This isn't the first time veterans have been involved in the Summit. Many have come through the career fair before, said Lewis, but this will be the first time that MLB has hosted a large group. The first day of the Summit, dubbed For Veterans Only, is designed to introduce even more diversity to the event.
"Our veterans, whether they're at the Summit or any place, they have so much to really share and give to all of us," said Lewis. "As much as we love and appreciate this business, we're talking about individuals who have been involved in issues of life and death. If they didn't do what they have done, let's face it: We couldn't do what we do. This is in some ways self-serving, because we know when it comes to leadership and a great range of skill sets and responsibilities, our veterans have that. The least we can do is offer them something that's really special and unique so they can really maximize their experience."
The next Diversity Business Summit will be held March 8-9 in Phoenix, and the veterans will be given their own high-level introduction to the proceedings on March 7. Lewis said that in the past, she's received feedback that it's been difficult for veterans to leap right into the Summit and participate.
That's why the Summit will start a day early this year for the veterans. They'll get a chance to speak to MLB executives in smaller groups than usual, and they'll have a chance to walk around the stadium and orient themselves to all the events they want to participate over the next two days. MLB will even set up the trade floor a day early in order to give the veterans unimpeded access before the crowds arrive.
"The reason why that's so essential is that very often with veterans, you may have individuals with special needs," said Lewis. "We know the Summit is appealing more and more to people with disabilities. Some are obvious and some are not. If you really want to make the facility one of the best parts -- and this year it will be, because it's at Chase Field -- you want to make sure it accomodates everybody's needs."
Lewis said that the entire Chase Field venue will host the events of the Summit, as opposed to past seasons, when the baseball stadium only played a role in the reception at the end.
After the morning's events on March 7, the group of veterans will be invited to participate in an MLB Umpire Camp, which will teach them the skills of calling a game. They'll sit through lectures and work through fundamental field work in skill development under the watchful eyes of pro umpires.
The Diversity Business Summit has previously been held in Chicago (2012), Houston (2013) and New York City (2014), but it went on hiatus in 2015. Lewis said that holding the event in Spring Training, which will happen next year for the first time, was the idea of Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg.
"It's super special because for the first time, we're doing it in conjunction with Spring Training," said Lewis. "That was Stuart Sternberg's idea, that since we're going to be in Arizona, how can we resist celebrating Spring Training? Commissioner [Rob] Manfred said since we weren't having the Summit in 2015, it was a great time to regroup, bring it back and make it bigger and better. They were both right."