Time on the Internet moves at the speed of a baby growing up from birth to kindergarten. Each day brings with it some growth, a first or maybe just a passing phase. But parents struggle to catch a breath, and when they do, they reach for a camera to catch a moment. Only then can the mind separate days amid the blur of everyday.
The Internet doesn’t have a photo album to chart its progress, and any visit to content created at the beginning of this decade reveals how many domains have come and gone. Sites like archive.org manage to catch some of these fleeting digital moments, but so many leave our bookmarks, leave our minds and shuffle off the mortal coil when domain renewal (or Geocities burning down) comes up.
Not all, though. The intense connection created by the best blogs prevents this from happening. I first learned this in 2003 and 2004, when a site called Redbird Nation began obsessively chronicling the daily life of St. Louis Cardinals fandom. For reference, this was a time when I would be so desperate to find something to read online during downtimes at the newspaper that I would read ESPN.com’s Daily Quickie, knowing full well it would enrage me at least until lunchtime.
So for a site to speak with wit and passion and – above all – sometimes multiple times a day, well, this was a development I could get behind. And while northern Illinois could be sparse with Cardinal red, Redbird Nation was lousy with it. I wasn’t the only one to discover this outlet for baseball passion. Will Leitch (currently of New York, formerly of Deadspin) recently confirmed something I’d surmised after first reading his young-adult novel, Catch: that his character Brian Gunn was named after the lead writer on the site:
The summer I was wrapping up that book was the summer of 2004, that amazing Cardinals team, and I was reading Redbird Nation obsessively. Brian Gunn’s voice was actually in my head during Cardinals games. I’ve been waiting FOREVER for someone to point that out … including Brian! (Whom I interacted with a lot that season. It was a year before Deadspin, though, so I was just some random dude annoying him.)
Brian and his crew called it quits after the 2004 season, a magical run of writing and baseball that ended as someone else’s fairy tale culmination. Some of the best work during the 2003-04 seasons was compiled in a self-published book that proves that the best of the Web behaves just as any great writing would – it stands the test of time (or, at least, five years worth of it). I recently sought out Brian with a few questions and he was kind enough to respond.
Hank Brockett: Do you remember what you were thinking when you first started you site? Do you remember what you were thinking when it ended?
Brian Gunn: I started Redbird Nation before I even knew there was a such thing as baseball blogs. I was actually inspired by a few of the political blogs I was reading, and thought it’d be fun to do the same thing with baseball. The original idea was that Redbird Nation would be collectively written by me and a few of my brothers, my cousin Mark, and a good friend of mine named Mike Flynn whom I knew from high school. We’d be the Wu-Tang Clan of baseball blogs! As time went on, however, it was just me and, occasionally, Flynn.
I eventually shuttered the site b/c it became too much of a time burden. Watching the games and writing about them every day was tantamount to a second full-time job (one, incidentally, that I wasn’t getting paid for), and it was starting to affect my day job, my relationship with my then-girlfriend, etc. I suppose I could’ve simply cut back on the hours I spent on the site, but I’m more of an obsessive, all-or-nothing type, so I just went cold turkey.
I frequently miss the site. I miss the way it brought a bunch of Cards fan together. I miss the way it forced me to intimately engage the Cardinals. I missed the way it forced me to defend my opinions about them. When the Cards won the NL in ’04, it felt like an accomplishment an entire community of us could share in. When we won it all in ’06, I didn’t feel that sense of ownership as strongly, and that was partly b/c I’d walked away from the blog. So yes, something is lost. That said, I don’t regret the decision. My life is more well-rounded; my career and my relationships are better; etc. I hate the stereotype of the “blogger in his pajamas,” hunched over a computer day in and day out, and yet, in ’03 and ’04, I kinda was.
And yes, I still write about baseball when the spirit moves me, usually at the websites The Hardball Times and The Baseball Analysts. I also contributed a chapter to Larry Borowsky’s Cardinals Annual, as well as a few Hardball Times annuals.
