A Whole New Game

Another game has ended at high Class A Visalia in the California League, and T.J. Brewer lies on his bed at the less than lavish LampLiter Inn just before midnight, grocery store sandwich draping from his hand. The muted TV jealously emits a high whirring protest as the pitcher’s eyes fixate upon a different, more interactive screen: his laptop.

“It’s the first thing I do when the game ends,” Brewer says as a crusty crumb drops. “I turn on my computer, go straight to milb.com and check up on my buddies.”

Across the country, minor leaguers and fans of minor leaguers perform similar rituals. A short time ago, ardent fans waited for their hard copy of Baseball America. Now such information becomes visible with a click of a mouse, updated in real time.

“The internet in general has made it a lot easier to follow minor leaguers,” fan-turned-blogger Grant Brisbee said. “Five years ago, the milb.com website was a total shell, and now you can pick up radio feeds from all over the country. The stats used to be very bare bones too, but now it’s easy to find performance splits on everyone down to the Arizona League.”

In addition to milb.com and baseballamerica.com, multiple fan sites exist for all 30 MLB teams. They range from sites with ornamented names, such as bleedcubbieblue.com and ussmariner.com, to the straightforward metsblog.com and nyyfans.com.

As founder of mccoveychronicles.com, Brisbee continuously interacts with fans of the San Francisco Giants. He posts his opinions, musings, and frustrations from the perspective of a pure fanatic, providing a forum for others to posts their own pie-in-the-sky thoughts. (Picture a written version of the SNL skit featuring “Da Bears” fans.) Often the topics drift to the minor leagues.

“There’s a reader who culls through the box scores every day and posts a recap of the minor league performances, and it’s definitely one of the more popular features on the site,” Brisbee said.

Unique to the minors, fans occasionally find themselves rooting for players who aren’t property of their favorite MLB team. Greg Fogg, a Yankees fan who resides near Norwich, Conn., follows the Double-A Connecticut Defenders—a local Giants’ affiliate. He can be spotted at almost every game just behind home plate: glasses and hat on, camera in hand. In mid-2005, Fogg began blogging about the games on his aptly named Greg’s Connecticut Defender’s Blog.

“The blog has grown since its inception,” he said. “I post daily now, even in the offseason. Giants fans are very interested in their prospects down on the farm and the blog provides them with game updates, observations and pictures of them in the flesh.”

In this way, he does a service to other fans all over the country—a process he enjoys.

“I like minor league baseball a lot and it doesn’t matter about who the parent clubs are that much.”

Phone Home

The Internet has also eased communication. One of the iconic images from the movie “The Rookie” is Jim Morris standing in a phone booth, trying to talk to his family for a few moments while another player angrily awaits. Now phone booths are about as relevant as Vanilla Ice.

Brewer, after checking the stats of buddies, morphs into Skype mode. He now directs his attention to his girlfriend in Arkansas, whose face illuminates the screen.

“I use Skype to talk to her and her family. Her nieces love it. They’ll just get it into their little heads all of a sudden, ‘Hey, we want to see T.J.’ This way they can. And it’s good to see her face.”

At home in Bloomington, Indiana, his family uses the Internet to listen to the ballgames, a common occurrence shared by most minor leaguers’ families taking advantage of freely streaming audio feeds.

“My parents both listen to the radio broadcast. They follow the same routine every time I pitch. My grandma drives 35 miles to be there, and they put it over the speakers. Sometimes my dad gets real nervous and has to go out to the back porch to smoke.”

We’re Watching

With entire towns and families able to witness dreams either unfolding or unraveling, added pressure may exist for minor leaguers to perform, especially with the growing popularity of fan forums.

“It definitely puts pressure on the guys that look at (fan forums),” Giants minor league coordinator of instruction Shane Turner said. “It’s best to just not look at them.”

One prominent thread seen on nyyfans.com devoted to Yankee’s prospect Jesus Montero boasts over 1,200 posts to the player/savior with over 65,000 views. Some opine him as the successor to Jorge Posada; others deem him the greatest thing since the invention of pinstripes. When a player fails to meet such expectations, comments can turn harsh.

“I don’t read the forums,” Brewer claims. “I’ll go on SFDugout.com once in a while because they have a summary of all the teams. That way I can see what everyone is doing without having to go to each team’s website.”

Other players can’t resist. Some frequent the fan sites to read about themselves during moments of excellence, only to later be trapped during failings. Occasionally, they or their family members will post in defense.

“I’d be nervous if I knew which players checked in. It’s a lot easier for me when they’re uniforms running around in my TV,” Brisbee says. “The whole ‘real people with feelings’ thing would be pretty inconvenient if I’m trying to form opinions on how they make a living.”

Players use Facebook and Myspace to communicate with each other and to friends and family back home. Pictures, comments, and the occasional prank are all posted.

Regardless of whether or not the Internet has ultimately eased the lives of players, it certainly has revolutionized the manner in which fans follow the game.

“It’s helped the minor leagues tremendously,” Turner declares. “The whole minor league boom and the rise of the Internet, I’d like to see a study done to see just how closely they’re correlated. They’ve certainly taken place over the same time period.”

Now if something could just be done about those grocery store sandwiches.

Garrett Broshuis is a pitcher, and writer, in the Giants system who has spent most of this season with Connecticut

Minors | #2009 #Prospect Pulse

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