Turning a corner.
Nine years and a couple weeks ago, I sat in row two above
the visitors’ dugout in The Ballpark in Arlington. I accounted for half the crowd.
It was a different time.
Texas was about a week away from
heading out to Port Charlotte for spring
training, preparing to defend its third AL West title in four years. Juan Gonzalez had just been traded to Detroit. Michael Young was about to go to his first
big league spring training – in Dunedin, Florida, as a Blue Jays farmhand. Alex Rodriguez was about to go to his final spring
training as a Mariner. Ian Kinsler was a
month away from his final high school Spring Break. Josh Hamilton didn’t have any tattoos. I didn’t have any kids.
The reason I sat in The Ballpark on that chilly February
afternoon, as Hank Blalock and Kevin Mench and Jose Morban stood out during
infield and B.P. among the group of lower-level prospects in town for the organization’s
Career Development program, was that Director of Player Development Reid
Nichols’s assistant, John Lombardo, had contacted me a day or two earlier, relaying
the message that Mr. Nichols wanted to have a meeting with me.
I walked from outside The Ballpark through the one open gate
to the concourse, and then found the one open gate to the seats, and then found
my spot, easy enough because there was only one occupied seat in the entire stands. I sat next to Nichols, each of us in an
unloosened tie as Mench laid heavy assault on the left field bleachers and
Blalock took grounders at third. Nichols,
whom I’d never met, didn’t exactly ease into the discussion. He wanted to know two things right away, one
specific and one general: Where did I find out the summer before that Tulsa
Drillers teammates Cesar King and Juan Bautista had gotten into a clubhouse
fight? And who was I working for?
Nichols was extremely suspicious of my access, my motivation,
T.R. Sullivan, Evan Grant, and Gerry Fraley were Topps,
Donruss, and Fleer.
To Nichols (and plenty others, I suspect), I was those
Kellogg’s 3D baseball cards that curled up about five minutes after they came
out of box of Raisin Bran. Or those Slurpee
baseball coins that you had to dent with a fingernail to dislodge them from the
“Blog” wasn’t even a word in 2000. Internet baseball coverage was fringy, at
best. Particularly on the local level, where
Fraley might have accused you of illicitly invading his turf if you dared to
carve out a little space on the Interwebs, writing about minor league
ballplayers in a space that interested fans could visit for free.
Times have unquestionably changed. Today, there is useful Rangers content available
to all of us from Scott Lucas, Adam Morris,
Joey Matschulat, Jason Parks, Eleanor Czajka, Jason Cole, Shroom Carter, Joe
Siegler, and Grant Schiller, among others.
Show me a big league team with a better set of independent bloggers, raising
each other’s game.
The beat-writing landscape has transformed itself, too. Sullivan left the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in January 2006, making a trailblazing
move to an Internet home at MLB.com. Fraley
left the Dallas Morning News nine
months after that, to do something. And
yesterday, Grant announced that he was leaving the News to join D Magazine, where
he’ll cover the Rangers beat in a blog format, while Mike Hindman provides his
own bloggy takes, at “Inside
Wasting no time, Grant was where he should be right when the
unveiling was announced, in Surprise, Arizona, where yesterday he saw Scott
Feldman deal and Derrick Turnbow struggle and Jason Jennings show more velocity
than at any time in 2008. Where he saw
Andruw Jones strike out for the 10th time in 15 plate appearances (he’ll
almost double his spring workload today, leading off every inning of a morning “B”
game against Kansas City and then playing all nine innings in the afternoon “A”
game against the Royals). Where he saw
C.J. Wilson take a ninth-inning ground ball off his left index finger but
pronounce it as nothing more than a “flesh wound” after X-rays came back
negative. Where he learned that Brandon
McCarthy felt like his shoulder was good to go after a Thursday long-toss session
and asked to keep his start today, instead getting a chance to pitch in the more
controlled environment of the “B” game.
And Grant blogged it all, and a ton more.
(for now). But Evan Grant is Evan Grant,
and if anything, the quality of his work should tick up, as he now has a wider strike
This is going to be good.
Back on January
17, we talked about how the local newspaper’s baseball beat cooperative was
a disappointment to us as fans (to say nothing of those displaced
professionally by the transition), suggesting that while the blog community had,
arguably, filled some of the gaps in the market’s ability to analyze baseball capably,
we were all penalized by the reduction in the beat writer roster.
The day I met Reid Nichols, the first Rangers executive who
had ever expressed an interest in what I was doing, our discussion began with
him grilling me about my agenda and ended with him satisfied that I was simply
an insane Texas Rangers fan with a genuine passion for seeing this franchise
win. He opened his mind, in the space of
two hours, to the idea that I was not digging for dirt but instead writing
about the team because of a fire that burned at my core. If it’s provided responsibly and with
appropriate intentions, more information for the fans is nothing but good.
Nine years later, the media industry, fighting through its
worst days, is opening its mind as well.
I finished my January 17, 2009 report with this: “Hopefully
there are some smart, bold folks out there already working on ways to keep the
Rangers beat from depopulating.”
Good going, D Magazine.