Two weeks ago, Bus Leagues Baseball.com, a web site I have written on for over three years, was “closed” by the creators of the site. One of the founding writers, Brian Moynahan, wrote a post entitled Closing Time and gave reasons for the closing and thanked everyone who wrote for the site over the years. It was a well-written ode to a site that carved a moderate niche in the Minor League Baseball blogosphere.
Throughout the post, Brian mentioned my contributions to Bus Leagues Baseball. He had a lot of nice things to say about my posts, my recent managing of the Bus Leagues Facebook site, and the time I took to make the Bus League Baseball website look and act user friendly. Brian also mentioned other parts of my relationship with Bus Leagues Baseball, such as the many times he and I did not see eye to eye on my suggestions for the site’s direction, my objection to closing the site, and my offer to buy the site and his response.
I greatly appreciate the kind words and I want to thank Brian giving me the opportunity to write on the site. I also want to thank him for being honest in not hiding the fact that I was disappointed closing the site was not a group decision but the decision of mostly only one lead writer. Because he mentioned me as often as he did, I wanted to write about my side of the story and my views on the closing of Bus Leagues Baseball.
First and foremost, I understand writing and keeping a website requires a commitment and life often times life, forcing writing to the back burner or off the stove completely. Life has caused many websites I have written for to shut down. It happened to YaySports, Thunder Matt’s Saloon, and ScalpEm.com. Each time it happened, the website owner contacted me, told me the situation, and allowed me to say goodbye to the readership.
Besides the fact that Brian wrote the only goodbye post on Bus Leagues Baseball, Bus Leagues Baseball was different than the above sites for one big reason: it transcended the Internet. Bus Leagues Baseball.com was an identity I carried with me to real life ballgames, on press passes, on my freelance business card, and in conversations with fans and people involved in baseball.
In media studies literature, there is a lot of discussion about “universes”, “worlds”, and the ability for participants to live, create, and prosper in something in which they are a fan. Those who are active fans become emotionally invested in these “creative playgrounds” and not only participate, but also advocate. For me, that was the case for Bus Leagues Baseball. In the Minor League Baseball universe, Brian and co-founder Eric Angevine created a world called “Bus Leagues Baseball” where I and other writers/baseball fans were allowed to play (write) whenever and however we chose. Without edit, we were able to express our own voices on the Minor League Baseball subject of our choice. Although we had no ownership of the site, it became “ours”, just as people who dress up at comic book or fantasy conventions consider their world “theirs”. While not as big as other blogs, our “world” was part of the general Minor League Baseball landscape.
Sometime this summer, Brian and Eric made the decision to close our world, for no other reason than they were done writing or had other commitments. Without gauging the opinions of the other writers, they said “This world is now closed. Go find another to play on”. That seemed very selfish to me, especially considering the time and effort I and others put into the site.
Closing Bus Leagues Baseball wasn’t only a stab in the back to those who have put in hours or years writing for the site, but it is also insulting to the thousands of web site visitors who have become fans of the site as well as those who follow on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media channel. They were part of our world too.
And the Bus Leagues Baseball world was growing. In the early months of this year, for example, Bus Leagues Baseball readership nearly tripled its monthly site visitors from 2011. Meanwhile, the Facebook page went from 92 friends to nearly 300. We had great interviews, great daily content, and were even getting guest posts from other well-known non-affiliated Minor League Baseball writers. There was a palpable momentum building. After four years of sporadic posts and a semi-casual approach, the site seemed “fully armed and operational”. Even if that wasn’t the goal of the founders.
In his closing post, Brian Moynahan wrote a very telling paragraph that explained his philosophy on being in charge of Bus Leagues Baseball.
Every year, though, I found myself wondering how long I wanted to continue with this. There was always that nagging voice in the back of my head, telling me it wasn’t worth it to keep working so hard on something that was pretty much a vanity project. It made me feel good, earned us some recognition, and helped us get some interesting work on other projects, but never really felt like the kind of thing that was going to blow up into something bigger.
I disliked every time Brian used the term “vanity project” to describe Bus Leagues Baseball and the annual book the site published. I should have understood that the term meant that Brian had no ambition to progress Bus Leagues Baseball into something that would be a regular read for baseball fans, despite the fact that he brought in writers to cover the daily MiLB news and pushed to score bigger and bigger interviews. I believed we had all the bases covered, from scores to prospects to promotions to history to interviews. Whereas other sites focused on only one or two facets, Bus Leagues Baseball had enough writers who loved Minor League Baseball to cover the entire spectrum. Hence we had the potential to be a really great read.
I also always saw Bus Leagues Baseball as a feeder for other bigger sites, a place where writers looking to write about baseball could cover a game or their favorite local team and cut their teeth on their own pace with no deadlines. A place where writers could find their own voice. And if they wanted to interview a local player, coach, or even shoot higher, they could. And after the best interviews of the year were published, the person could find their name on Amazon.com.
Publishing the annual Bus Leagues Experience book had the potential to be n excellent experiment in grass roots rewards. Although we didn’t get paid for our work during the season, the original plan put forth by the site founders was to sell enough self-published books to pay for some of the cost of a Bus Leagues Baseball writers gathering at a Triple-A All-Star game in the near future. So we weren’t just writers, we were fund raisers. For me, building the community meant selling more books and a better chance of us getting together to enjoy the company of other baseball fans at a Minor League Baseball event. Unfortunately, the leadership of the site saw the book as a “vanity project” and rarely promoted it, even as our readership grew.
On a side note, where the money from previous sales went and where the money from the sales of the upcoming Bus Leagues Experience Volume 3 will now go is has yet to be answered.
The bottom line is that Bus Leagues Baseball, a site that I thought had vast potential, was poorly marketed and poorly managed. Case in point, the Closing Time post was published two weeks before the announcement that a third book is now available on Amazon.com (also in Kindle form). Closing the site after the release of the book would have at least allowed use of the website to promote the book. But “vanity projects” aren’t promoted, I guess.
When I offered to buy the site, I told the founders that I would love for them to stay on as contributors, but that what I really wanted was to run the site and see if we couldn’t keep up the momentum of the first few months of the 2012 season. I wanted to grow the community. I wanted to welcome people into our world. I wanted to make Bus Leagues Baseball what I saw it as: a website written by fans who cared about writing, cared about baseball, and cared about the readers.
But sadly, it seems some people stopped caring.