Cubs bloggers riding wave of hope
Even with Cubs blue running through his veins, Jacob Misener took a job with a minor-league affiliate of his favorite team's archrival St. Louis Cardinals while in college.
"It was a little bit gut-turning, to be honest," the 24-year-old from Aurora said.
But he admits the experience behind enemy lines provided him some of the insight he brings to his role as co-editor of the Cubbies Crib blog that he joined about four years ago as a writer.
The Cardinals "are the best measuring stick for the Cubs," Misener said. "I want to write to help readers see things how a baseball executive would." One of his most recent posts is an analysis of payroll of the four league championship series teams.
Finding a niche to blog about when it comes to the Cubs can be tough. Because the Cubs are one of Major League Baseball's most popular teams, the blogosphere is saturated with many options for fans, some of the leading Cubs bloggers point out.
"The Cubs in particular have a fan base that is at once very hopeful and very obsessive about that fandom, and I think that when we talk about the team at Bleacher Nation we tend toward that obsessive sort of detail," said Brett Taylor, editor and founder of Bleacher Nation, arguably the standard-bearer of Cubs fan blogs. "I feel it fills a very complementary role in the overall Cubs media space."
Taylor is somewhat unique among the Cubs bloggerati. He's independent, while other popular fan blogs are affiliated with Sports Illustrated or sports media brands like SBNation.com. He quit his job as a corporate litigator to operate the site and makes a living at it. Bleacher Nation is ranked at No. 8,693 nationally in popularity among all websites, according to web analytics site Alexa. He's also based in Ohio, where he's been since childhood when he accidentally -- or serendipitously -- became a Cubs fan while trying to find a game on TV.
Growing up, WGN was Channel 16 on his cable box and showed Cubs games. Just one channel up was TBS, which showed Braves games. If the Cubs hadn't been on that day he was scrolling up the channels, he might have become a Braves fan. He has no regrets about stopping on Channel 16, he said.
"I would have had a much better '90s if I had gone up one channel more," he joked.
Despite his successes and popularity, Taylor shares a kinship with other bloggers in that they aren't given the access to players, coaches and Cubs executives that mainstream reporters have. But that doesn't faze Taylor and most bloggers, because at the end of the day they are admittedly and proudly writing from the viewpoint of a Cubs fan.
So instead of finding bloggers in the press box, you're more likely to spot them taking notes from their favorite vantage points at Wrigley Field -- commonly the bleachers.
"I've had season tickets in the bleachers since 1993," said Al Yellon, editor of the blog Bleed Cubbie Blue. "I'm at every game and I'm writing about it from my own experience. There's just something magical about seeing a game from that perspective."
Yellon and the other bloggers are all big fans of the renovations to ballpark this year, including the massive electronic scoreboards.
"Look, in an ideal world I'd be at 81 day games with no video board, but I realize that's not the reality of today's game," he said. "It really looks great and it's a perfect mix of tradition and modern stadium architecture."
On his blog, Yellon provided regular updates about the state of the reconstruction of the bleachers and addition of the video scoreboards earlier this year and the continued improvements being made to Wrigley Field.
Some Cubs bloggers have combined their passions to help stand out among the bevy of options.
Tim Souers is a lifelong Cubs fan and an artist. By day he's an advertising executive, but come game time Souers is drawing portraits of Cubs players or key plays in a game while writing about the inspiration behind his art on his blog at Cubby-Blue.com. Because his art is not licensed by Major League Baseball, Souers, of Chicago, can't sell what he creates. But someday he plans to have a gallery showing. Most recently, he created a portrait of Cubs catcher Miguel Montero to commemorate the backstop's snap throw to first to pick off Cardinal baserunner Jason Heyward during the teams' recent playoff series.
"I just loved that play," Souers said. "Just like everything this year, it's been so crazy and unexpected, and everything has been a gift, so all I can be is happy that it's all going on."
As the fortunes of the team have picked up, so has interest in the blogs.
"Traffic to the site is for sure picking up," Souers said. "And it's really exciting that people are looking at this thing I've created."
It wasn't like that all year, though. Cubs fans have been burned too many times to get overly excited about the team early on, the bloggers said.
"It's exploded since the middle of the season," Yellon said. "That's one thing that's better about having a good team to write about; you have more people wanting to read about them and talk about them."
On their websites, the bloggers try to keep up a dialogue with readers as much as possible.
"Our social media presence has gotten a lot bigger," Misener said. "We don't get a lot of negativity or trolling from other teams' fans. Everyone is just super excited to see (team president) Theo (Epstein)'s plan come to fruition a year early."
And when there is strife among the readers, the best method is to ignore it, they said.
"The very, very small percentage of trolls I encounter are actually Cubs fans," Taylor said. "There are some real self-loathing Cubs fans out there."
Cubs bloggers said the work doesn't detract from being a Cubs fan. Instead, it amplifies it.
"I don't get to as many games as I'd like," Misener said. "Wrigley Field, to me, there's no place I'd rather be."
And they are Cubs fans first and bloggers second.
"I get into Chicago regularly and I love going to games," Taylor said. "Being at Wrigley is always great, but setting aside the fact that Wrigley is so unique, it's because I'm around other fans."