How to use Twitter properly to enhance your baseball experience

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Moshe Mandel had a great post over at The Yankee Analysts yesterday. It’s about Twitter, and he keys on the biggest thing that keeps a lot of baseball fans off it: they misunderstand the point of it all.

As an example, Moshe links to a Time Magazine list of the allegedly most important Twitter accounts for sports fans to follow. With the exception of the first name listed — Old Hoss Radbourn, which is a feed in which one of the more clever people I’ve ever encountered pretends to be the long dead 19th century ace — they’re athletes or celebrities. The thing is, however, if you get on Twitter to follow athletes and celebrities, you’re missing out on everything it has to offer.  As Moshe notes:

Most people see Twitter as a one way street, a tool to follow celebrities, funny people, and Eric Stangel without much interaction. To them, Twitter serves as an RSS feed to the thoughts of the interesting elite, which is why it may seem vapid to spend a lot of time using it. Whenever I tell people that I frequently utilize Twitter, they roll their eyes and ask me some variation of “Why do you care about Celebrity X’s dinner”?

But Twitter has the capability to be so much more, and for many of us it has become an invaluable implement in the sports fan toolbox. It has much greater utility as a social networking device than it does as a celebrity follower, and no greater example can be found in the sports world, where media members, bloggers, and fans have come together to build a vibrant network for discussion and debate about sports.

Though it’s sometimes a wise-cracking vehicle for me, I mostly use Twitter for following baseball. And the key people I follow in Twitter are not athletes.  Rather, they fall into two broad categories: (1) baseball media people who break news; and (2) passionate baseball fans.  The first group are self-explanatory. I want to talk for a minute about the second group. And yes, if you’re already a Twitter addict this is not going to be useful for you. I’m talking primarily here to the people who haven’t yet felt compelled to join up and start tweeting or, at the very least, lurking.

Moshe himself fits the latter description. Sure, he has a blog to promote, but like most bloggers on Twitter, the utility of following him is not to get his latest links. He’s a big time Yankees fan and brings analysis, humor, questions and emotion about his Yankees that enrich the way I think of the team. So do a bunch of other hardcore Yankees fans I know.  And Phillies fans. And Mets fans. And Reds fans. And Brewers fans. And Giants fans. And Red Sox fans and fans of every other team.  They’re just people, ya know, ranging from college students to working stiffs with whom I converse every day and — as soon as the games get going tomorrow — most evenings.

As games are going on, the baseball Twitter people are pointing out stuff that I, as a non-fan of their teams, wouldn’t immediately see.  They’re raising questions and answering them.  They key is the casualness to it and the interactivity.  You’re not reading news or blog posts or stuff like that. You’re having a true conversation with people like you would at a bar or in your living room or something.  Except you can leave abruptly without having to pardon yourself.

As we get going on the 2011 baseball season, I’d encourage those of you who haven’t yet jumped on board the Twitter train to give it a whirl. For baseball purposes, I’d recommend that you first follow the HardballTalk people (Me, Aaron, D.J., Drew, Bob and Matthew). Then take a look at the feeds of the people I’m following. These aren’t all friends (I haven’t met most of them and, indeed, I fight with some of them) and they’re not all G-rated, but most of them bring a constant stream of news, analysis, insight, humor, pathos and plain fun to following baseball. Pick a handful and watch the conversations for a while.

Then just butt in. As long as you’re polite, you’ll be a welcome part of the larger baseball conversation. And your baseball consumption will be much more nutritious as a result.

Imagining Theo Epstein in politics

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“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

Or: “When Theo Epstein won World Series championships with the two most championship-starved franchises in baseball history, he got bored, and decided to run for the Senate or something.”

That latter bit is the premise of a Politico piece speculating that the Cubs president could go into politics one day. The story features an interview with former Obama chief strategist David Axlerod, who thinks Theo has what it takes. Mostly what he has is fame, popularity, good looks and money. No idea what his positions on issue are, but that other stuff goes a long way in politics these days.

Bonus: given what we just elected last fall, a guy who once had a little temper tantrum and dressed up in a gorilla suit is just as viable a candidate as anyone.

Another interestingly named player is promoted by the Pirates

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When you promote a player from the minors, the first and foremost consideration is whether or not he can help your ball club. But, assuming that’s taken care of, teams should really, really make it a priority to call up dudes with cool sounding names because it makes life more interesting for the rest of us.

The Pirates are doing that. The other night Dovydas Neverauskas made his big league debut. In addition to being the first Lithuanian born-and-raised player in major league history, it’s a solid, solid name. Now the Pirates are making another promotion: Gift Ngoepe.

Yep, Gift Ngoepe. He’s an infielder from South Africa, making the leap to the bigs due to David Freese‘s hamstring injury. Ngoepe, 27, was batting just .241/.308/.379 through 66 plate appearances this season with Triple-A Indianapolis, his ninth in the minors, so he’s not exactly a prospect. But man, that’s a killer name.

It’s also worth mentioning that Gift and Neverauskas were arrested together in a bar fight last August in Toledo, so there is already a good basis for some bonding here.

Good luck, Gift. Gift Ngoepe. Mr. Ngoepe. G-Ngo. Man, I could do this all day.