. But I’ll be damned if we’re going to start with this whole ‘trying’ thing. Let me put it to you this way, if they start recognizing blood alcohol as part of the year end awards, game over. It’s the Kards baby.”

Sully with the Bears, who took over day to day operations of the team, and his wife Half Pint are looking at 2019 in a little bit different light than Bears teams of the past. “We’re always going to be the fun team” says Sully “But the difference this season is we’re going to remember that winning is fun. We’re clearly a team who could have picked up any number of additional wins last year. We’re in ball games. This year we’re going to finish a few more of them victorious and then get to celebrating at the Bears Bar.”

The Rangers had dabbled with the idea of disbanding the team during this offseason. Despite these talented players being attractive signees on the open market, H8R has made the decision to keep the squad together and add the components that he believes will allow them to make a serious run at HRL glory. “I’m putting this team together meticulously. I’ve been there man. I’ve held the cup. I know what it takes and have been thinking that now unencumbered by commissioning the league, I think I can lead these guys to great success. I want to focus on playing for a change. So far I think it’s going to feel good.”

The rebranded Americans are also looking for success with only a few changes this offseason. “We’re effectively the same team we were last year” says Knooty Booty, “We just didn’t feel the need to make all sorts of changes.” Chest Hair had this to say, “We feel we’ll be stronger offensively this season and really do believe we have ‘high managerial IQ’. We’re ready.”

The Rockies were one of the last teams that shared a moment with this lowly, ink-stained wretch. EAD said that the Rockies were one of the many teams that have seen a roster shuffle this off season. “We have a guy traveling all over the planet and have brought in some new blood. How this translates for us in terms of the power game remains to be seen but in looking to add some wins we know we have to concentrate on contact hitting and moving runners up. We’re optimistic about the season.”

The night wrapped up with talk of the past, present and future of HRL exploits. Socializing and friendly banter. Much has happened in this offseason and therefore there is much to look forward to in 2019. Truck has returned for “one last ride” at the helm as the HRL Commissioner. The league has several absolutely brand new players that have been brought into the league all but ensuring continued excitement and opportunity for evolution. There was the dissolution of teams in 2018 that have spawned new teams or at least teams with a completely new look for this season. The Orioles have completely retooled as have the Athletics. Several veterans have new home for 2019 and some have even changed cities. Moving forward it appears that the HRL, a league that has been long grounded in tradition, law and order and consistency, is now embracing a new philosophy; one that involves looking outside the box and working to keep the game that we so desperately love, a game that has changed very little since we were kids, fresh and innovative as well as inclusive to the new ideas that its legion of followers come up with as we play it.

Kong                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Official Unofficial HRL Beat Writer                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Manager/Player/Owner Athletics                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              President Tri-Star Management

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