March 24, 2006

My 15 Minutes

This week's Sports Illustrated has a lengthy article about "How the Web is Changing Sports Coverage."


The piece, which centers around the culture and growing popularity of online sportswriting, focuses largely on Bill Simmons of ESPN.com and to a lesser extent Will Leitch of DeadSpin.com, who are two of my favorite writers. In fact Simmons, who is pictured below at the beginning of the article, is my singular favorite writer.


Alongside the main story, as sort of companion piece, is a half-page article and accompanying photo that looks like this:

Here's a closer look (the SI.com link to the story requires a magazine subscription to view it, so I hope Sports Illustrated doesn't mind me quoting it too much):

Cyberscribe: How a Twins nut and wannabe journalist found his niche

By Albert Chen

In the cramped bedroom of his Minnetonka, Minn., town house, Aaron Gleeman is surrounded by the accoutrements of any self-respecting sports blogger: a 35-inch television with multiple premium sports packages; stacks of dog-eared reference books; piles of periodicals; and a laptop that's aglow at all hours of the day. "I write almost entirely from bed," says Gleeman, an online baseball columnist and blogger who, on a typical day, pumps from 5,000 to 15,000 words into cyberspace. Although he seldom leaves his mattress, he might be the most prolific baseball writer working today.


A 23-year-old who majored in journalism at Minnesota but did not graduate, Gleeman is proof that in the Generation Google era, all you need to launch a sportswriting career is a working computer, a broadband connection and a supply of opinions. Four years ago Gleeman turned to the Web after he couldn't land a position at his college newspaper, the Minnesota Daily. "I couldn't even get a gig covering women's gymnastics," he says. Gleeman devoted much of his blog to his beloved Minnesota Twins. "At first I was lucky if two to three people from my immediate family did me a favor by checking the blog out," he says. "But, thankfully, since then the readership has steadily grown. And a few [readers] aren't even related to me."

The blog is, in fact, a daily fix for thousands of readers (2,500 unique visitors a day), and its success has landed Gleeman regular gigs at websites such as Rotoworld.com, a popular destination for fantasy-sports geeks, and InsiderBaseball.com, for which Gleeman writes about minor league prospects. Baseball blogs, in particular, are well-suited to the Web's around-the-clock discourse: There are games every day, off-seasons full of player movement and an endless supply of stats for analysis. Two years ago Gleeman cofounded HardballTimes.com, a site devoted to the statistical analysis of baseball that has provided a platform for aspiring writers. The site attracts more than 15,000 visitors a day and has been lauded by baseball beat writers around the country.

Gleeman, who attends a half-dozen Twins games a year but has never covered a game from the press box, says that he earns more than the average entry-level reporter at a newspaper -- and that he's not looking to get off his bed. He grew up dreaming of becoming a sportswriter at a newspaper or magazine, but his goals have changed. "If I'm in the exact same position five years from now," he says, "I'd be very happy."

I've tried to cut back on the amount of self-promotion that goes on here (really, I have), but hopefully you'll forgive my indulgence this time. Sports Illustrated is the only magazine I subscribe to and read each week, the evolving world of online sportswriting is perhaps my favorite topic of discussion aside from the Twins, and as I've written here many times Simmons is the writer whose work and career path I admire most.

To be featured in an article about "how the web is changing sports coverage" in Sports Illustrated, with my picture next to a picture of Simmons, is without question one of the proudest moments of my life. For the writer to say that I "might be the most prolific baseball writer working today" is just icing on the cake. Plus, having my dog in the picture takes some of the focus away from my many chins (in my defense, the picture was taken about 35 pounds ago).

The main article, written by Chris Ballard, contains some of the stereotyping of online writers that gets tiring, but I commend a mainstream print outlet as influential as Sports Illustrated for running it. I want to thank the writer of the "Cyberscribe" piece, Albert Chen, for turning our conversations into a fair, well-written piece. I'd also like to thank Steve Wewerka, the SI photographer who managed to get my doofus of a dog (and her doofus of an owner) pictured in one of the world's most-read magazines.

Now, if you'll excuse me I have to find one of the few copies in the state of Minnesota that my mom and grandma haven't already snatched up and send it to the good people at the Minnesota Daily.


