Capitals

Trade show baseball's other high-dollar business

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Trade show baseball's other high-dollar business

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The fluffy green-and-white Phillie Phanatic hat is eye-catching enough. Then, with a simple push of a pump wrapped in red cloth, the furry mascot's red tongue unfurls.

Yes, the Phanatic is sticking its tongue right at you.

``They sell themselves, they really do,'' Rick Maldonado of Forever Collectibles-Team Beans said. ``I mean, there is no pitch behind it. I'm usually wearing it, and I'll talk to my buyers: `Hey, you want something cool?' Then I squeeze it, and then they get that chuckle and it's like, `Wow. What else you guys doing this year?'''

Welcome to the baseball trade show at the winter meetings, where business is everything but the high-profile signing and trading of players.

Companies pitch their wares to both major and minor league teams - from the expected to the outrageous. There are jerseys, T-shirts, trash cans and stadium seating right along with the mascot pump hat that suddenly looks like a must-have item and will be on sale by the time baseball season starts in April.

Collapsible chairs not enough? Now there's a packable coffee table complete with four cup holders for tailgating. New Era's display features a batch of ski caps for the usual cold weather markets like the Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets - right alongside one for the Miami Marlins. That white, orange and black knit cap is sure to keep fans snug even on the chilliest of south Florida days.

Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins was among those on the floor Tuesday. He was working the booth for Outbid, an online auction site for autographs and memorabilia in sports, entertainment and other areas. Jenkins was greeting fans, handing out signed balls and pictures.

``This is my first trade show. They have everything here - bats, balls, mascots, everything. It is unbelievable,'' he said.

There's ``The Cleaning Machine'' made by Sonny Cereneka of Hacienda Heights, Calif., that has been helping scrub dirt off practice baseballs for about 35 years. Marilynn Cereneka said the New York Mets told her husband that machine helped save them $22,000 on baseballs back in 2008.

Hungry? Take a walk around the food exhibits with hot dogs, pretzels and candy. For more haute cuisine, try the garlic fries or chipotle chili aioli offered up by Tulkoff Food Products. This is the second year at the winter meetings for the company, Danielle Hauserman said. Tulkoff picked up the Toledo Mud Hens, Daytona Cubs and Greensboro Grasshoppers after their first trade show a year ago.

``We're a way to kind of kick up your burger or hot dog,'' she said.

Game Wear helps baseball fans show their love of the sport using the ball itself for bracelets, key chains, necklaces and even pet leashes and collars. Frank Cerullo Jr. first carved up a baseball while playing in college at George Washington, and the white leather necklace with the red seam stitching proved so popular he went from working in computer technology for a hospital to starting his company in his parents' basement to office space in Hoboken, N.J.

``What makes our product special is the fusion of taking your team, taking the sport and fusing it together, and I feel that's the magic in our product,'' Cerullo said.

Former big league first baseman Pete LaCock also was on hand, representing Zinger bats before he starts managing next year in the independent America West Baseball League.

``These are fun to come to. You see a lot of old friends,'' he said, moments after greeting Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk, a former Kansas City Royals teammate.

There's so much to see, it can be exhausting.

Luckily, Rawlings Sporting Goods has a big leather chair shaped like a catcher's mitt sitting at the edge of the company's display, which draws people in. Rawlings sells approximately 10 of the chairs each year for $3,200 apiece using the same leather in their gloves as part of a product line that now features luggage and wallets. Names can be monogrammed into the thumb or palm of the chair, too.

Charlette Eastman of American Fork, Utah, whose family recently sold the Zinger Bat Company, sat in the catcher's mitt chair for a much-needed rest after helping promote the company.

``It's wonderful,'' Eastman said. ``I'm just going to see how much I can buy it for.''

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AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker contributed to this report.

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Capitals are the class of the Metropolitan Division for fifth year in a row

Capitals are the class of the Metropolitan Division for fifth year in a row

You know what’s fun? Winning Metropolitan Division titles. 

No, it’s not as good as the big prize. The Capitals will never top their 2018 Stanley Cup championship. But winning a competitive division against their biggest rivals five years in a row? Pretty, pretty good. 

Washington took its fifth in a row officially on Tuesday when the NHL announced that the regular season had concluded thanks to the ongoing coronavirus. The Capitals just outlasted the Philadelphia Flyers with 90 standings points to 89. The difference over 69 games? One extra Caps game going into overtime for a single point. 

Credit to the Flyers for making a late run. No one was playing better in the NHL than Philadelphia just before the season was halted. Whether that carries over into the Stanley Cup Playoffs remains to be seen. 

But the Capitals should take pride in that streak. It’s hard to do in an age of parity. They play in a division where the Pittsburgh Penguins won two Stanley Cups in the previous four seasons. The two teams slugged it out three times in the second round. That’s the luck of the draw, and so four straight division titles -- and two Presidents’ Trophies -- meant just one Cup for Washington. 

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It’s also rare to dominate a division the way the Capitals have for five years. The Anaheim Ducks won the Pacific Division title every year from 2013 to 2017. Prior to that, the Detroit Red Wings won the Central Division an astounding eight times from 2001 to 2009. It doesn’t get you a championship -- Washington won the expired Southeast Division from 2008 to 2011 -- but it does mean you played great hockey year after year.

And to do it in the reconstituted Patrick Division, where long-time rivals like the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Islanders and Devils joined with newer rivals Carolina and Columbus, makes it even sweeter. Add another banner to the rafters at Capital One Arena. The Caps are the class of the Metropolitan Division yet again. 

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Nationals will not lay off full-time business or baseball employees amid coronavirus pandemic

Nationals will not lay off full-time business or baseball employees amid coronavirus pandemic

The Washington Nationals decided to use “partial furloughs” to keep their baseball and business employees at work through the end of their contracts or the calendar year.

The road map works like this:

All full-time business and baseball employees will receive a reduction in pay and hours ranging from 10 to 30 percent. If the employee’s contract runs to the end of baseball season -- typically Oct. 31 -- then these parameters apply from now until then. If the employee is not on contract, these reductions persist until Dec. 31.

No full-time employee is being laid off because of the economic impact from coronavirus.

An example: If a person works a 40-hour week, and has the 10 percent reduction in pay and hours, they are down to a 36-hour week at 10 percent pay cut.

The reduction scale slides. The highest-paid employees, like Mike Rizzo, are taking the largest reduction in pay. Then on down the line.

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The Nationals deciding to do this now allows their staff to know what the future holds as opposed to wondering month-to-month what decision the organization will make in regard to their job status.

Major League Baseball organizations remain uneasy about their financial future in 2020 since the season has stalled. The league and its team owners are in the midst of negotiations with the MLBPA while attempting to find a safe, revenue-satisfactory path back to the field.

Meanwhile, teams across the league are assessing their non-player finances, and the approach varies. For instance, the Anaheim Angels decided last week to furlough some non-playing employees.

In Washington, no full-time employee will be laid off because of this salary adjustment.

USA Today was first to report the Nationals’ overall decision.

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