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Spring Training Is Heaven for Baseball Information Junkies

The Northeast is suffocated by snow and a roof leak caved in my bathroom ceiling at 4 a.m. And you know what? I’m tremendously excited about this week.

That’s because I’m an insane New York Mets fan, as I’ve been all my life, and my team begins playing spring-training games tomorrow. (I know, I know, 2009 was terrible. Hope springs eternal.) I’m also happy because now that pitchers and catchers have reported, I have a wealth of stories and blog posts to read about my team.

If I’ve got a computer or my mobile phone, I have access to more Mets news than I can realistically absorb. I can take my pick from six daily newspapers, whose offerings now include traditional articles, columns and blogs; online offerings from writers employed by national outlets and Major League Baseball; and dozens of blogs, written by former newspaper writers as well as passionate fans who give me everything from news to reminiscences to advanced stats. I have the written word awaiting me, as well as photos, graphics, audio and video. And this flood of information renews itself all day, every day.

These are anxious times for journalists, who have been caught in the wrenching transition from the print newspaper model to digital models that are still unformed and as yet less profitable. But from the sports fan’s perspective, life has never been better: There is more writing and information available than ever before, much of it of high quality. (Yes, the Mets are a big-league team that plays in a media-saturated market. But speaking relatively, the same holds true for every team and every sport.)

Moreover, all this information comes to me in forms I never could have dreamed of in my early twenties, when I had to content myself with whatever morning print paper I’d buy and hope for a glimpse of my team on the local news or ESPN.

Let’s take a tour of one baseball junkie’s morning rounds.

Print papers are struggling, but the traditions of print sportswriting remain healthy, with the New York papers’ writers providing a winning mix of news and features. I devoured this article by the New York Post’s Mike Puma about Jon Niese, a promising starting pitcher trying to come back from a bad hamstring injury. Puma told me where Niese stood in his recovery, and reminded me that another pitcher competing for the fifth-starter job – Fernando Nieve – is out of options. Elsewhere, the Newark Star-Ledger’s Brian Costa offered tidbits about photo day – this slice-of-life stuff would be a bullet point at best during the season, but during spring training fans like me eat it up.

Another spring-training staple is profiling new acquisitions and promising rookies. Costa wrote a very nice piece about new left fielder Jason Bay, discussing his time playing baseball as a kid in Canada. The New York Daily News’s Adam Rubin does the same for first-base prospect Ike Davis, including a nice tidbit of spring-training Kremlinology: The Mets moved Davis’s locker near those of the club’s veterans.

And then there’s my favorite profile of the spring so far: The New York Times’ David Waldstein writing about rookie catcher Josh Thole’s tour of duty playing winter ball in Caracas, which left me cheering not just for Thole but for his plucky fiancée. There’s nothing new about these articles, all of which could have been written in 1990, but there doesn’t need to be. They would have worked then and they work now.

In 2010, though, they’re just the beginning. Beat writers and bloggers now offer news on Twitter: Over the weekend the Post’s Joel Sherman tweeted that the Mets won’t meet free-agent reliever Joe Beimel’s current demands, setting off a blizzard of tweets among reporters, bloggers and fans. The newspapers now all have blogs, some of which are must-reads: I particularly like Rubin’s chatty, knowledgeable Surfing the Mets and Amazin’ Stories, written by the Bergen Record’s Steve Popper.

Some former beat writers blog on their own: I became a fan of John Delcos when he was a writer for the Westchester Journal-News (a paper I never would have found or read in print form), and continue to follow him at his new home. (Elsewhere, former Washington Times reporter Mark Zuckerman is covering Nationals spring training on his own, and has raised more than $10,000 from readers to do so.)

You don’t need to be a beat writer to blog, of course. My first stop for Mets news is Matthew Cerrone’s MetsBlog, which links to the latest stories from all sources and supplements that with Cerrone’s own reporting. For those who say bloggers just piggyback on the mainstream media, read this spring-training 2008 post from Cerrone, in which he asked new acquisition how he holds his changeup and got a fascinating, 15-minute demonstration. This spring Metsblog has beenfull of photos and video, too, all of it inhaled by baseball-hungry fans like me.

Metsblog has people in Port St. Lucie, but lots of other hardcore fans are blogging about my team from a distance, There’s Metstradamus on the cruel fate of catcher Omir Santos, The ‘Ropolitans with the latest gnomic utterance from manager Jerry Manuel, Amazin’ Avenue delving into pitch f/x data to discuss reliever Sean Green’s new arm angle, or my own blog’s hopes for a full season of Jose Reyes. All of these blogs have different points of view, audiences and writing styles – together, they add depth and value to the flow of spring-training news and conversation that fans crave. While the newspaper industry has its troubles, for fans that flow of information has never been so strong.

Jason Fry is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y. He spent more than 12 years at The Wall Street Journal Online, serving as a writer, columnist, editor and projects guy. While at WSJ.com he edited and co-wrote The Daily Fix, a daily roundup of the best sportswriting online. He blogs about the Mets at Faith and Fear in Flushing (www.faithandfearinflushing.com), and about the newspaper industry at Reinventing the Newsroom (www.reinventingthenewsroom.com). Write to him at  jason.fry@gmail.com, visit him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jason.fry, or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jasoncfry.
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