March 21, 2006

Aaron Notes

  • I started this blog in 2002 and since then have gradually picked up some paid writing jobs here and there. They've increased as time has gone on and of late I've even been turning a few things down. The whole time, as I pieced together an increasingly steady schedule of gigs, my mom would always tell me: "It's not a real job until you have health insurance."

    I'm not sure I completely agree with that, but I'm still happy to announce that I now have a "real job" that does in fact cover my health insurance. About a month ago I agreed to become a full-time employee of Rotoworld. I didn't think to announce anything about it here (until today), because for the most part nothing really changes. I've been working "part-time" for Rotoworld for quite a while now and moving to "full-time" will simply increase my workload and responsibilities.

    The job has three main tasks. First, I will continue to write for Rotoworld.com -- and by extension FoxSports.com and USAToday.com -- producing both columns and news blurbs. In addition to that I will now be in charge of Rotoworld's baseball content, which involves boring stuff like scheduling, editing, and yelling at people when they miss a due date. And last but not least I will also be in charge of the baseball content in Fantasy Sports Monthly, a new magazine that is published by Beckett.

    For all of that I've been handed the title of "Senior Baseball Editor," which means I could probably have business cards printed up and for the first time in my life not feel completely ridiculous about doing so. Aside from my time being stretched even more than it has been over the past year or so, not much will change for any of you. I'll still post here nearly every day and my involvement at The Hardball Times will continue (and continue to be somewhat sporadic).

  • Speaking of my involvement at THT, there will be a new article from me there every day for at least the next two weeks. Yesterday the first part of my fourth annual "Top 50 Prospects" series ran, with the second section running today, and a new installment is set to go each day until Opening Day. Beyond that, my preseason Twins preview is set to run late next week. So if you've been disappointed by my lack of writing for THT lately, now is the time to get your fill.

    In addition to the sudden barrage of Aaron Gleeman articles, THT is going to be jammed with great content for the next few weeks. We kicked off our annual "Five Questions" preseason previews for all 30 teams yesterday with the Royals and Pirates, and previews for multiple teams are scheduled to run each day until the season begins. Today there are a total of five new articles at THT, so if you don't already stop by on a daily basis you really should start.

  • My weight-loss plan continues to go well, although the pounds have officially stopped flying off. I've been hovering around a 40-pound loss for a week or so, but haven't been able to jump into 45-pound territory yet. I'm only about nine weeks into the diet though, so it's certainly been a success. Oddly, I continue to not see any physical changes, although my pants are noticeably looser around the waist.
  • Barring a last-minute change something incredibly cool will happen involving me within the next couple days. I'm having a hard time keeping it to myself at this point, but until I know it's going to happen for sure I'd rather not completely spill the beans. Plus, a little suspense is fun. It's writing-related and will hopefully be one of the proudest moments of my life, if that's any kind of clue. If it happens when it's supposed to, then you'll know all about it by the end of this week. And if it doesn't happen when it's supposed to ... well, then the suspense will just drag on.
  • To recap: Things are going swimmingly (I've always wanted to say that). I have a new full-time job, THT is picking up steam and approaching 20,000 readers per day (and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006 was a major success), I'm down 40 pounds in my quest to not be a fatso, and something really cool might be on the verge of happening to me.
  • It's all downhill from here.


  • March 17, 2006

    Twins Notes

  • Last week in this space I discussed how amusing it is to read the fluff pieces written about ex-Twins by their new hometown newspapers. The latest version is a lengthy article about Doug Mientkiewicz in the Kansas City Star. The article basically plays up every one of Mientkiewicz's possible strengths while more or less sweeping the fact that he's been a horrible player for the past two years under the rug.

    A scout charting the Royals for another team this spring suggests Mientkiewicz could have the greatest impact this season among all of [general manager Allard] Baird's veteran additions.

    The reasoning goes like this: Mientkiewicz should get regular duty if he rediscovers the line-drive swing that enabled him to bat .300 or better in two of his final three full seasons in Minnesota.

    If so, his defensive abilities, in addition to fielding his own position, will aid shortstop Angel Berroa and third baseman Mark Teahen -- and therefore the entire pitching staff.

