As most of you have noticed, the frequency of writing here at RI has dropped considerably. I have received a few inquiries asking what was going, but the truth is, I wasn’t sure myself.
What I really needed was some time away to figure out where this website was going because it was becoming impossible to keep doing what had become the standard.
It has been almost 12 years since I wrote the first post for RI. But things are a lot different now.
In that time, I have written nearly ten novels worth of material about the Rays and have gone from a grad student, to a college teacher with a hobby on the side writing under a pseudonym, to a full-time writer and editor who is now married with two amazing children.
More importantly, the sports blogging world in general is not what it used to be.
When I first started RI, the biggest reason was because I knew there were a lot of stories and a lot of information out there in the interwebs that most Rays fans never got to see. I wanted a place where fans would have easy access to all of that information.
The sports internet has grown up a lot in those 12 years, as have the local media covering the Rays. Now, 90% of that information is readily available to fans in a variety of forms. I could still try to bring that last 10% to you guys, but the return (for you and me) on time investment is just no longer the same.
The other major change is that digital news has outgrown blogs. It used to be simple. The most complicated thing you needed to know was some basic HTML coding. The good news is that you really don’t even need to know that anymore. But now, if you want to be competitive, you need an IT department, and maybe more importantly, you need a social media team.
People visiting individual websites directly is becoming the exception more and more. If you want stuff to be read, you need to get it out onto several social media platforms and it needs to be presented in a way that is not only digestible on many different platforms, but is also shareable on those platforms. That stuff alone can take up just as much time as the writing, and sometimes more.
So while my time available to do the writing has gone down, more importantly, the time commitment needed to produce and promote the material has gone way up.
Because of that, the golden era of sports team blogs is probably over. It is Fox Books versus The Shop Around the Corner. It may be less personal, but the big outlets are much better at giving readers what they want.
In the end, that’s OK. All I ever really wanted was for Rays fans to have as much information as they needed and wanted. For a while, RI filled that gap. But in that sense at least, it is no longer needed.
Some blogs will hang on, especially if they are part of a large network. But they will probably never grow beyond what they are now — glorified chat rooms where loyal commenters go to bitch and moan and make sophomoric jokes all day long — without some major overhauls.
And that’s too bad. I would not have the career I have now if I didn’t have years of experience on this blog learning how to be a sports writer and finding my voice.
Oh, there is one other thing has changed, and this is a tough one to swallow: my love for the Rays.
I used to tell people that, like many of you, I was a Rays fan before the Rays existed.
I still remember owning a Florida White Sox cap. I still remember thinking the Giants were moving to Tampa. And I still remember having my dad take me to the large sporting goods store on Hillsborough (next to the boat dealer, the name is slipping my mind) on the first day that the new Devil Rays caps were available because our dream had finally come true: A Major League Baseball team was coming to the Bay Area!
That purple and black cap was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
But that has all changed, and I can largely blame this blog.
Over the last 12 years I have been asked an incredible number of times how somebody can get started as a sports writer. I always gave them the best advice I could to encourage their dreams. But what I really wanted to tell them was “don’t write about your favorite team.”
It is not as great as you would think.
Sure, there are some cool perks. You get to talk to the players. You get to be on the field prior to playoff games. You can email the owner whenever you want.
But you also learn things about your favorite players and your favorite team that you can’t write about and wish you didn’t know. You are forced to deal with some members of the organization that treat you like a boil. And you end up with fellow fans pissed off at you no matter what you write.
I always tell people, as a writer for a team you have three paths you can take: 1) You can be a complete homer and praise everything. If you do, you will piss off one-third of the fans; 2) You can be a complete hater and criticize everything. If you do, you will piss off two-thirds of the fans; or 3) You can try to be honest and objective, praise most, and criticize some. If you do, you will eventually piss off everybody.
I’ve heard it all. I have been called every name in the book. I have been called the “TMZ of Rays blogs.” I have had another Rays blog dedicate entire threads to just making fun of me. I even received death threats (Seriously, Rays fans threatened to kill another Rays fan, because what the Rays really need is fewer fans. Amazing).
There was a time when that stuff not only didn’t bother me, but I actually got a kick out of it. On top of that, it fueled me. I enjoyed that some people got so worked up over what I was writing. But that was before I was married. That was before I had children. That was before I realized there are so many more important things in this world than juvenile internet commenters and angry Rays bloggers.
Now that stuff is just annoying, like an annoying fly that just won’t stop buzzing near your head, and then I realized that not only does it not bother me, but I just no longer care.
And then there is the team itself. It is not their fault, but there is a sense of hopelessness in being a Rays fan. Maybe the Rays will move. Maybe they won’t. Maybe they will find a way to get better. Maybe they won’t.
I used to believe the Rays would never move. Now I am less convinced. I also used to believe that the Rays would always be smarter than everybody else, and at worst, they would always be a good team. Now I am less convinced.
A while back, the University of Oregon Ducks football team found their own “Moneyball” market inefficiency. They played fast. They scored a lot of points. And they wore wild and wacky uniforms that high school kids got excited about. Now every college football team does that, which means Oregon no longer stands out in a crowd. Not coincidentally, Oregon is now struggling and needs a new gimmick.
It’s the same with the Rays. The Rays’ “gimmick” was that they were smarter than other teams and looked at the game differently. Other teams have caught up. And when other teams catch up, it is once again about revenue streams and payrolls and the Rays can’t compete on that playing field. The Rays need a new gimmick and I am no longer confident they will find one.
At the end of the day, the reality is, I just no longer love the team the way I did when I was younger.
Now much of what I loved about the Rays wears the uniforms of the world champs, a team that I liked before the Rays existed. The Cubs are the Rays, but with Joe Maddon, Ben Zobrist, a cooler stadium, a lot more money, and a front office that is just as smart.
Life is short. You do the math.
So what does that mean for the future of this blog?
I still like the Rays. I still love the Tampa Bay area. This blog is not going anywhere. I will still write about the Rays when I feel like it and I won’t write about the Rays when I don’t feel like it. Maybe if I write less I will start to love the team more and I will want to write more. Or maybe we will bring on some other writers and give them a chance to get some experience and find their voice. Maybe we won’t.
It was never about the money. I’ve made a few bucks doing this over the years. It was never about making a career out of this. That I am now a professional writer is just as surprising to me as it is to some of you. It just happened. I’m glad it happened. But I would have been just as happy in my previous life, a pretty good one as The Professor.