Pitch F/X is ridiculously thrilling and promising. And have you heard about the new camera/software systems being installed in various stadiums by an outfit called Sportvision? In the next few years I think we’re going to have enough data to definitively answer a number of questions about defense and baserunning that we just don’t have right now. It’s an exciting time. My fear is that we’re going to get so good at assigning value to players that there will be little room for argument. (Although, really, the history of baseball has taught us that my fears are unwarranted. I doubt we’ll ever able to fully assign number value to players — something will always be unaccounted for. Mysteries will endure — which, if you think about it, is about as exciting as anything else…)
Well, there are an awful lot of fantastic bloggers out there who are older than me – Rich Lederer, Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, Dave Studenmund. I would imagine that it’s tough to blog when you have kids – particularly young kids – but otherwise it seems like a nice activity for young college types and older men and women who have a little wisdom and aren’t so obsessed with launching careers or families.
Yes. No question. Not only did I watch more games — I watched them BETTER, because I had to articulate my thoughts and feelings about them. I write movies for a living, and people often ask me if analyzing movies (to say nothing of seeing the business side of films, “how the sausage is made,” so to speak) sours me on moviegoing. The truth is that it makes me appreciate good movies even more, b/c I know what goes into the process and b/c I feel like I can enjoy it on more levels. Same thing, I think, with baseball. Analysis usually enhances fandom; it doesn’t detract from it.
Of course it’s all a matter of taste, but I’d say that nothing right now compares to the sheer joy of that summer of ’04. 2004 was like a blissful dream that just went on and on. And while this year seems especially charmed and unexpected — we were supposed to finish no higher than 2nd, and most likely 3rd or 4th — remember: we weren’t supposed to finish any higher than 2nd in ’04 either. It was supposed to be the Cubs’ year (just like this year).
And there’s one other thing I liked about ’04 more than ’09 — in ’04 I was convinced we were the best team in baseball and that we had a chance to go all the way. Of course we’ve got a real shot this year, but I’m not ready to say we’re as good as the Yankees, Phillies, or Red Sox. Then again, if we DO go all the way, that might make it all the sweeter…
I’ll answer your last question there first: no, I do not want the Cubs to close the gap on us. It’s one of the ironies of sports fandom that you (or at least I) generally only appreciate drama in retrospect. But right now I’d love a drama-free coast to the finish line. And yes, Carp/Wainwright is, right now at least, the equal of Lincecum/Cain, Lee/Hamels, Beckett/Lester, or anyone else.
As for what I think of this team, I’ll reply the same way Zhou En-lai did when Henry Kissinger asked his opinion of the French Revolution: it’s too early to tell. I know that sounds obnoxious, but sometimes I need a couple years to see whether or not a team sticks with me. Like you mention Will Clark. Who knew that this guy – who I used to hate when he played for the Giants (remember his fight with Ozzie and Oquendo!) – would come to our team, play only 50 games, and still be capable of moving me to tears 9 years later? I have similar feelings about Adam Wainwright in ’06, Andy Benes in ’02, Terry Pendleton in ’87, John Tudor in ’85. Sometimes I just don’t know my feelings while they’re happening. But I do know this: there’s just about nothing on this earth that compares to the pleasure of watching Albert Pujols day in and day out. I think the first half of this year may have been Albert at his best, and I’ll never forget that. Nor will I forgot the way Mozeliak and the Cardinals provided a cast of supporting characters worthy of Albert. That’s been a delight.
For fans of the site, Brian sends along this update: “As for what I’m up to now, I’m working as a screenwriter, currently writing the sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth for New Line Cinema. As for the site’s other writers, my friend Mike Flynn is an attorney in Chicago; my brother Sean is an actor in Hollywood; my brother Matt is a writer for Real Time with Bill Maher; my brother-in-law Alec is an attorney for the Walt Disney Co.; and my cousin Mark is my full-time writing partner.”