You don’t have to be an Atlanta Braves fan to enjoy reading Mac Thomason’s Braves Journal.
Here’s a sample of what Braves Journal offers, written after the Braves traded shortsop Edgar Renteria to the Tigers for two prospects:
Well, that clears up that logjam. The Braves sent Renteria and some amount of money to Detroit for two prospects at positions of need. Jair Jurrjens, or the J-Man, as I intend to call him, is a righthanded pitcher from Curacao, probably not ace material but a good bet to be a solid #3 type. Gorkys Hernandez is a centerfielder who can apparently fly and hit .293 as a 19-year-old in low-A ball, but doesn’t yet seem to have the power or walks to be a major contributor. He’s some years away yet, but is supposedly toolsy enough to eventually hit some homers, and is already a good fielder. BP considers both to be among the Tigers’ top five prospects.
The above post got 142 comments, a large number for one entry in most blogs, but not for Braves Journal.
It’s also the first site in which I noticed a Latin phrase. In two places in the upper right of the home page, including beneath “About the Site” is the Latin phrase “Bunts delenda est,” which means “Bunts must be destroyed.”
I asked Thomason about the Latin phrase.
He replied that
It started with Ryan Langerhans, who was the platoon left fielder early in the year and was killing the team, hitting .068 with no power. So I started closing off all posts Cato-style with “Langerhans must be destroyed.” When he was finally gotten rid of, I shifted to Mark Redman, and about that time I shifted to the original Latin, though it’s not really grammatical (“delenda est” is feminine singular while the various players are presumably masculine). “Bunts” came about because Bobby Cox was bunting in insane situations — two runners on, down three, for example — and I got fed up, especially since the team couldn’t execute bunts anyway.
Thomason’s writing attracts a lot of people. He estimated that his blogs getting “about 9000 [visits] a week, during the season, a little less than 8000 a week overall.” Big numbers, but not surprising ones. When I read Thomason’s writings, I knew that there was a human being beyond those words who cares deeply about the Braves.
Here’s the remainder of my interview with the Braves Journal’s Mac Thomason.
Question: Braves Journal has to be one of the oldest baseball blogs. You started Braves Journal in April 1998. Why did you start it? What did you hope to accomplish?
Thomason: Well, it came to my attention that my ISP had free web hosting and it seemed like I should do something with that. At first, I put together some standard fan pages, but I was never really very good at that. So I started typing out regular entries on what I at first called “Braves Update” and then “Braves Journal”. I was basically trying to do what Rob Neyer was doing on ESPN.com at the time, a few hundred words at a time every few days. I don’t know that the word “blog” existed at the time; I was manually typing in entries in Netscape’s web design program, because I didn’t know any better.
Question: A lot of blog writers have burned out. Aside from a period between September 1998 and April 2002 when you didn’t write regularly, you’ve been doing it consistently. What happened between September 1998 and April 2002? What motivates you to keep writing about the Braves?
Thomason: I was still writing during that period, actually. That was when I was still typing things in Netscape. Those entries still exist, I just haven’t transferred them into WordPress because that’s a tedious process.
I don’t know what motivates me. I just enjoy doing it is all. It’s a lot easier using blogging software than it was Netscape, I’ll tell you that. Maybe that’s the thing, that I remember when it wasn’t so easy to write.
Question: Have you been the only writer for Braves Journal?
Thomason: I’ve had a couple of people who did some entries on the minor leagues (because I really don’t know enough to do them justice) and on occasion when I’ve been unavailable I’ve had someone do the game recaps, or do an entry for some other reason. The most guest entries recently was for the “Greatest Braves” series, where some commenters filled in the gaps. But most of the time, when I’ve had someone else write I’ve set up a subsidiary site.
However, I consider Braves Journal to be a collaborative process between me and the commenters.
Question: It’s been about nine years since your Braves blog began. How has it changed since it began? Has it developed the way you expected?
