True devotion: blogging about the Orioles

The Baltimore Sun

Blogging about the Orioles isn't for the faint of heart.

The team, which opens the 2008 season tomorrow, used to have about 30 blogs focused on it, according to baseballblogs.org.

That was on a par with the San Francisco Giants (30 blogs) and Seattle Mariners (31), but well below the rabid followings of the Boston Red Sox (145) and New York Yankees (112). Even some teams without the Orioles' pedigree or in smaller markets had more blogs about them, such as the 3-year-old Washington Nationals (34) and the Minnesota Twins (39).

And while those numbers are ever-changing, some of those Orioles blogs have dried up since last season, evoking an image of the Wizard of Oz tinman rusting in mid-chop. Who can blame them? After 10 consecutive losing seasons, it takes a lot of effort to blog about a team that everyone expects to be lousy - even in March, when by baseball's cliched tradition, hope springs eternal.

For a blog titled Fourth Place Birds, the no-hitter that Boston pitcher Clay Buchholz threw against the Orioles last year seemed to be the final straw on Sept. 3. Its final post: "OK, getting no-hit sucks. Especially by a rookie. Especially in his second major league start. Especially when I was convinced he was overrated. And yet that wasn't what bothered me about this weekend. ... No, it was Sunday's opportunity to still win the series despite Saturday's debacle and they blew it. Bases loaded, none out, and you don't score?"

Or as the blog Camden Crazies put it more definitively in its last, bitter gasp last fall:

"Step 1. Give Dave Trembley a contract extension. Step 2. Lose 30-3 the very same day. Step 3. Win 3 out of your next 21 games. Step 4. Start the likes of Tike (bleeping) Redman. Step 5. Let Jim "9.00 ERA" Hoey Pitch! Step 6. Quit Blogging."

As for the bloggers who continue to follow the Orioles, they are a hardy lot. They seem able to find the bright side - not necessarily about the team, but about their self-appointed task of blogging about the team. Their work has expanded what was once almost solely the realm of sports talk radio.

Scott Christ, who writes at Cam denChat.com, says he thinks the new-media form provides a useful outlet for Oriole Nation to commiserate.

"I think fans find interactive blogs like ours to be a great destination to share their grief with that of their fellow die-hards, as we sit there and watch each day while the team fails to put many in the win column," he wrote in an e-mail. "The community we have can be a great way to survive the season for many of us."

He was writing online about the Orioles several years ago - "the only visitors we had were me and some friends of mine that aren't even O's fans" - when Tyler Bleszinski, an Oaklander who runs AthleticsNation.com and SB Nation.com, asked Christ to write about the Orioles for his network of about 150 sports blogs.

Christ said he never seriously approached the Orioles about his blogging, which now gets up to 1,000 visits a day. He thinks greater access might even impair what he does.

"I know [Orioles executive] Mike Flanagan has given a couple of Web interviews in the past, but they were also 'soft' interviews, lots of PR answers to rather mundane questions," he wrote. "And not to sound like I think I'm better than anyone (because I absolutely do not), but there are lots of places for people to read interviews like that. I'd rather offer up something different, more of a no-holds-barred environment where if you think the team sucks, you can flat out say, 'This team sucks,' and not, 'The O's are struggling through a rough July.' "

Tony Pente, publisher of one of the largest Orioles sites, Ori oleshangout.com, has a different approach.

He has built up his site since 1996, at first concentrating on what he felt was an undercovered niche, the O's minor league teams. Over time, he persuaded team officials to grant him press credentials, eventually for the full season, just like the established media.

Orioles Hangout gets revenue from advertising, ranging from $50 a week for a small ad to $20,000 a year for the largest. About 500 subscribers also pay about $35 a year for access to extra material and to post as many comments as they want on the site's very active message board. Pente thinks his heavy policing of it has gained credibility.

"It's not the Wild West with people going at each other," said Pente, who has been in the Army for nearly 20 years, including stints in Afghanistan and Iraq. "We've been called heavy-handed, but for every complaint, I have 10 people say, 'That's why I post.' You want to say a guy's 'no good,' OK, but don't call him a jerk. As for Peter Angelos, you don't like the way he runs things, that's a valid opinion, but we don't allow you to call the guy 'evil.' If you wouldn't say something to somebody's face, don't hide behind your keyboard."

The Orioles aren't affiliated with his site - like all Major League Baseball teams, they have their own online operation under the umbrella of mlb.com - but they are Pente's largest advertiser. He doesn't believe that keeps him and his other writers from doling out honest criticism.

"If they cut us off tomorrow, we'd find something else," Pente said. "I really enjoy it. Even if we're not making tons of money, one of my biggest perks is going into the locker room. You're taken seriously by a lot of folks. It's nice to have that. And I'm my own boss. I can see my son's games, control my own schedule. It's not a bad deal."

The site now draws 45,000 unique visitors (that is, the number of different computers accessing the site) per month, triple the traffic from 2000, and up to 400,000 page views on the busiest days, he said.

"Sometimes I wonder if their troubles lead people to have more things to say," he said of the team. "When things go well, it's easy just to go 'Hooray,' but when things don't go well, it's easy to have an opinion. Oriole fans are great fans. We've had 10 years of losing and we still have passion."

But just as it affects the turnstiles at Camden Yards, the team's potential for success does have an impact on blog traffic.

Anthony Amobi, a 29-year-old aviation company employee from Silver Spring, said he was getting up to 800 daily visitors a year ago to his OriolePost blog, but it's now down to 100.

His blog, a mix of his armchair analysis and links to other blogs, had only been going a few months last winter when someone told him they'd seen it mentioned in Sports Illustrated as one of the best Web logs about the Orioles.

"I said 'Is this some kind of a joke?,' but I ran out and bought five copies and there it was," Amobi said. "I love the Orioles. I grew up an Orioles fan. I wouldn't describe myself as a disgruntled fan. I'm not going to trash Peter Angelos or anybody. There's no point. It's Orioles baseball, it's Baltimore. We had a good team for the better part of three decades. Being a Marylander, it's your identity."

A voice of reason and perspective about the lowly Orioles?

Who knew the blogosphere could be so zen?

andrew.ratner@baltsun.com

Andrew Ratner, a former technology reporter, is Today editor of The Sun.

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