It all started with an orange speedo…or rather the search for one, as in “Mike Napoli Orange Speedo.” No, I wasn’t the one looking for this, but I started getting search engine hits using this phrase and had to laugh. Initially, I assumed that the legends of Mike Napoli, man’s man, ladies’ man, man about town (gee, can you tell I’ve been watching Down with Love? 😉 ) were finding new inspiration in Texas. But eventually a hash tag clued me in to the fact that this was a Twitter thing. Apparently Naps has been ending most of tweets with #orangespeedo. Color me amused…and also clueless so, hey, if any Ranger fans in the know would like enlighten us, feel free. 🙂
Tracking down the story behind this goofy micro-trending topic got me thinking about Twitter in general and baseball players who tweet in particular. We’ve all heard the wonderful stories of the relaxed atmosphere fans enjoyed around the ballpark during baseball’s Golden Age, how baseball players and fans used to casually interact more regularly. My grandfather and his friends used to shag balls for the minor league Angels during batting practice. My father-in-law remembers being among the random kids who were invited down onto the field to play catch with one another and some of the ballplayers before Hollywood Stars games. Now those were minor league teams, at the time the only baseball we had in Los Angeles, but I have heard similar stories about major league teams on the lucky-to-have-them east coast. The father of a friend and a few of his buddies were occasional Brooklyn Dodgers bat boys, not because they were anyone special. Quite the opposite in fact: because they were neighborhood kids who hung around Ebbets all the time.
It’s not as if the average fan developed close, personal friendships with baseball players in the Golden Age but there was definitely a greater feeling of closeness than, say, I experienced in my youth. Fans got to learn a little bit about the players as people from their own small interactions with them, or from a friend or family member’s interactions with them. When I went to ballgames as a child and a teen, the players were certainly nice to the fans, with plenty of smiles for the kids especially. But I definitely envy the chattier atmosphere enjoyed by earlier generations.
I think Twitter and other social media brings a little bit of this closeness back to the player/fan relationship. As with the Golden Age, the average fan is not going to develop a close personal friendship with his or her favorite players over Twitter. But, depending on how they choose to tweet, we can learn a little bit more about them as people. A lot of it is every bit as unentertaining as our thoughts are to other people. But some of it is sweet, funny or interesting. Mike Napoli and Torii Hunter still talking a little trash over who is the reigning dominoes king of the Angels clubhouse – my money’s on Torii ;). Howie Kendrick has taken up photography and, like CJ Wilson, occasionally shares his work with the fans on Twitter. And so on. In a way, this is even more casual and relaxed than what our grandparents experienced…just not in person.
Sadly, just as insurance and safety concerns along with fans venturing to the ballpark in greater and greater numbers brought an end to the casual chats and games of catch of the Golden Age, easy Twitter access to ballplayers is bound to come to an end at some point. As more and more people get Twitter accounts and begin following their teams and others, instances of jokes or comments take out of context or just plain taken the wrong way will increase, the occasional truly inappropriate breach of clubhouse confidentiality will occur, or something else will happen (perhaps even an outright MLB rule requiring such 😦 ) that will lead to players keeping their public accounts very bland and public relations-ish indeed, or shutting them down altogether. So it’s best to enjoy it while it lasts. Just think, eventually our grandchildren will listen to our glory days stories and exclaim in a mixture of awe and disbelief “You mean they really used to tease each other and crack jokes and post their favorite workout mixes and stuff right there on the Internet for everyone to see?! Wow, you were so lucky!” …you know, after we re-explain such quaint technologies as the Internet and Twitter to them for the 14th time.