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Annual Buck O'Neil conference headed to NYC

For 20th anniversary, association invited to visit Office of the Commissioner
@betelhem_ashame
November 7, 2019

NEW YORK -- Since 1999, the Buck O’Neil Professional Baseball Scouts & Coaches Association has provided a forum for coaches and scouts across the sport to connect through networking, mentorship and professional development. With a membership of close to 200 people, the association holds a conference every year in various

NEW YORK -- Since 1999, the Buck O’Neil Professional Baseball Scouts & Coaches Association has provided a forum for coaches and scouts across the sport to connect through networking, mentorship and professional development.

With a membership of close to 200 people, the association holds a conference every year in various locations around the country in order to fulfill its mission as well as to reaffirm its goals. These include supporting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, founded in part by namesake Buck O’Neil; promoting baseball in the inner cities by teaching coaches and guiding players through annual clinics; awarding scholarships to high-achieving students who are interested in pursuing careers in baseball; and educating the association’s members as they navigate their own careers in the industry.

The association makes a concerted effort to spread out its meeting places -- having previously hosted conferences in Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta and of course, Kansas City, among others -- so that its members can give back and connect with as many communities as possible. This weekend, ahead of its 20th anniversary, the association will have the historic opportunity to hold its annual conference in New York City, as Commissioner Rob Manfred invited them to visit the Office of the Commissioner.

Danny Montgomery, the vice president of the association and a special assistant to the GM for the Colorado Rockies, called it an “unprecedented” occasion, with an expected record attendance of over 100 members.

“To be able to come into the Commissioner’s Office, along with all the people who work for him -- it gives us an idea to see what Park Avenue is all about,” Montgomery said. “We don’t usually have the opportunity or the time to come because of our travel. We look at this as a blessing to have been asked by Rob and his crew to bring us here, and we couldn’t thank the Commissioner any more for what he’s done for us.”

On Friday, the association will hear from a series of speakers at the head of the organization, including deputy commissioner of baseball administration Dan Halem, deputy commissioner of business and media Tony Petitti and executive vice president of baseball and softball development Tony Reagins. According to the latter, it will be a setting for the members to learn more about the inner workings of MLB’s operation and to interact with people higher up the company ladder.

“Some aspire to be general managers, some aspire to be coaches at the Major League level, at the Minor League level. Being here is a pay-it-forward type atmosphere.” Reagins said. “[Halem and Petitti] are leaders in our industry, so they’ll have a chance to ask questions and hear feedback as to the thinking of Major League Baseball. It’s a great opportunity to bounce ideas off one another and try to implement some of the suggestions and insight that this group brings to the table.”

The agenda will also include small group exercises designed for leadership building, a panel discussion on career development and a group discussion on scouting strategies. Steve Williams, president of the association and a director of professional scouting for the Pittsburgh Pirates, said that these conversations are crucial for its younger and older members alike as they work together to keep pace in an unpredictable industry. Topics could range from characteristics to look for in players to proper etiquette for home visits to how analytics have changed the game.

“There’s a lot of scout development that needs to be discussed and talked about that sometimes these guys may not get from their own organizations,” Williams said. “[We] continue to develop everyone as a whole so they can stay within the business setting, so they don’t get left behind. We develop our guys to have them on the cutting edge as much as possible. … It’s a lot of information in a short period of time, but a lot of good things come out of it.”

It’s with these types of thoughtful discussions in mind that Reagins sees the conference as a learning experience for MLB as well.

“In any business, you have to hear from your constituents -- those people who are on the ground, who know what the industry is like from where they sit,” Reagins said. “It’s really powerful for Major League Baseball to hear a different voice that may not be frequently heard. These guys are in it every day at the grassroots level and may have ideas that may spark a different mindset here in the league office.

“I think being able to hear a new voice -- a different voice -- is always positive, because not everybody thinks the same. If that group can provide a perspective that can move our game forward, I think as a league we should be open to hearing it.”

In the spirit of O’Neil, one of the sport’s most distinguished trailblazers -- with a Presidential Medal of Freedom to his name alongside the likes of Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson -- the association will seek to do exactly that this weekend.

“I hope Buck is looking down and is extremely happy with where we are as an organization that’s in his honor,” Montgomery said. “I never forget him. He was all about inclusion [and] this is an all-inclusive organization, not exclusive. We’re trying to make a difference in a lot of people’s lives. We want people to leave with something they didn’t have when they came in.”

Betelhem Ashame is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @betelhem_ashame.