Thomason: The biggest change was when I finally moved to blogging software in 2002, and soon after was able to add comments. As I said above, I now consider Braves Journal a collaborative process. I never expected this; I never had any long-term plan at all.
Question: You mentioned that “most of the time, when I’ve had someone else write I’ve set up a subsidiary site.” How many subsidiary sites have you had? Tell me about them.
Thomason: Leaving aside unrelated projects … My friend Alex (“Alex R.” in the comments threads) wrote sporadically on the older versions of the site. We also did a humor-sports-news thing, a sort of weak “Onion” ripoff, called the Baseball Free Press, for awhile, but it was hard to come up with ideas and tougher to write. For awhile, I had something I called the Braves Journal Bullpen where I could put up guest posts, but that’s harder to do in WordPress than it was in Movable Type. The commenters and I did SEC football previews at the cleverly named SEC Previews.
Question: What’s the most time-consuming part of operating Braves Journal? How much time do you devote to it each week?
Thomason: During the season, the most time-consuming part is probably writing the game recaps, but that only takes ten-fifteen minutes. The hardest work on any regular feature is probably on the player profiles I write in January or February.
I come up with most of my ideas, and do mental drafting, in my car on my way to lunch or to and from work. I usually have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to write when I sit down, and 99 percent of the time I don’t draft, I just type and post. Since I type pretty rapidly, the dedicated time — when I actually sit down and type — probably isn’t more than a couple of hours a week.
Question: What lessons have you learned about writing a baseball blog? What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a baseball team blog?
Thomason: Well, it’s good practice — I’m a much better writer (in my opinion) than I was ten years ago, and a far better typist. And it’s helpful in teaching yourself how to think about the team and the sport. Sometimes your offhand opinion, which you’ll normally hold on to if you don’t really think about it, looks ridiculous when you write it down on the page. Also, it’s very disturbing when the General Manager of your favorite ball club makes fun of you in his book, even if you made fun of him first.
My biggest suggestion is that you should always have something up on the page. It doesn’t necessarily have to be great, but if you stop, you probably aren’t going to start again. And make sure you have a few weeks’ work before you start to publicize.
Question: What affect has blogging about the Braves had upon you as a Braves fan?
Thomason: Losses become even more depressing if you have to write about them.
It’s helped me think about the team and organization as a whole. Originally, I would think, “Okay, so such-and-such has happened.” Now, it’s more “such-and-such has happened; what does this mean for the franchise?
Question: Bill Ferris, a Detroit Tigers blogger, told me in his interview that he “had some great opportunities” come to him through his blog. “The highlight,” he said, “had to be attending a media-only session when the traveling Baseball as America exhibit came to The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.” Have you had any “great opportunities” come to you because of your blog?
Thomason: No, not really. Of course, I don’t live in the Atlanta area, so I’m not in place to take advantage.
Question: I noticed that some of your blog entries had an unusually high number of comments. For example, your October 30th entry on the Braves middle infield received 237 comments. What was the highest number of comments that an entry received? How have comments contributed to your blog’s success?
Thomason: Let me see … I’m sure that the most comments would be on a game thread for extra innings. There were 726 comments on the marathon disaster that was game four of the 2005 division series, 782 on the first game with Mark Teixeira as a Brave, but I think there have been more, over 900 in one case.
I have a good number of loyal commenters who like to talk about the Braves. I’ve set things up for them to that.
Question: How is your Braves blog different from the other Braves blogs? What makes it unique?
Thomason: I think the number and quality of commenters is the biggest thing. Second is that I have been doing this for ten years now so there’s some historical depth to the archives.
Question: What else would you like people to know about your blog?
Thomason: Almost nothing I do was originally planned. It just sort of happened.
About 497 pages link to Braves Journal.
Mac Thomason is a librarian in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and has been a Braves fan ever since he was allowed to stay up to watch Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, and has been blogging about them since 1998, even though he didn’t realize this until 2002.