Social media has changed the way we do everything; business, pleasure and in-between. It has changed the way we live our daily lives. It doesn't matter who or how old you are, odds are, you have either a Facebook page or a Twitter account ... or both.
Whether it's sharing pictures and updates for far away family and friends to "like," or learning and sharing information with people and businesses that interest you in 140 characters or less, the real-time connection that social media provides brings people together whether or not they've met in real life.
As with all things, there is always the Clint Eastwood Affect, as I call it: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Fortunately, there is exponentially more of the first than of the other two combined. We will look at the how social media, specifically Twitter, has impacted minor league baseball, and to a point, the Arizona League.
As few as six years ago, the thought of "talking" to famous athletes or performers, such as former NFL QB Kurt Warner or singer/songwriter Taylor Swift, would have been dismissed as "silly". Why would anyone famous remove that wall of privacy; something that's rare for those living in the spotlight? The answer, it seems, is multipronged, but all reasons are rooted in one thing: relationships.
Whether the decision for a famous person to participate in social media is based on the importance of marketing him or herself, as well as the need to keep up in order to stay relevant, or to promote a new project, build a fan base, etc., if people feel that they "know" the famous person, they will be more likely to support that person/his or her business/his or her cause. Twitter is free. It's accessible from any computer, smart phone, or even basic cellphone. Share something using 140 characters or fewer, then, BAM! watch the responses and retweets.
It's grassroots marketing in the simplest form: a perfect fit for minor league baseball. No longer do baseball enthusiasts (or, "addicts" as some of us are called) have to rely on the USPS (United States Postal Service or Snail Mail) for weekly/monthly periodicals or even the local daily paper. Real-time information provided via Twitter has raised the awareness of all things, including minor league baseball.
Over the past few years, the increasing number of teams, front office personnel, scouts, wanna-be-scouts, players and their families interacting with fans via Twitter has bridged the gap between professional sports teams and athletes and the general public. The athletes are accessible, the clubs enjoy the promotion, and fans relate to and feel like they personally know players such as some of the Oakland A's own: RHP Max Perlman (@Big_Max19) and OFers Michael Taylor (@MTAYinh) and Jeremy Barfield (@Baseclogger). A's major league RHP Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) and his wife, Amanda (@Mrs_McCarthy32) have generated positive exposure for themselves and the A's through their creative, intelligent, funny tweets. Not only have they built up popularity from the A's fan base, but they have also recruited fans from opposing teams who say, "the Dbacks/Rays/Tigers are my team, but when McCarthy is pitching, I root for the A's." To these opposing team's fans, McCarthy identity as the ace of the A's rotation comes in a close second to his and his wife's Twitter-personas.
Minor league baseball players who may have previously been ignored for not being top-round picks are on Twitter and are growing their own fanbase regardless of where they were picked in the draft. Twitter conversations between players are quite popular with followers; it's a glimpse inside the bonding and the camaraderie of these gifted athletes. It is almost as if the Twitter followers are eavesdropping.
When Max Perlman pitches a great game, his followers and fans can share their congratulations with him immediately. If a player tweets how much he likes a certain song, movie, hobby, or meal, the replies and feedback are connections being made with him. The more he shares about himself, the more he becomes like a friend; the more inclined his Twitter followers will spend their hard-earned money to buy his team's merchandise or to see him play. There is no denying some sort of correlation between the increased use of athletes connecting on social media and the increase in attendance at minor league baseball games, including the MLB All-Star Futures Game, the Arizona Fall League, and even local amateur tournaments such as Perfect Game and Arizona's own, Classic Baseball Tournaments.
At the same time, minor league baseball clubs have increased their interaction with fans, as well. Giveaways, score updates, and ticket promotions raise awareness and - hopefully - increase ticket sales; developing a wide-spread fanbase. Add the "smart" baseball people, who don't work for a team but who scout, evaluate, and write about prospects, and suddenly the general fan knows more about the workings of a baseball organization than he/she ever thought possible. Baseball fans are learning names, positions, and responsibilities of people in minor league baseball/player development departments of organizations, etc. Everyone gets smarter thanks to Twitter.
