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IN PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL, A YOUNG player starts out in the low minors, like the Instructional League or the Rookie League, in cities like Erie. If he has a good year, he moves up to Class A and places like Fort Worth and Kenosha. If he keeps making progress and impressing the scouts he moves on to Class AA where he plays in front of bigger audiences. Towns like Orlando, Birmingham. Then it's on to Triple A, where he mixes it up with a sprinkling of major league castoffs, young prospects and hungry veterans in towns like Richmond and Salt Lake City. Finally, if he has another good year and there's a need at the next level, he's invited to The Show, the name given to the major leagues by pro ballplayers. Not every player makes it this far. In fact, less than 10 percent of all professionals will play at this level. But, if they do, they never forget their time there, be it in Minneapolis, New York or San Francisco.

The professional baseball circuit has a lot in common with the awards show judging circuit. There's a young writer here who's done incredibly well in a very short time. His stats are good. He's jacked a few home runs. He has tons of potential. Consequently, he's starting to get noticed and he's getting invitations to judge awards shows. Last year, he got his feet wet at the Golden Rooster Awards in Erie. Not a huge show-he might have been the most experienced judge there-but an important one. This year, he accumulated even better numbers than last year. He made the All Star team. He won awards. He started getting calls from bigger organizations. Forth Worth requested his talents, then Birmingham. Word was out. It's only a matter of time before he makes it to The Show.

Just like pro ball players, there's different labels for different types of judges, some of which just beg analogies. There are the solid veterans: The guy who plays for a long time and just keeps cranking out the numbers-Cabell Harris, for instance, is Blue Jays outfielder Joe Carter. There's the well-traveled veteran, someone who's been to a lot of different shows-Tom Monahan of Leonard Monahan Lubars & Kelly would be pitcher Jack Morris. There's the crafty veteran-Paul Silverman of Mullen, and ageless knuckleball pitcher Charlie Hough. The hot young guy-Todd Tilford of The Richards Group would be catcher Mike Piazza. The quirky free spirit-Nick Cohen of Mad Dogs & Englishmen and Phillie John Kruk. The comeback player-Jamie Barrett of Wieden & Kennedy and Bo Jackson. The throwback-Luke Sullivan of Fallon McElligott and fireplug outfielder Kirby Puckett. The marquee player-San Fran residents Jeff Goodby and Barry Bonds. The Hall of Famer-Chiat/Day's Lee Clow and pitcher Roger Clemens. The arrogant, nobody-can-stand-him guy-you fill in the blank.

There are the guys who have so much ability and talent that they leave school, skip the minor leagues and go straight to the majors in just a couple of years-W&K's Jelly Helm and Toronto clutch hitter John Olerud.

Travel and accommodations work in this analogy, too. Once I flew to Grand Rapids, Mich., to judge the local Addys, and the charter was rerouted. By the time I landed, I missed my bus to the hotel. I never made the game.

Some guys get lucky, hit a couple of long balls, judge a couple of shows, and then you never hear from them again. The Joe Charbeneaus of the judging circuit, if you will. Some guys spend their whole careers in the minors and never get the call. Some are called up as last-minute replacements, and never go back. (Players call this "a cup of coffee.")

And some creatives have no interest in judging. They want to spend weekends with their kids, or they think shows are a waste of time. Usually these guys are stuck on bad teams or are having terrible awards show seasons. It's amazing how much their attitude will change when they hit a couple of homers.

At the major shows, the judges are idolized by young people when they appear in the host city. Maybe judges can start having autograph sessions, charging $10 to sign awards show books. Some out of town judges aren't liked by the home town crowd. A senior art director here at The Martin Agency once gave his remarks at the Minneapolis show after judging it and was roundly booed by the crowd at the awards show ceremony. (Does that make him a Mitch Williams? )

Some minor league awards shows want to be major awards shows, so they try to sign bigger names to judge. They're hoping for major show expansion. But right now, the league consists of only eight organizations: the One Show, CA, the Andys, New York Art Directors, the Show in Minneapolis, the Cable Car Awards in San Francisco, the Rosies in Portland, and the Beldings in L.A.

What should you do if you get a call from one of The Shows? Pack your duffel bag and go. Unless, of course, you get a call from the Honolulu Addys for the same weekend.

Joe Alexander, who spent several years with the Twins organization, is currently VP-senior copywriter at The Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.

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