August 1, 2012

10 years

You'll soon find out, if you visit this blog more than a few times, that I am a huge Minnesota Twins fan.

- Me, August 1, 2002

Ten years ago today I was 19 years old and home from school for the summer following my freshman year at the University of Minnesota. I knew then, as I'd known without even a shred of doubt since I was about eight years old, that I wanted to write about sports for a living, but having already been turned down twice in applying for a spot on the Minnesota Daily school newspaper I was left with no obvious path to pursue that goal.

I'd spent the previous two months doing basically nothing productive, but in between eating all the food in my mom's refrigerator and watching the Twins and first-year manager Ron Gardenhire emerge as legitimate contenders I stumbled across a website called Baseball Musings. It was run by former ESPN researcher David Pinto and he wrote short articles throughout the day about a wide range of baseball topics while calling the website a "blog."

I had only a vague notion of what that word meant--this was 2002 and, for example, most people still used AOL as their internet provider--but I liked reading Pinto's articles and liked the less formal approach he took in his writing. One day he mentioned that his readers ought to consider starting blogs of their own if they liked reading his. And so I did. That day was August 1, 2002 and it all began with me typing into what was surely Internet Explorer.

I signed up for a free account, entered in a few details about myself, picked the most basic visual template, and chose a name: Aaron's Baseball Blog. Looking back, that name alone is a pretty strong indication that I hadn't planned on the blog turning into much of anything. But it was free, both to write via Blogger and host the site on Blogspot, and within five minutes I'd published my first article on the internet. I remember thinking it seemed almost too easy.

I'd just watched Marlins starter A.J. Burnett shut out the Cardinals on 128 pitches and he'd also thrown 132 pitches in his last start. It seemed to me that manager Jeff Torborg was overworking him and so I wrote 372 words about it, linking to Baseball Prospectus' "pitcher abuse points" and declaring stuff like "there's no way a 25-year-old in his second full season should be allowed to consistently throw that many pitches, start after start after start."

I then noted that Torborg could have lessened Burnett's workload by removing him from the game once it was no longer in doubt and concluded: "Burnett has been great this year and he looks like he'll be a stud for years to come. But the way he's being treated makes me think he's in line for some arm troubles. I hope I'm wrong." I wasn't wrong, as Burnett went on the disabled list weeks later and, after briefly returning, had Tommy John elbow surgery.

And yet looking back on my blogging debut whatever foresight or dumb luck was involved in being "right" about Burnett's workload seems totally unimportant compared to the annoying one-line paragraphs, obvious grammar mistakes, and other cringe-worthy aspects of that first 372-word post. Luckily for me no one was reading. Not that day and not for many days afterward. Actually, that's not quite true. My mom was immediately a daily reader, of course.

At some point I e-mailed Pinto to say he'd motivated me to create my own blog and he was nice enough to send some readers my way with a link. I remember that being a pretty big day, as I constantly reloaded "Site Meter" to track what seemed at the time like a huge amount of traffic roll in. Looking back, it was probably fewer than 100 visitors. But none of that mattered then because I was hooked from the moment I clicked "publish" on that Burnett post.

Later that same night I wrote about David Ortiz, who'd been named AL player of the month in what proved to be his final season in Minnesota, and began the post by saying: "You'll soon find out, if you visit this blog more than a few times, that I am a huge Minnesota Twins fan." I wrote six more posts in the next two days and almost literally no one was reading, but I was writing about baseball for what could in theory at least be an audience and that was the goal.

Ten years later I'm 29 years old and living in my own house. And still blogging, after 9.1 million visitors and 2,223 posts. I never did land that spot on the Daily despite applying nine times in four years. They didn't want me, but it turned out I didn't need them. Every rejection increased the size of the chip on my shoulder, pushed me further into blogging for the audience I built for myself, and motivated me to continue down the untrodden path of online sports writing.

It wasn't by design, certainly. My dream job had been newspaper columnist since the moment it occurred to me to have a dream job. I read the sports section every day as a kid, waking up early just so I had time to devour every word before heading to school. I dreamed of one day seeing my byline in the St. Paul Pioneer Press or Minneapolis Star Tribune, but when I couldn't even get my byline into the Minnesota Daily there was no choice but to change plans.

And luckily the rejection and uncertainty pushed me to a better path. In fact nearly every good thing that's happened to me can be traced to that spontaneous decision on August 1, 2002. Through blogging I discovered the like-minded community at Baseball Primer (since renamed Baseball Think Factory) and found my first real audience writing there. Friends made at Primer convinced me to attend the SABR convention in 2003 and I haven't missed one since.

Through blogging Gregg Rosenthal became a fan of my writing and asked me to contribute to Rotoworld's baseball magazine. Through blogging I co-created The Hardball Times and got to work with some of my favorite writers. Through blogging I was featured in Sports Illustrated, pictured in bed with a dog and a laptop. Through blogging I met John Bonnes, whose Twins Geek blog is one of the few that pre-dates this one and who's become a friend and co-host.

For decades the path to sportswriting was straightforward. Graduate from college, hopefully with experience at the school newspaper or a journalism degree, take a low-level job at a newspaper, work your way up from covering high school sports to covering a college or pro beat, and then somewhere way down the line perhaps move from reporter to columnist. I wanted nothing more than to follow that path, but I couldn't even complete the first step.

After devoting less and less of my time to journalism school and more and more of my time to paid writing work I dropped out of college to take a full-time job with Rotoworld. I worked long hours covering MLB and NFL, often six days a week with no offseason. I wrote bylined columns and non-bylined blurbs, became editor-in-chief of Rotoworld's print magazine and senior MLB editor of the website. And then when NBC took over Rotoworld I shifted to

It's been an amazing journey and along the way I've learned some lessons about how plans don't always work out and how, hard as that may have been at the time, it can actually be for the best in the long run. I'm not sure where the next 10 years will take me, but that's all part of the fun. Whether you've been reading this blog since 2002 or just discovered it today thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for helping to make that 19-year-old's dream come true.

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