Breaking news is shared first on Twitter, then by the traditional outlets. Waiting for the news on television or the radio is done more for the details, not for the "immediacy" the way it was until recently. Whether it's a trade about to happen, a perfect game in the progress, or a pending rain-delay, there is no need to wait for the popular news source to cycle through to what you want to know; someone has already "tweeted" the information. The night of the signing deadline for the 2010 MLB First Year Draft picks found many waiting for the news that the number one overall pick, Bryce Harper, had in fact signed with the Washington Nationals. How was it announced? Harper's Facebook status changed. In the "employment" section, he updated it, saying he was "... now an employee of the Washington Nationals."
One use of Twitter that I find particularly valuable is to live-tweet games that are not on television or on the radio, and are only updated every half-inning online. These games take place in the Arizona League, a previously forgotten league. Personally, I have worked with teams in the AZL for many years. The 2007 AZL Championship game between the Mariners and Giants was a time when I would have loved Twitter. Working with the Mariners at the time, I had set up "text tree" with several parents of AZL Mariners players who couldn't attend the game. I texted updates to several parents, then each of them had their own group to forward my texts to, etc. It was an exciting game, and one the Mariners ultimately won. I learned the importance of the updates from the AZL from that game. It's probably why I enjoy live-tweeting the AZL Athletics games as much as I do.
During a recent visit to the A's Minor League complex at Papago, I had the great pleasure of meeting the parents of A's 2012 first-round picks Daniel Robertson and Matt Olson. Both sets of parents were as wonderful and full of pride for their boys as anyone could be. Daniel's mother Julie and his brother Ben both follow the live-tweeting of Daniel's games on Twitter. At the time, the Olsons did not have a Twitter account to follow Matt's games in Arizona from their home in Georgia, but I believe they do now. A's 2012 top pick Addison Russell's grandfather also follows the games on Twitter. These wonderful families can follow their sons'/grandsons' activity a little closer than just a periodic scoreboard update. They have all expressed their appreciation and enjoyment of this effort. This is certainly a GOOD thing.
It's because of this media platform that the AZL is becoming better known in places other than, well, Arizona. Top young draft picks; older, later-round picks, rehabbing players who need to be close to the team's player development home, and other players who need a little more playing time can produce great chemistry and a great team. Take the AZL A's, for example. Manager Marcus Jensen, Pitching Coach Jimmy Escalante, and Hitting Coach Juan Dilone have, without a doubt, one of the most talented teams I've seen in this league. This is a FUN, young team to watch. Learning and growing is what these young men do; both on the baseball field, and in life.
The smart field manager/coaches, players, and Suits (baseball front office folks) follow accounts that relate to or are based in their organization. The Oakland A's have smart people in those positions. Good to see. There is so much GOOD about social media and baseball. But there is also some of the other two. We'll group them together.
THE BAD AND THE UGLY
The bad and/or ugly side of social media is the same in many ways for these professional young men as it is for their non-professional peers. There will always be people who say awful things to or about you; it is cowardly to do so behind an anonymous Twitter persona. But those people are in the minority.
How a player conducts himself on Facebook and Twitter is probably the most controversial aspect of this topic. Some understand the responsibility of posting/tweeting, while others choose to express themselves freely. Period. Little things like learning which accolades from fans to share and which to not, will come in time. However, those who choose to use language that is considered slang but is offensive, etc., who post/tweet crude "insights" into how they treat young ladies, or who complain about "first world problems" of professional baseball players tend to lose followers and, in turn, fan support.
Yes, it is their right to express themselves, but there are kids, fans of all ages, grandparents, parents, coaches, staff, front office executives, and the media looking at what is shared. Thinking before posting is a good rule for everyone, especially for those in the public eye. Things that are shared on Twitter and Facebook can be deleted, but never permanently; once it's out there, it's out there. (See: More GOOD than BAD and UGLY combined!)
Social media HAS changed the way we live our daily lives, and with a month left in the season, I invite you to join the fun with Arizona League A's by following my live-tweets of the games at @Cu_As. Win or lose, watching the AZL A's play baseball is an experience I encourage everyone to do. If you can't make it, follow us on Twitter and keep up with the fun we have!