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January 10, 2012

Baseball ProGUESTus

27 Outs, 140 Characters: Fandom in the Time of Twitter

by Maiya Gessling

Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.

Maiya Gessling is the co-founder and co-author of Snow Woulda Had It, an SF Giants blog. She's currently in college, where she takes Japanese classes and gets rained on a lot. She has a twitter, @maiyasplash, full of baseball and Doctor Who. 

On the night of May 22, 2009, I received no fewer than seven phone calls from my best friend gleefully reminding me that the San Francisco Giants had just lost a baseball game. This was, of course, shocking, as we had just returned from a park where Fred Lewis and Emmanuel Burriss were on the field simultaneously.

I was the one gloating the next evening, when the Giants scored five runs with four hits and two walks against Mark Lowe, but the third game in the series was Felix Hernandez vs. Barry Zito, and You Can't Predict Baseball failed to make an appearance. It was probably still nursing its wounds after Lewis, Burris, Bengie Molina, and Yuniesky Betancourt all made errors during the first two games.

I had no Twitter account to post to that weekend, or for the rest of 2009 and most of 2010, nor a series of blog recaps to check. There was only me, my friend, my dad, the game, bags of overly-salted peanuts, and the guy with the tenor saxophone playing outside the entrance to Safeco Field. Occasionally, there would be Mariners' radio running in the background or a few hundred words from the Giants' website. I spent little time questioning those words. I cheered runs and booed umpires, but I was analyzing college admission essay prompts rather than poring over WARP graphs. I liked baseball for its immediacy and its fun, and because it had nothing to do with "the cultural awareness you've developed."

However, it's hard to spend any time at all on the internet without following rabbit trails down into various Wonderlands. One led to my Twitter timeline being half-composed of New York Yankees fans and beat writers, despite the Giants logo on the hat in my closet.  Another ended at a blog post proposing that there were better statistics to predict what a pitcher would do than ERA. Dozens of searches after typing that sentence, I still can't re-discover the exact post, but I do remember that it used big, scary, new acronyms like FIP.

Now I'm here, with a Twitter stream full of Joe Panik puns and people who know who Joe Panik is, wondering how much less I would be laughing if I didn't know that the slugging percentage of the Seattle Mariners in 2010 was within a rounding error of Francisco Cervelli'sFIP looks a lot less scary after seeing far too many people write about its stormy relationship with Matt Cain for the fifth or twelfth or forty-second time. The bottom right-hand corner of my screen tells me when someone has updated their blog or that prospect Justin Fitzgerald is quite the artist.

And that is what baseball's Twitterland—which, thanks to the Marlins, is looking more and more like Candy Land every day—does. It takes you to fantastic insight and obscure statistics. It takes you to local beat writers, national rumor mills, and out-of-the-way blog posts. It takes you to funny tweets by complete strangers who then become part of your daily baseball check-in. It brings you here, to Baseball Prospectus. It hammers out the numbers in so many different configurations that you would swear no one could possibly have anything else to say, until you open a new document yourself or your computer beeps at you yet again.

Then, after you've seen the numbers and the scouting reports and the GIFs, and the articles debasing the numbers and the scouting reports and showcasing the GIFs, it tells you that none of it matters. Because the 25-year-old Double-A prospect with a 3.53 minor league ERA draws awesome caped squirrels, and that kind of talent is desperately needed in Major League Baseball, as long as it's kept away from Miami.

It's funny how 20 or so badly capitalized words every few hours can make you care about a prospect whose name you would never have known a few years ago. It's funny how quickly you come to respect the opinions of people without any affiliation to ESPN or mlb.com, when you paid no attention to them before. It's funny how we can acknowledge the wonderful novelty of this thing the internet has created, and at the same time find it difficult to remember what it was like before instantaneous feedback and the presence of so many other people who realize that there is more to a pitcher's stat line than ERA (and may have been the ones who taught you that). And it's funny how easy it is to miss something when news comes in by the second instead of by the hour.

In elementary school, anyone who was anyone had a Lisa Frank notebook (except the boys, who had cooties). Now, anyone who's anyone has to fit their thoughts on the latest trade, signing, release, rumor, or twitching of their team's fifth outfielder's left pinky finger into 140 characters and hit the enter key before too many other people say the same thing. I follow fewer people than most of the people I follow do, but by the time someone sees a tweet preceded by "BREAKING," my Twitter timeline is likely to have proceeded through four of the five stages of grief—Shock, Reaction, Desperate BP Searches, Delayed Reaction—and gone into Angel Villalona Jokes seconds before most, if any, official accounts have picked it up. A second is a long time in a world in which you can get 104,000 search results for “angel villalona” in one fifteenth of that time, but the few minutes in which a hundred or so tweets blink past on my screen hardly leave time for more than a sarcastic remark and a Firefly reference, much less any well-considered musing.

***

In mid-June, I will walk into Safeco, which I confess that I now know far better than I ever knew AT&T Park, wearing Giants colors for the first time since 2009. In the interim, the Giants have won the World Series, DFA'd Aaron Rowand, lost Buster Posey for most of a season, and walked off courtesy of Burris and Darren Ford. If they lose this time, I will receive seven phone calls and see several hundred angry tweets. I will know more. I will be more aware. I will be more connected and more passionate. I will care more, because I know more others who care. I will be quicker to judge. I will be quicker to analyze, to criticize, to dismiss, and to roll my eyes. I will be more cynical and more sarcastic. I will know enough to hate things I would never have given a second thought to before. I will know enough to love the things I've always loved, but more.

And oddly, looking back over college admission prompts, I can't seem to find one that I couldn't somehow relate back to baseball.

Related Content:  Blog,  The Artist,  The Who,  Twitter

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