    You'll notice that some careful and misleading wording ("two of his final three full seasons") allows the writer to conveniently ignore Mientkiewicz's .246 batting average with the Twins in 2004. Also, there's really nothing fluffier than a piece that talks about all the wonderful things that can happen if a player bats .300 when that player has hit .238 and .240 over the past two years.

    For Twins fans, here's the most interesting quote from the article:

    "I respect Terry Ryan more than any man in the world behind my old man," Mientkiewicz said. "He never lied to me. He always spoke the truth."

    That seems to be a pretty common theme when it comes to ex-players talking about Terry Ryan.

  • A slight variation of the new-hometown puff piece is the old-hometown puff piece, which the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Gordon Wittenmeyer wrote for Jacque Jones this week.
  • Joe Christensen had an interesting article about 7-foot-1 Twins pitching prospect Loek Van Mil in Monday's Minneapolis Star Tribune.

    Twins director of baseball operations Rob Antony refers to Van Mil as "a project."

    The club plans to start him in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League this year, to let him gain a professional foundation. Three days into his first camp, he already has made a decent impression.

    "You're thinking a 7-foot guy is going to be long and lanky, with a delivery that looks like a train wreck," said Rick Knapp, the Twins' minor league pitching coordinator. "That's certainly not the case with this fellow."

    Van Mil's fastball has topped out at 91 miles per hour. He also throws a slider and a change-up.

    The Twins need to refine his fielding skills, but Antony said the field staff "was shocked at how athletic he was."

    As the article points out, if Van Mil were to make it to the big leagues he'd be the tallest pitcher of all time. In fact, only five pitchers who were 6-foot-10 or taller have ever won even a single game in the majors. Who are the five? I'll post the answer at the bottom of this entry.

  • Michael Ryan, who managed to stick around for parts of four seasons with the Twins thanks almost entirely to going 24-for-61 (.393) down the stretch in 2003, is trying to latch on with the Braves for 2006. Ryan is basically the epitome of a Triple-A player in that he'll help a minor-league team win games and isn't the worst guy to have around solely for organizational depth. With that said, I doubt there's a spot for him in Atlanta with Kelly Johnson and Ryan Langerhans already competing for at-bats in left field.
  • Speaking of former Twins players who aren't very good, Cristian Guzman may require season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The Nationals don't seem overly upset about potentially being without Guzman for the entire year, which is probably about right considering he hit .219/.260/.314 in 2005. It sure didn't take long for the four-year $17 million deal Washington general manager Jim Bowden gave to Guzman last offseason to turn into a disaster.
  • Luis Castillo's leg problems from last season seem to have carried over to this year, and he had a quote in the Pioneer Press Saturday that caught my attention:

    I need to be more ready because I know I'm going to play on turf. Once I start playing on turf, it could be hard for me.

    While Twins fans seem to be optimistic about the turf helping Castillo offensively and defensively, an overlooked factor may be how it impacts his health. I don't expect him to steal a ton of bases, but Castillo does need to preserve his speed in order to remain an effective hitter. So while the playing surface may help a few more of his grounders turn into singles, it may also make things tough on his legs. Between Castillo, Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer, Rondell White, and Jason Kubel, there will be an awful lot of attention paid to legs this year.

  • You know it's officially spring training when a new batting stance and a handful of hits can convince people that Nick Punto is capable of big things.
  • I've tried to avoid picking on Jim Souhan of late, but I just can't pass this one up. In a column about Mauer and Justin Morneau that is filled with Shecky's usual lame one-liners passed off as humor, he writes:

    If healthy, Mauer will hit .300 this year, if not .310.

    The difference between Mauer batting .300 and Mauer batting .310 would be no more than five hits over the course of the entire season. Souhan is basically saying, "If healthy, Mauer will hit .300 this year, and he might even get five more hits than that." Coming from a guy who struggles to include any sort of worthwhile, substantive analysis in his columns, such an exact prediction is amusing.

    But hey, thanks to Souhan we did learn that Morneau "is remindful of Kent Hrbek on Slim-Fast" and Mauer has "sirloin-sized sideburns." I've decided that each of Souhan's columns should conclude with a reminder to enjoy the veal and tip your waitress, just so we can get the full effect.

