On Wednesday, MLB announced the new version of Minor League Baseball, which will keep the Tigers four full season affiliates as is but will see them jettison their short season A-ball team in Connecticut and swap the roles of Lakeland and West Michigan. It sets the stage for a 2021 Minor League Baseball season that will look at least a little different from prior seasons, but hopefully will still happen.
However, for the first time since 2004, TigsTown will not be along for the ride to bring you all of the coverage.
Let me take a few moments and tell you why.
In 2004, the internet that we know today was in its infancy. Google was just a little search engine competing with behemoths like Yahoo and AOL. Facebook and Twitter and a variety of other social media sites didn’t even exist; neither did the iPhone. And along with that, if you were a fan of Minor League Baseball there was virtually no place to go to get information and insights.
A 19-year-old college sophomore (that was me) decided to try and change that. Growing up, I was a sports-obsessed kid that couldn’t get enough of sports information, baseball included. I still vividly remember every Monday the Detroit News would publish the Tigers’ minor league stats and I would scour the page to see how well our prospects were performing, since there was no other source of information. Having the opportunity to cover sports and get paid to do it had always been an ambition of mine, and rather than taking the traditional approach of going to work at the student newspaper, I decided to try my own hand and start my own website.
With the help of Patrick Teale, who ran the New York sites, I got connected with a group called The Insiders and had the opportunity to start the Detroit Tigers site on this new MLB network. We had a core focus on everything that wasn’t available in the daily newspaper; primarily the minor leagues and the draft, going deep and providing high quality prospect coverage.
Within my first month I quickly realized I was in over my head. A longtime fan of baseball but with what could best be described as a futile high school baseball career, I had limited talent with no expertise in scouting, or journalism, or basically anything else needed to do exactly what I was trying to achieve. I could learn quickly, but still I knew I needed help.
At that point in time one of my frequent places to go to discuss Tigers baseball was an ESPN message board. This board had a poster who always struck me as smart and quick-witted and a little bit condescending; all of which I could appreciate. He went by microline133, better known today as Mark Anderson, and I quickly reached out to him to see if he would be interested in writing about the Tigers more formally on my new “growing” site. He somewhat reluctantly agreed and thus began the core of the TigsTown team for more than 16 years.
With very little information or connections, we published our first set of rankings. We figured out how to get credentials. We also figured out how to not get credentials. We hired a writing staff. We got rid of a lot of them. But we kept learning and kept growing and kept trying new things and somewhere along the way, we got good at it. And to my surprise, people were willing to pay to read what it is we had to say.
And for the better part of a decade, we were good at it. Damn good. We built relationships with minor league clubs, coaches, scouts, and other industry experts that put us in a position to become not just an informed source, but in my maybe not so humble opinion the best source for information when it came to the Detroit Tigers farm system.
But much like the internet changed over the last 16 years, so too did the landscape of covering the Detroit Tigers. Minor League Baseball not only launched a full website but started streaming many games for fans to watch. Local papers that covered the minor league teams started publishing their content for all to read online. The Tigers blog community went from a couple of the originals like Bill Ferris at Detroit Tigers Weblog to more than I can event count, many of which still are around and thriving today. And to top it off, the “big boys” got involved – as the Tigers grew in popularity and fans craved content, the News, the Free Press, MLive… all of them got in on the action of covering prospects. And suddenly our point of differentiation and expertise was becoming quite crowded.
And at the same time, things changed for us too. When you’re 23, just out of college and working a “just out of college” job… it’s easy to have free time to churn out a few thousand words, drive to Toledo and back once a week, manage a writing staff and maintain ongoing conversations with players and scouts. But life happens. Marriage. Kids. Homes (and mortgages). And somewhere along the way, something that started out as a passion felt increasingly more like a job. A spring training trip to Lakeland would bring that enthusiasm back, but it wouldn’t last. Once a week trips to Toledo started to become once a month, then once a year.
The pandemic certainly didn’t help matters, but really, it only accelerated what was already building. A passion project was missing its key ingredient… and at some point, you have to say out loud what you’ve been feeling for a while.
For now… we’re calling this a hiatus. For the next 12 months, there won’t be any new content on TigsTown (though no promises Mark and I won’t get antsy sometime in February, pound a few beers and record a podcast). We’ll revisit the decision after the 2021 season and see where things stand. After 16 years, maybe a year off will reinvigorate us, or me, or Mark – that remains to be seen. Until then, in case this hiatus turns out to be permanent, some parting thoughts…
1. If nothing else, the content diehard Tigers prospects fans crave is in good hands. Emily Waldon at The Athletic, Chris Brown and Roger Castillo at Motor City Bengals, James Chipman at Prospects Live, the Bless You Boys team, Lynn Henning continually coming out of retirement at the Detroit News… if you yearn for Tigers prospect coverage, you have plenty of places to turn. In all likelihood, you probably already have.
2. Not only am I proud of the content we provided, but I’m proud of the many writers we worked with over the years and helped provide them a platform to grow and thrive. Guys like James and Chris mentioned above are certainly notable, but there have been many more. Before Nick Underhill became the authority on the New Orleans Saints, he covered the Erie SeaWolves for us. Before Chris Vannini became the group of five college football expert at The Athletic, he was a staff writer at TigsTown. There are more, but you get the idea. We had over 100 contributors over the years, and many of them did great work, and turned out to grow well beyond our tiny corner of the internet.
3. Along the way, I made some incredible connections and friendships. Roger DeWitt was our first photographer, but I’ll always remember that the first time I went to Lakeland solo, him and his wife Robie invited me into their home. We had many great participants on our message boards, but guys like Eddie Bajek and Frank Meints became friends outside the board. I also appreciate folks like Greg Gania for credentialing us when no one knew who we were, Tom Moore for spending hours with us when he didn’t need to give us the time of day, and Aileen Villarreal for breaking precedent and opening up credentials for us to the big league club. There are many more… but I’m already over 1,200 words, and I’d have to double that to touch on them all. Suffice it to say, I’m thankful for all of you I’ve met along the way.
It’s been an incredible journey and I thank all of you for reading – hopefully you’ve enjoyed it and learned a few things along the way, I certainly know I have. And with that, as my good friend Mark would say, “take it easy everybody.”