Blogger of the Month: Capitol Punishment
In October 2004, when Chris Needham became infatuated with a baseball team that didn't quite exist, there wasn't even a name for the franchise he set out to cover. He resorted to calling them the Ex-Expos.
Now, in the fourth season since the Montreal Expos improbably became the Washington Nationals, Needham is something of a veteran himself, outlasting the great majority of the team's original players, its first manager, its first stadium, and now, its first big newspaper beat reporter (The Post's inestimable Barry Svrluga, who will soon make the transition from covering the Nats to writing about the Redskins.)
The crowds at new Nationals Park so far are less than wowing, perhaps even a disturbing call to action, a plea for the team's owners to step up their campaign to educate a new fan base. But for those who've already caught the fever, and for those who spent an appalling portion of their lives without a team or in temporary thrall to the squad from Baltimore, Needham's Capitol Punishment and more than two dozen other Nats blogs make up the Natosphere. They provide just what the best blogs excel at--an encyclopedic (bordering on obsessive) chronicle of the ups and (mostly) downs of the struggling new team, its players, its management and its fair-weather fans.
There does not appear to be any mathematical relationship between the number of blogs devoted to a team and the size or intensity of its fan following. Some teams with lousy attendance boast few blogs (Tampa Bay Rays), while others that lag at the gate nonetheless have a robust presence on the web (the Nats, the Pittsburgh Pirates.)
It makes sense, of course, that Washington, home base of the Internet, would have a strong baseball blogger contingent. There was all that pent-up demand for the sport: As Needham wrote in his first post back in '04, "I've been living in DC since 2000 and having baseball withdrawal since. Making the 90 minute drive from Alexandria up to Baltimore was not high on my list of fun things to do."
And there's the large number of Washington area residents who are affluent, educated and apparently willing to give up their sleep hours to type away expressing their passions. Nats bloggers range from the eclectic William F. Yurasko, who covers everything from diners and the late Don and Mike Show to the Caps and Skins, to the remarkably obsessive Let Teddy Win, which, despite its name and stunning devotion to the Nats' single best gimmick, actually covers the new stadium and all manner of other Nats news, too.
What I love about the Nats blogs, though, is the splendidly tight community that the bloggers share, not only with each other, but with a thriving roster of fans who frequent the comment boards, where they vent about the team's wayward performance and compete to handle the backbench managing of the squad. The Natosphere is a punny place: Nationals Power, Nationals Inquisition, Nationals Enquirer, District of Baseball, We've Got Heart.
So while it's really the Natosphere writ large that wins this month's BOTM award, I'm singling out Capitol Punishment because it's one of the very few in the bunch that the pros--the paid reporters who cover the team--check often to see if they've missed anything, or just to get a sense of what knowledgeable fans are talking about. My personal favorite Nats community is the very active crowd that gathers over at Svrluga's Nationals Journal, but since Barry is a professional blogger, I thought it'd be best to feature someone who does this purely as a passion, and that's where Needham comes in.
I had him as a guest on Raw Fisher Radio a couple of weeks ago and he gave me his early take on the new ballpark: A qualified rave. He likes the feel of the place, but wishes the fans were a bit more involved, heck, even rowdier (I second the motion.) Needham is a fan, but also a tough critic--he rides team president Stan Kasten, occasionally translating what he calls StanSpeak into a much more plainspoken version of the boss's words.
Capitol Punishment is what works on the web: A strong, attractive personality backed up by a clear devotion to accuracy and good storytelling, with a good dose of humor and a real interest in creating and maintaining a community. In other words, a smart, committed fan.
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