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Lucky winner enjoys baseball wonderland

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Howel Carr watches baseball, it's not just a passing interest. He's one of those two-games-at-a-time type of fans -- one on the big screen, one on the laptop, thanks to MLB.TV.

"He thinks it hurts the TV," said his wife, Ann, "to show anything but baseball."

But TV can only show you so much. And on Tuesday, Carr got the kind of up-close-and-personal access to the game's inner workings that few fans get to experience.

As the winner of the a unique sweepstakes presented by Edward Jones, the 57-year-old Carr got the inside scoop on the baseball industry's annual gathering. He and Ann were escorted all around the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, getting a taste of how managers, executives, agents, writers and broadcasters gather together and how the game's biggest Hot Stove stories come together.

This sweepstakes, much like the "Chatting Cage" fan forum on, was part of Edward Jones' "Face Time" message, and Carr, who entered online and had his application randomly selected, got plenty of face time with the various personalities at the Winter Meetings.

"A fantastic experience," said Carr, who was treated to two nights in Nashville. "It's something I won't soon forget."

Growing up in Kentucky, where he still resides, Carr became a Yankees fan because they were the team most frequently on TV. He's remained a Yankees fan to this day, and so he entered the Winter Meetings with his own ideas about his team's needs.

"They need two or three more players," Carr said. "They definitely need a catcher, and now it sounds like we need a third baseman [with Alex Rodriguez out four to six months following hip surgery]. They need to trade Curtis Granderson to get some guys back."

If only Carr had run into Brian Cashman in the lobby to share these thoughts. He had to settle for Yankees reporter Bryan Hoch.

But Carr did meet some big-time baseball names. While walking through the trade show, he met former Yankees player and executive (and current MLB vice president for rules and on-field operations) Bob Watson. While strolling through the halls of the Opryland, he ran into Rays manager Joe Maddon. At the broadcast studio set, he got to talk to Jack Morris. And in the lobby, he got to talk ball with Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda.

Not baseball, mind you. Basketball. Like so many others from his area, Carr is a diehard Kentucky basketball fan, and he and Lasorda talked about the experience at Rupp Arena.

"I've been to three Kentucky games, and they're 3-0," Lasorda bragged. "They have a great atmosphere there."

The two then compared notes on Ashley Judd's potential bid for the Kentucky Senate, and Carr knows a bit about elections. For the last 15 years, he's served as the Grazes County property valuation administrator. That's his day job, but he also owns and operates Carr's Steakhouse, which has been in business since 1957.

Carr, then, is used to trade shows, but he's more accustomed to those catered toward restaurateurs. The Baseball Trade Show was a decidedly different scene, replete with merchandise and mementos catered to the sport's Major and Minor League clubs.

"This," Carr said, "is a little more exciting than a food trade show."

And for Carr, the highlight had to be checking out the Josten's booth, where some of the recent World Series rings were on display. But one ring, in particular, caught his eye -- the Kentucky Wildcats' 2012 championship ring.

"I never thought I'd hold one of these," Carr said. "Especially not in a Major League Baseball show."

Yes, the Winter Meetings are full of surprises.