Athletes gain pipeline to the public

The Twins' Pat Neshek is among a growing group to communicate to fans via blogs.

In recent weeks, we have learned that Pat Neshek has auctioned off one of Michael Cuddyer's gloves and that Gilbert Arenas wants to buy an island. We have seen what Tiger Woods' baby looks like, heard how Curt Schilling faltered against Colorado and digested Mark Cuban's thoughts on his colonoscopy.

The common thread here is that all this knowledge was released by those celebrities on their blogs or websites. Everyone else seems to do it, so why can't the people of sports join the blog party?

Neshek, Arenas, Woods, Schilling and Cuban are part of the growing society of sports insiders who have the intimate details fans crave and don't mind revealing them.

"An athlete's blog only has value if he/she is honest and forthcoming with it," Will Leitch, editor of the popular sports website deadspin.com, wrote in an e-mail. "A PR blog only to sell merchandise and make the athlete look like a hero is a waste of time for all involved. No matter who's writing it, if a blog isn't interesting, people won't come back."

Neshek a trendsetter

Neshek, the Twins' sidearming relief pitcher from Brooklyn Park, has a bookmark-worthy site. He said his website, www.patneshek.com, had around 150,000 hits on it when he was called up to the majors just more than a year ago. A check on Saturday revealed more than 650,000 hits.

He said he merely wanted to start a website as a minor leaguer in 2004 to talk about what goes on behind the scenes and discuss memorabilia -- he's a big collector -- but it has been more than he expected.

"I think it's going to be a big part of the game, and I think a lot more athletes will do it just for the exposure to fan bases," Neshek said. "I think that will generate a lot of interest for that individual athlete and make a name for players. And some may use it as a way to make money, too."

Teammates are thinking about entering the blogosphere. Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer is interested but wonders about the demands on his time. Twins ace Johan Santana is having a site developed with the help of his agent.

"We are going to go beyond just being a baseball player," said Santana, who wasn't sure when his official site would be up and running. "It will be a chance for people to get to know you, have time to chat or let people know what's going on around you."

Some are more active on their sites than others. Neshek posts frequently and provides photos. Arenas, the Washington Wizards scoring machine nicknamed "Agent Zero," has used his blog at www.nba.com to trash-talk to opposing teams and discuss his rehab from knee surgery. Recently he broke news about dumping his trainer: "I had to fire him and kick him to the curb," Arenas wrote.

Memorabilia exchange

Neshek has built his collection of memorabilia through his site. He has auctioned off his equipment, not for money but for certified memorabilia. Teammates saw some of the things he exchanged online and wanted in.

Santana offered a dozen signed baseballs and received 50 balls signed by Hall of Famers, including Nolan Ryan and Satchel Paige. Cuddyer offered one of his gloves on Neshek's site and landed a basketball autographed by Michael Jordan.

"I'm not going to spend money to buy it," Cuddyer said, "but it was cool to be able to make that trade. The guy who traded it was obviously ecstatic to have my glove. It worked out for everybody."

Athletes are providing fans with insights that might not end up in the newspaper. And they are finding out that discussion of even the most mundane matters, such as going shopping, gets responses.

Wal-Mart shoppers

Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson blogs three times a week and does a Q&A every other week for ESPN.com, and he also has a MySpace page. ESPN has asked him to focus on the lighter side of the game instead of the nuts and bolts of baseball. But even he didn't expect people to respond to the fact that he shops at Wal-Mart.

"I thought about what I can talk about that will make people who know me or don't know me want to read this," Granderson said. "It's amazing how many people want to get inside you and know just a little bit about you."

Boston pitcher Schilling's blog, www.38pitches.com, includes detailed self-analysis of his starts that can extend much longer than the typical game story covering the same start in the Boston Globe. He also promotes his charity work. And he takes on fans during sometimes-feisty Q&A sessions, especially Yankees fans.

"That's the best you can do? Yankee fans everywhere should be ashamed to call you a member. Oh and install a spellchecker," Schilling responded recently when someone claimed he makes excuses and is washed up.

The advantage for the sports figures is that they can control and grow their relationships with fans through blogs. However, their posts sometimes can get them in trouble.

In 2006, Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, was fined $100,000 by the NBA for criticizing the selection of referees for the playoffs on his site www.blogmaverick.com.

When Neshek was still in the minors in 2005, he wrote at the trade deadline that he was "very surprised" when the Twins didn't make a deal. He also has expressed disappointment when certain players were released. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said he once heard complaints from his staff about a Neshek post but hasn't held it against him.

"As long as it doesn't interfere with his performance and as long as it doesn't go over the line," Ryan said. "As you can see, I don't really care."

So the proliferation of blogs and websites by athletes will continue -- though it doesn't appear likely that blogging about colonoscopies and trips to Wal-Mart will soon lead to a world without sportswriters.

"The tough thing is originality," Granderson said, "so I give [the media] a ton of credit for being diversified day to day, week to week, month to month with your stories because ... I can see how ideas can start to get a little stale."

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