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.

Report: Cardinals, Yadier Molina making “major progress” on contract extension

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Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Cardinals and catcher Yadier Molina are making “major progress” on a contract extension. Molina told the team he won’t discuss an extension during the season, hence the rapid progress.

Molina is entering the last guaranteed year of a five-year, $75 million contract signed in March 2012. He and the Cardinals hold a mutual option worth $15 million with a $2 million buyout for the 2018 season. The new extension would presumably cover at least the 2018-19 seasons and likely ’20 as well.

Molina is 34 years old but is still among the most productive catchers in baseball. Last season, he hit .307/.360/.427 with 38 doubles, 58 RBI, and 56 runs scored in 581 plate appearances. Though he has lost a step or two with age, Molina is still well-regarded for his defense. The Cardinals also value his ability to handle the pitching staff.

Sandy Leon homered twice in one inning, including a grand slam

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Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon achieved a rare feat during Monday afternoon’s Grapefruit League exhibition against the Orioles: he homered twice in one inning. One of those homers happened to be a grand slam.

Leon led off the top of the fifth inning with a solo home run off of Logan Verrett. Verrett continued to get knocked around, giving up three singles and a walk before being relieved by Brian Moran. Moran gave up a walk to load the bases, then a single to knock in a run and keep the bases loaded. Leon stepped back to the plate and swatted a grand slam to left field, making it an eight-run fifth for the Red Sox. The Sox would tack on one more before the inning was mercifully ended.

How often do players homer twice in one inning during the regular season? Not that often. Since 2010, the feat has been accomplished four times in the American League and twice in the National League. The Orioles’ Mark Trumbo was the only one to do it last year.

As for Leon, he’s on track to open the season as the starting catcher in Boston, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reported last week.