  • Jason Bartlett reportedly gained 15 pounds this winter. While I'm always skeptical of that sort of thing, especially for a player whose game is based on speed and athleticism, I do think Bartlett will benefit from being stronger. At times last season he looked physically overmatched at the plate, unable to put a strong swing on fastballs inside. The majority of Bartlett's value will always come from his defense, but being able to muscle a few more singles into the outfield would be a good thing too.
  • Speaking of Bartlett ... I'm not sure why -- since he was born in California, went to college in Oklahoma, was drafted by San Diego, and now plays in Minnesota -- but the South Florida Sun-Sentinel had a lengthy article about him last week.
  • This is barely Twins related, by my Rotoworld column this week is now available and deals with my last-minute sleeper suggestions for AL leagues. There are a few Twins mentioned, including one that might surprise you, and I figure the topic is of interest to the many of you who will be drafting fantasy teams over the next couple weeks. As usual, you can choose to read the column at Rotoworld.com or USAToday.com (and FoxSports.com, but they haven't posted it yet).
  • Trivia answer: The five pitchers who were 6-foot-10 and over who have won a major-league game are Randy Johnson (263 wins), Chris Young (15), Jon Rauch (8), Eric Hillman (4), and Andrew Sisco (2).


  • March 16, 2006

    Guest Column: Doing Arizona Right

    My uncle and I have taken a trip to Arizona for baseball five times -- four times for spring training and once for the Arizona Fall League. Each trip was among the greatest times of my life. This year my uncle took the same trip with my little cousin, who is now old enough to truly appreciate the experience. What follows is my uncle's guide to spring training in Arizona.

    Doing Arizona Right
    By Jon Gallop

    March Madness is generally synonymous with NCAA basketball, but this madness in March describes a smaller, whiter, harder ball. True nirvana occurs every March in Arizona. The Cactus League trip is one of the great thrills for any real baseball fan. Although the Tucson area has three teams -- Rockies, Diamondbacks, White Sox -- it's the Phoenix area that's the Mecca.

    With nine teams playing every day there are enough games to keep even the most extreme fanatic happy. The Giants in Scottsdale, the Cubs in Mesa, the A's in Phoenix (virtually in Tempe), the Angels in Tempe, the Brewers in Maryvale, the Padres and Mariners share a park in Peoria, and the Rangers and Royals share a park in Surprise. The setup beats the heck out of Florida, because the teams are all within a 30-mile radius.

    A trip to Arizona means a game every day at 1:05 p.m., with an occasional night game. Throw in the Arizona State Sun Devils every other weekend and you have an all-you-can-watch baseball buffet. Watch major leaguers in the cozy confines of an 8,000-seat park, which means there are no bad seats and players can hear every word from hecklers.

    If you like talking to players and getting autographs, go early -- gates open at 11 a.m. By the way, a 10-year-old kid with a glove will be far more successful in garnering player signatures then a 40-year-old, pot-bellied, crack showing, inebriated, over-the-hill loser.

    Of course, planning to see baseball is only a small part of the must-do trip. Read on to make the perfect trip ... well, more perfect.

    First and foremost, rent a convertible. Only an idiot would drive to a ballpark in Arizona during spring training with sun shining at 75 degrees in some hard-top grandpa-mobile. Your goal is to never put the top up. This may require utilizing the car's heater at night, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

    Meal planning is also essential. While ballpark food may get you by and that first concession hot dog will taste great, let's be honest: We don't eat to live, we live to eat. In addition to great baseball, this area offers some great food.

    One of the best places -- and Aaron's personal favorite -- is Greasy Tony's. Incredible Philly cheese steak sandwiches, it's open until three a.m., and it's located right on the ASU campus (east of Scottsdale Road and across from the Improv). As they proudly state: "No charge for the extra grease." Throw in some New York-style pizza and you're set for lunch, dinner or late night. The ambiance is akin to an open, festering sore, but the food is great. Eat it outside on their dirty tables or take it to go with napkins they stole from another restaurant.

    (An old, extremely blurry picture of Aaron at Greasy Tony's.)

