Winter Meetings 2013: Baseball Trade Show Highlights

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — Spend a few hours wandering the floor at the annual Baseball Trade Show during the Winter Meetings, and you’ll encounter just about every possible aspect of your baseball experience, broken down into parts. My friend Jeb Lund did a wonderful job exploring this phenomenon in a post at SB Nation last week. From the bats the players use (oh look there’s Chandler Bats giving a bat-making demonstration!) to new cap designs from New Era and other licensees to giant bouncy houses (they’re probably manufactured by IDG – Inflatable Design Group), aspiring mascots (yes, there are plenty of them) and Pale Ale Beer Brats (well done, Kayem!), everything you might find at the ballpark is there in one giant space.

Seriously, there was a guy from Chandler Bats actually making one of their popular custom baseball bats on site. That is pretty damn cool.

I spent some time during the last day of the Winter Meetings checking out the Trade Show to find a few items — note: items includes licensed merchandise, mascots or people — that I look forward to seeing at the ballpark next season and in seasons beyond. Here are just a few of the highlights:

FreeHand Trays
How many times have you made a food run at the ballpark, loaded up your tray with hot dogs, peanuts, nachos and a beer, balanced it carefully with both hands as you navigated your way through the crowd only to realize that you don’t have a way to eat the food, take a picture with your phone or show the usher your ticket to get back to your seat because you don’t have a…free hand? PROBLEM SOLVED. The new FreeHand Tray launched in August and is as simple as it is brilliant.

The key to the whole thing is a “strategically placed hole in the FreeHand tray bottom combined with the powerful leverage of the thumb to make balancing a FreeHand tray loaded with food AND beverage practically effortless.” I tried out the tray and my mind was blown once I put my left hand through the hole and felt the tray balance easily. This product provides a simple solution to a real problem. It’s fully customizable, can be sponsored (duh!) and is of course 100% recyclable, 100% biodegradable and 100% compostable. Oh, and if you’re a lefty, no problem. There’s a special hole to punch out which flips the tray so it works for you. Genius. FreeHand isn’t widely available yet, but based on the pile of business cards the distributor had collected at the trade show, expect that to change soon.

The Stack-Cup
There’s a major problem with normal beer and soda cups — when you hold them, your hands get wet and the drink gets warmer. Also, normal cups are not stackable. Meet Stack-Cup! Beer drinkers are going to be so excited about this one. The next time you have to make a beer and beverage run at the game, have no fear — you can carry five Stack-Cups at one time WITH ONE HAND. The handle of each cup simply slips into the open handle of another cup and so on and so forth. It’s really sort of amazing. And genius.

Stack-Cups are fully customizable with a logo, brand or an ad and can even be made out of different materials — one of the Stack-Cups on display at the trade show was made from the same material as the official Cheeseheads worn by Packer fans and was used at Lambeau. Of course they’re reusable and recyclable. But really let’s focus on what’s important — THEY ARE STACKABLE. Stack-Cups are approved by Anheuser-Busch and sold through AB distributors, they’re licensed for all college teams and are working on their NFL license now. Stack-Cups aren’t at MLB ballparks yet but they did send samples to the Yankees. I would love to see them at Yankee Stadium in 2014. Cheers to that.

Utility Man
You know I can’t help myself when it comes to mascots. Meet Utility Man! Get it? The roaming do-it-all baseball entertainer is the creation of Syracuse graduate and former Otto the Orange Ben Youngerman. In 2013, Utility Man performed 20 shows for 13 teams in 10 different states and has nearly half that lined up already for 2014. True to his character’s name, Utility Man is a man of many talents — from jumping stilts to singing to improv to puppeteering to juggling to competitive eating.

When I stopped to chat with him at the trade show, he introduced me to a popular item in his concession tray — the footlong (it’s a foot, not a hot dog). According to Utility Man, the footlong “comes with ketchup, mustard and bunions and makes a nice combo with a side of corn. It’s spicy with some kick to it.” Look for him at minor league ballparks across the country in 2014.

Other in-game entertainment acts I enjoyed meeting: the SweetRight Brothers, Gus and Sketchy, two blue furry creatures entering their fourth year of minor league barnstorming. Breakin’ BBoy McCoy, the dancing bat boy. BBoy is entering his sixth season of crowd-pleasing dancing and should be back at least once with the Rangers this season.

Hope you’ll be seeing some of these at a ballpark near you in 2014.

All photos via Amanda Rykoff