LAS VEGAS – Minor league infielder Mikey Duarte wiped away tears as he talked last February about the death of his twin sister, Christiana.
“Every day we wake up it’s a living nightmare,” he said that day in Arizona as he prepared to start spring training with the White Sox.
Christiana was one of 58 killed a country music concert in Las Vegas less than four months earlier in the deadliest mass shooting in the United States in at least 70 years. Hundreds more were wounded by the gunman, who fired from a suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Duarte lasted all of six games for Class A Winston-Salem last season and just in the past two weeks told the White Sox he was retiring – “still grieving” with his family, said Chris Getz, the Sox director of player development.
Cubs star Kris Bryant’s sister-in-law and friends were among those who escaped injury during the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting, and five days later as the Cubs opened the playoffs, he spoke about the terror and relief over those next 24 and 48 hours.
“It broke my heart, man. I was up all night,” said the Las Vegas native.
It’s against this backdrop that professional baseball stages its largest off-the-field event of the year, its industry-wide convention and trade show, at the site of a chilling mass-murder scene that touched many in baseball personally just 14 months ago.
“I really don’t know what to expect,” Getz said. “It obviously affected so many people, and it will kind of bring us back there.
“Eerie is probably the word that describes the feeling I’ll have.”
Except for a more visible security presence near the lobby elevator banks, the hotel lobby and casino looked much like any other on the Vegas strip as baseball officials arrived Sunday, a business-as-usual look and buzz that belied the recent history – and the renumbering of several floors (the 32nd floor is now the 57th).
“We definitely noticed the location of the meetings,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “For those who weren’t directly affected or had family members or friends involved, being in that close proximity, it’ll be an important time for self reflection and to consider the magnitude of what happened there and the grave issues that we face as a society.”
The sites for baseball’s winter meetings are chosen years in advance, with a commitment made in this case long before the massacre.
In the aftermath of the shooting baseball officials sensitive to having the meetings on the site so relatively soon after the shooting sent an MLB delegation to meet with hotel execs to discuss concerns, receiving assurances about such things as security.
Security in general has been increased at the property, including a change in programming electronic room keys that now allow elevator access only to a guest’s specific floor.
The floor of the where the shooting took place has reopened, but the wing where room No. 32-135 is remains closed.
And the once-bustling lot across Las Vegas Boulevard where the concert was held hasn’t been used since and is enclosed by a high fence with “no trespassing” signs.
From a purely business standpoint, it’s hard to overstate the value for the MGM-owned hotel of retaining such a high-profile event involving thousands of participants in a $10 billion industry barely a year after being at the center of such a horrifying event.
“It means the world to us that partners like Major League Baseball look to Mandalay Bay to host such iconic and highly anticipated events like the 2018 Baseball Winter Meetings,” Mandalay Bay President and COO Chuck Bowling said through a spokesman, adding the resort is “grateful for all the support and loyalty.”
He declined to say what, if any, financial inducements were offered to encourage MLB to keep its commitment to the venue.
“Maybe [we’re a little bit closer to the tragedy because it affected part of our baseball family,” Getz said. “It was such a tragedy. You just hope going there doesn’t bring back some of those feelings, but it’s kind of inevitable.”