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Friday, April 5, 2013

Passing the Torch

by Jared Webb @webberoo11

What did you want to be when you were a kid?  For me, it was more WHO I wanted to be.  I grew up in the era of Craig Biggio.  As a kid, I never knew much about him other than the fact that he played hard and he was the best player on the team.  For all I knew, Biggio could have been drinking puppy blood in his off time in order to reach 3000 hits.   

The city of Houston is currently undergoing a massive sports overhaul.  The time of Bagwell, Biggio, Olajuwon, and Moon are now over.  We once lived in an era of the Rockets dominating the Magic and taking home the championship.  The Astros battled the NL central most years for a playoff spot.  Now we are riding on the back of 20 year old titans.  The role models of our past are now being replaced by young superstars like JJ Watt, James Harden, and Jeremy Lin. 

Fans now live in an era where they have instant access to all of their favorite players via social media.  Every comment players make is now immediately available for the mob to tear apart and analyze.  They can now market themselves by doing giveaways or by simply re-tweeting a fan.  Houston Texans superstar JJ Watt took it into his own hands to find a fan who posted a video of their daughter in tears because she was to young to marry the defensive star.  Gestures like the one JJ made are the foundation of something that could make a young player a Legend in any sports town.

The question is, how does a young Astros team with relatively unknown players create the next Houston role model?  Baseball is a completely different beast in the fact that prospects are now at the fore front and coming straight out of high school at the age of 18.  One mis-Tweet or bad Facebook post and fans could turn on the player.  Young stars can instantly be deemed a "bad apple" due to one comment taken the wrong way.

Kelly George, Astros Social Media Director, said she spent a good portion of Spring Training offering Twitter coaching to players.  Everything from how to make an account, to how to not let fans take advantage of player kindness.  She also said that social media has become a great outlet for promoting new players and keeping fans involved with the team throughout the entire season.  There have been some teams who have even allowed players to take over the team Twitter or Facebook for a day to get fans more active with the social media aspect of the team.

As a sports fan, most of supporters crave a more active role in the ball club.  While they may never get to sit in the owner's box with Jim Crane, the search  for interaction with the big club continues.  For most fans it doesn't matter if it's getting an autograph, or maybe having a Twitter conversation with a player.  One player who seems to understand this is new Astros prospect Lance McCullers Jr.  LMJ was selected in the 2012 draft as the 41st pick, and has quickly went to work making himself accessible to the fans in any way possible.  During the Christmas holidays he did multiple giveaways for fans who could correctly answer trivia questions about him.  I asked Lance about his willingness to be active with the fans and I was shocked about what he said.

"I think social media is a great tool to interact with your fans, it's gives the fans the ability to connect with their favorite players like they never have been able too before and it gives a chance for the player to interact back with the fans. A RT is almost like a digital autograph and giveaways bring the fans and player closer like they should be. I want to play in Houston for years too come and I want these fans to know I am here for them and for them too be able to count on me and others to return the Astros franchise to greatness. I was once that kid wanting autographs from everyone in uniform, I know what it feels like to want to connect, my gift to fans is that:  ability to know me on a more personal level so when they cheer me on, they are cheering on Lance McCullers, not just another uniform."

This comment struck me at a different level.  To me it embodies the truth of what fans need from their stars.  It comes from the deep desire to be included.  Does it matter if you have the ability to make the day to day decisions for the team, or is it a simple yearning to be a small cog in a bigger machine? 

At 27, I'm past the point of becoming Craig Biggio.  I will never have an MLB hit and let alone 3000.  The fans will never chant my name as I walk to the plate.  But what about the 9 and 10 year old kids who love the game?  Who show up to the park with a ball in hand hoping for an autograph?  Who are they going to "be" when they are in the yard playing with their friends?  I always said I was going to be Craig Biggio, who will your kids want to be?

c2013 by Jared Webb. Used with permission.

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