TAMPA -- There are folks who dream of slipping away from the brutal New York winter to vacation in Mexico, or imagine they're married to Miss America, or that they make so much money New York Yankees icon Derek Jeter is asking for a loan.
Welcome to the real world of Casey Close.
Close, a former All-America baseball player at Michigan who roomed with Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, who played 4 ½ years in the minor leagues after being drafted by the Yankees, and married Miss America 1989, hit the mother lode as a baseball agent this winter.
Close and his company, Excel Sports Management, negotiated $700 million in baseball contracts, the largest total during a single offseason in baseball history.
"This is the most enjoyable period I've ever had in the business,'' said Close, 50, an agent since 1992. Close was reunited three years ago with his former co-workers from 22 years ago at IMG. He now is partners with Mark Steinberg - yes, Tiger Woods' agent - along with Jeff Schwartz, who represents NBA stars such as Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love.
"It's not so much the results,'' Close said, "but the unique culture we have here. We're having a blast.''
A little money doesn't hurt.
Just applying the standard 4% fees alone, Close netted $28 million for his company in a three-month span.
"I told him I need a loan,'' said Jeter, who has been represented by Close since he was 18, earning $253 million with the Yankees before he retires after this season. "He's done a great job. But the thing about Casey is that he's not someone who goes around flaunting that he negotiated all of these contracts.
"Casey understands that he has a job to do, and it's not about him. It's about doing what's best for his clients. He's always been that way.''
And, oh, how he ever had reason to brag. There were seven contracts this winter worth at least $100 million, and Close and his company negotiated four of them.
It all started, once again, with Jeter. Jeter, who played just 17 games last season, had a $9.5 million player option that Close turned into a one-year, $12 million deal.
Along came Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who received a seven-year, $215 million contract extension one year before free ageny, making him the highest-paid player in baseball, with an average salary of $30.7 million.
There were the month-long negotiations for Masahiro Tanaka that involved 15 clubs. The result was a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees - the most lucrative deal signed by a Japanese player.
Then there was Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman's eight-year, $135 million extension. Jason Heyward's two-year, $13.3 million deal. And Cincinnati Reds pitcher Homer Bailey's six-year, $105 million extension.
Toss in another dozen players on one-year contracts, and voila! - you get nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars.
Dodgers starter Zack Greinke examined all of the contracts by his agent, and came to a conclusion.
"I think the best contract of all of them,'' Greinke says, "was Jamey Wright's contract.''
You mean the 39-year Dodger reliever who got a one-year, $1.8 million deal.
"Yeah, Greinke says, "it was his first major-league contract in nine years. So it's got to be.''
Greinke actually represented himself in the 2012 season before conducting a search and hiring Close. He said he was swayed by Close's integrity.
Then, Close got him a six-year, $147 million deal, a record at the time for a right-handed pitcher. What's more, Greinke has an out close after the 2015 season, as does Tanaka after 2017 and Kershaw after 2018 - essentially giving his three top pitching clients their own markets.
"I wanted an opportunity for an opt-out," Greinke said. "When I signed my four-year deal with Kansas City, after the second year, I didn't want to be there any more. It's not so much that I thought I was worth more money, but if it's a (six-year deal), what if you don't like there? That's out."
"He has better ethics than most,'' Greinke says. "I don't think he's slimy like a lot of guys are. Ther
e are other very good agents out there, but they are very slimy.
"He may not get every last penny, but he's not going to get in a situation where you get screwed, or get put in a bad situation or bad contract.''
Certainly, the man can keep a secret. There wasn't a single clue about Jeter's retirement. No one knew who was going to be the eventual winner in the Tanaka sweepstakes, although Close made it clear it would take at least a six-year deal to land him. Freeman was supposed to be going to arbitration, not signing a deal that makes him the face of the organization.
"You definitely appreciate that,'' Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels said, "that when you talk, it remains private. And when you talk to him, you feel like you're going to get the truth. It's always cordial, always respectful. There are no emotional ups and down.
"He's as tough as there are in negotiations. You're not going to get any discount. But at least you feel good about the process.''
Says Yankees GM Brian Cashman: "Casey Close is as professional as they come. He's always been a pleasure to deal with. He keeps it simple, and his clients get huge rewards.
"There are so many different styles when it comes to agents, and I appreciate his style more than others.''
Close, who lives in Greenwich, Conn., with his wife, Gretchen Carlson and two kids, still tries to live life as normal as possible. They managed to get away to Cabo San Lucas for a family vacation after Christmas in between his negotiations and his wife's TV show, "The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson,'' on Fox News.
And, yes, the cell phone really does go off during family dinner hour.
"It was a very busy offseason,'' Close said, "there were times I had to juggle all of the responsibilities. But it's important to have balance. You cannot let any one thing dictate what you're doing.''
Then again, he needs to keep those first few days in April open so he can be at Tanaka's major-league debut. He wants to be at the Yankees' home-opener the following week to see Jeter. And yes, there is that Sept. 25 date for Jeter's final regular-season home game at Yankee Stadium, and Sept. 28 in Boston to see perhaps Jeter's final game.
"Casey is family,'' Jeter says. "We have a relationship that goes beyond player-agent. He's just a good person, you know. Really, we have a lot of the same characteristics. I'm extremely loyal. So is Casey.''
So if Jeter ever needs a loan one day to buy that baseball team, we've got an idea who he'll be calling.
BIGGEST CONTRACTS IN MLB, BY TOTAL VALUE: