Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Baseball Players on Twitter

For me, last year saw a definitive change in the way I ‘used’ Twitter (really, as opposed to having an account but ‘not using it’) when MLB Gameday integrated a Twitter window into their At Bat for PC interface. As the season started, I found myself “joining the conversation” (as Twitter’s marketing puts it) which really means, I found a new group of anonymous Cub fans online to exchange smack-talk, particularly during games. By proxy, this led to a rise in “twilationships” and the grotesque expansion of my Cubs and baseball-related RSS Feed from a handful to a boatload. The Twitter window in At Bat…the folks at MLBAM have their marketing down (as if we didn’t know that already).

I could write an entire article about my Twitter experience, less the baseball player focus…but won’t at this time. For now, all I’d like to say is that I found out last year that fans of other teams DO NOT appreciate the same kind of smack that Cubs fans exchange, during or after the game. I’ve been having trouble embracing this…Padres fans are the WORST at this, they have absolutely no sense of humor, and seriously (not jovially) chastise their team especially when they are doing well; take the horrified response of Padres fans to Bud Black being named Manager of the Year as an example. However, I think I have finally found a few Royals fans with the same sardonic wit, biting sense of humor, and pre-disposition for loving and hating their team lightheartedly.

During the offseason this year, myself and many of my fellow “twits” began to discover what started as a very small and innocuous group of professional baseball players on Twitter, mostly major leaguers. This soon expanded to a larger, less homogenous group of professional ballplayers en masse, consisting of mostly minor leaguers and prospects thrust by their own design and perhaps their own initiative for self-promotion and affirmation. Honestly, the majority (by vast numbers) are doing less promotion and more “sharing their professional baseball psyche,” tweeting the anticipation of spring training, signing with a new club, working out, going out to eat, playing video games or Words With Friends, needing technical help (usually Twitter or game console help), picking up family from the airport, inserting proactive biblical words of wisdom as well as secular tenets of motivation and success. With the line between major league and minor league ever-blurred for most of these folks, “baseball players on twitter” has, for me and for many of my peers, become an unmistakable link between our lives/love of the game/fandom and the same for these otherwise normal folks (just like us) with the same interests.

This experience, with this generation…could it serve to cement the bond between the professional and the fan and return the societal passion America has for “America’s Game” to its pre-1994 strike condition? This is more than a trendy “life in the digital age” type of question, but still merely theological in nature…

It all started with “hey y’all” tweets, then “looking forward to spring training” tweets, then posting pictures of green grass and batting cages tweets, then posting pictures of fan fest tweets, then “follow my buddy X” tweets (players and non-players), and THEN…the really fun stuff started. Not that any of that wasn’t fun…

Some examples and discussion on the glory of baseball players on Twitter, only scratching the surface of the action over the past 2 months plus:

Various clubs are well-represented on Twitter; Cubs fans were elated when, among others, popular players such as Ryan Dempster (@DempsterFDN), Casey Coleman and Randy Wells (@rwells36bsi)…along with several prospects, such as Matt Szczur (@superSZCZ4) and Fernando Perez (@outfieldrambler), who is downright HILARIOUS…got Twitter accounts.

Things were going well. Suddenly, on or around the first day of spring training, Randy Wells posted this tweet:

Then this one the following day:

The unofficial “tword” was that Cubs players in training were being discouraged to tweet. Some are adhering to this, some are not. One of Cub fandom’s favorite tweeps sent us this message via @CubsInsider:

Some other major leaguers go above and beyond the call of duty; the two hardest-working ballplayers on Twitter (that are ‘officially’ MLB full-time status) are Michael Cuddyer (@mcuddy5) and Logan Morrison (@LoMoMarlins). Cuddy, in particular, wins the award, flipping through the what I can only assume are literally thousands of tweets per day to actually answer and retweet hundreds of questions. Logan's wit is drier and more random...his volume is very close to Cuddy's. My favorites from each:

AWESOME!! Now, the next time I see the Marlins play, I can yell “Sharktits” and he will know I’m there.

Hunter Pence (@HunterPence9) gets honorable mention; he’s not as funny as Logan Morrison but he stays busy…he was one of the first ball players I followed on Twitter. I also need to mention Sam LeCure (@mrLeCure) and Matt Maloney (@mo56maloney), two Reds pitchers who spent a lot of time with the Louisville Bats. Matt was gracious enough to retweet my post of his picture on the clubhouse wall recently:

If this (a player responding and/or retweeting one of your tweets) is “Level 1” interaction between fans and players, then “Level 2” is somewhat just as gratifying. Howie Kendrick (@HKendrick47), a n00b to twitter, tweeted this a couple of days ago:

I just couldn’t resist, so I retweeted:

About 5 minutes later:

Some of the smack-talk between team members (and between former team members as well) is very reassuring. These guys can be as hard on each other as we are to them (amongst ourselves, or screaming at the TV) when they muff a fly ball or pitch to a guy they shouldn’t. Twins pitching prospect Ben Revere (@BenRevere9) was tweeting from a college baseball game, and kept bringing up the “medal bats.” Yes, fan-tweeps…leave this one alone; his teammate Denard Span (@thisisdspan) let him know very quickly (even Cuddyer resisted calling him out):

I particularly enjoy the intra-baseball player “inside joke” smack-talk conversation. You may not get the joke, but by context alone…it’s still hilarious.

As a side note, beware…not all baseball players on twitter can handle smack-talk. The Cubs’ Fernando Perez is one of the few:

Many folks learn the hard way (most outspoken about this is Dirk Hayhurst, we’ll talk about him later) that you shouldn’t rack a baseball player on their performance. If you have opinions about their mechanics, their swing, or that silly error they made…feel free to chortle along with your fan-tweeps, but leave the players alone. This does make sense. This is also a nice Dirk Hayhurst segue…

Dirk Hayhurst (@TheGarfoose) is one of the most enjoyable players on Twitter. As an accomplished novelist and esteemed Major/Minor League veteran, he is completely unbridled and always interesting on Twitter. Several weeks ago, his rant about a fan who wanted his autograph, which was delivered by Hayhurst via a “Garfoosed” generic card (this means he drew his self-created comic creature “The Garfoose” on the card. The fan then subsequently refused his autograph, which prompted Hayhurst to explode into a multi-tweet “my side of the story” epic (140 characters at a time doesn’t stop him) that then morphed into a Twitter contest for the prized “refused autograph.” Hayhurst received some feedback a few days later on a less-than stellar outing from some unkempt fans…some was valid ‘smack-talk’ business, but some was scout-like advice…all of which hit Mr Hayhurst at the wrong time and developed into a series of public “BLOCKED” tweets where each individual infraction was discussed, one tweet at a time. Just a few days ago, Hayhurst launched into one of the funniest threads ever, all about kung fu. I don’t know, I just love it. He has a great website, do visit it sometime.

One of the most evident impacts of the current status quo with the evolving relationship between baseball players, fans, and twitter occurred on the afternoon of March 20, when Pat Neshek (@PatNeshek), who started the offseason as a member of the Twins’ roster, suddenly announced on Twitter:

Suddenly every single one of Pat’s 11K plus followers knew what nobody else had reported yet, Pat had scooped the entire world of baseball with one tweet. Even the official Padres Fan twitter account appeared mystified…only a few minutes after Pat’s tweet:

As far as I know, this was the first of an unprecedented social media twist to what is truly breaking MLB news of any kind.

Other highlights of personal gems experienced via Twitter during the offseason-so-far, and this is only scratching the surface:

Frank Catalanotto (@fcat27) is on Twitter. I’ve always admired his presence at the plate; he’s served on a few MLB rosters over the last 10 years or so, most recently with the Mets in 2010. Frank is a great guy, his website is very modest and focuses a bit on his support of the Frank Catalanotto Foundation, a cause that raises awareness about Vascular Birthmarks (proceeds from sales of autographed items go toward the foundation). Frank also recently worked alongside Mike Piazza and several others with the Italian National Baseball team during the winter when they came to Florida for a few weeks of training. I’m a big fan of the World Baseball Classic (Frank played on the Italian team in 2006 and 2009) and his tweets and pictures of the goings-on during this unique camp were enthralling. You can tell that even though he isn’t currently on an MLB roster, he is committed to keeping in touch with his fans, and he knows this is the best way to do this.

Frank, one of these days I am going to win your Monday Twitter contest!

Michael Schlact (@michael_schlact) is probably one of the best-loved baseball players on Twitter, period. He had us all glued to our feeds as the story of his injury recovery and ‘non-roster’ status evolved over the past few months. When he was featured in a story on MiLB a month or so ago, this event must have been retweeted a thousand times. Always confident, always positive, always Christian, Michael struggled through a very precarious off-season of conditioning and prayer until recently he was rewarded for his perseverance, a contract with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, of the independent Atlantic League. Now there are thousands of baseball fans, from casual to avid, who are learning more about independent league baseball. And he’s thanking everyone who is congratulating him on this latest achievement. Michael is the real deal, without his involvement on Twitter...potential moments lost like tears in rain.

And…oh joy of joys…we now have American baseball players in Japan on Twitter. First it was former first-round draft pick Bryan Bullington (@bpbullington), now of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp…then it was Clayton Hamilton (@HamiltonClayton) who will be playing for the Yokohama BayStars this year. As a fan of Japanese Baseball (and Americans playing yakyuu in Japan) I can’t wait to read their tweets as they share their experiences.

I’ve tried to build a list on Twitter of all the baseball players I follow, but I keep running into issues…and, I keep adding to the list. Most of us have grown accustomed to clicking on twitter handles of folks mentioned in other baseball players’ tweets to see if they, too are baseball players. This way, we’re all adding what feels like a new player every day, and some days more than one. My fellow Cubs tweep @cowsarecool, I think, has done a great job at this. This list blows mine away, if I had one. Here are some links to lists; if you’re not following any baseball players yet, or if you want to find more of them “easy,” here’s a list baseball players, and just Cubs players as well.

So as you can see I’m a big FAN of this. Completely hooked. For what it’s worth, Facebook just isn’t the venue for this kind of entertainment and “twinformation”…I’m not a fan of Facebook (among other things, it’s way too personal and there’s no “doesn’t like this” button”). In fact, if you try to explain this to someone who does Facebook and does not do Twitter, it’s really murky.

“Oh, so you’re friends?”
“No, I’m following them.”

So, it doesn’t matter if Sheryl Crow and 34,256 others “like” what Denard Span had for lunch. And far be it for me to go around writing on anyone’s wall, friend or otherwise.

You have to consider the social medioric impact of this experience. Now instead of saying “hey my dad saw Roger Maris play in the Minor Leagues,” we can say “hey, Drew Butera just told ‘me’ he’s going to crush some Subway.” Yes, it’s a fake, plastic, digital interactive experience. But it is an experience nonetheless…Duke Leto Atreides said “everyone needs new experiences” and while it may sound kool if you had a baseball player as a buddy, you might enjoy following them on Twitter a great deal more than that. And yes, you may get to know them better this way…it is true, that Logan Morrison admitted on Twitter, to over 13K of his followers, that his most embarrassing moment during a game was “Pooped my pants once.” You just can’t make this stuff up.

And you can’t make this up either…yes, my friends, Kevin Millar (@KMillar15) is on Twitter. Tips and all. Cowboy Up!!

1 comment:

  1. He may already be on one of the lists you provided a link to, but I have to say Ian Stewart (@IAN_STEWART_2sc) is one of my favorite follows. The guy (especially this season during his recovery) gets on twitter every single night for hours just chatting with fans, answering questions about anything under the sun & seems to legitimately value what fans have to say. He even tweeted me about the Bachelorette once! I know, I know. Don't judge us. Anyway, thought I'd share another good Cubbie follow! :)


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