    For a little classier option, try Don & Charlie's for ribs and baseball memorabilia. This place has autographs from everyone who was ever anyone. Bats, pictures, balls, programs, and any other thing that can contain ink make this a paradise for the fan. Plus, you're bound to run into a player or five eating inside. Aaron once stood next to Willie Mays for a good five minutes before realizing it, so make sure you take the time to browse -- for memorabilia and people.

    If you don't drool over the incredible array of signatures you will drool over the ribs, which are the best in the world. Get the double-baked potato and the house dressing on a salad. The inside is quite nice especially compared to Greasy Tony's, but I make sure all my meals are eaten outside, so "to go, please." Don & Charlie's is located on Camelback Road, just two blocks east of Scottsdale Road.

    Mexican food is a must in Arizona. Go to Julio's, Too, located one block west of Don & Charlie's. Eat on the outdoor tables (are you noticing a trend here?), order the shredded beef or spicy shredded beef burro enchilada-style with rice and go to heaven. If you want a beautiful setting under the stars and fancier food, try El Chorros on 55th and Lincoln in Paradise Valley.

    No baseball game at night? It's okay, go to a drive-in movie. The Scottsdale 6 drive-in on McKellips Road has first-run movies starting at 7:30 p.m. in March. Take a pillow from your hotel room and watch a bug-free, alfresco double feature for $5.75 in your convertible (or even on your convertible).

    If you insist on being active, go climb a mountain (Indianhead on 32nd and Lincoln or Camelback) or find a golf course (Fiddlesticks miniature golf for those who like windmills on holes instead of 520-yard dog legs). For real baseball fun, bring your glove, a bat, and 100 tennis balls. Then find a field and play one-on-one fast pitch. I could go through the details of the rules, but you can be commissioner of your own two-person league.

    Jump in a pool, have a beer, bring your glove, and enjoy real March Madness. Spring Training in Arizona beats the hell out of spring training in Florida.


    March 15, 2006

    The Culpepper Trade

    In a move that has been anticipated in one form or another for months, the Vikings traded Daunte Culpepper to the Dolphins for a second-round pick yesterday. From the early reactions I've heard the deal has generated some very strong opinions, both positive and negative. I happen to think it was a decent trade.

    For a pessimistic Vikings fan it's easy to think of Culpepper as the MVP-caliber quarterback from 2003 and 2004, but the fact is that he was a horrible player in 2005 even prior to his season-ending knee injury. He was also really bad in 2002, turns 30 years old on his next birthday, and is far from assured of being physically ready to play when the season starts.

    The Vikings didn't trade a great quarterback; they traded a big question mark who has been a great quarterback. There's a big difference. If Culpepper is healthy and plays up to his potential going forward, a second-round pick isn't even close to equal value for him. However, if the knee injury lingers and/or he plays like he did last season, the Vikings will have done well to clear cap space, get rid of a headache, and acquire a valuable pick.

    I question how the Vikings plan to address their long-term need at quarterback, because I'm not much of a Brad Johnson fan (and even if I was, he's 37 years old) and none of the second-tier quarterbacks available in this year's draft excite me much. Ignoring that for a moment -- I know it's tough, but try -- I like what they've so far done this offseason.

    Chester Taylor is a legitimate three-down running back who has been waiting for an opportunity to show that for the past two seasons. He's big enough to run inside the tackles and versatile enough to thrive catching the ball out of the backfield. I suspect new coach Brad Childress had his eye on Taylor since the moment he got the job, because he's exactly the sort of running back who should thrive in Childress' preferred style of offense.

    Ryan Longwell will be an upgrade over the assortment of mediocre kickers the team has trotted out in recent years and Ben Leber is an underrated addition to what was a very weak linebacking corps. If the Seahawks are unable to match the Vikings' massive, tricky contract offer to Steve Hutchinson, then they will also have significantly upgraded the offensive line, which was a huge weakness in 2005.

    All in all, the Vikings have lost a lot of star power over the past two years, but that's not necessarily what wins games in the NFL. Culpepper and Randy Moss were an extraordinarily exciting combination, but the Vikings don't need that to be successful. I think they're a much deeper team now than they have been in a while, and assuming they draft well and have a plan at quarterback they're in better shape now than they were before the Moss deal.

    Of course, that's a big assumption.


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