IBR: Earlier this season, you experimented with live blogging a few of the games. Was that popular with the fans? What’s the future of that particular feature? I logged in for a couple games and found it quite fun and interesting.
BT: Well, that’s what I get for not reading all of the questions before I started answering them! I think my elementary school teachers warned me about doing that… As far as I could tell, the live blogs were very popular with fans who couldn’t make that particular trip. I remember Aaron Johnson’s mom and girlfriend both commenting on a couple of the blogs from Canada, then being surprised that the other was reading the blog. Some of Coach Westray’s family commented on the blog, as did Brandon Hohl’s dad, Mike Sterk’s mom and a few people from Tanner Libby’s family. I think Bryan Roberts’ mom also sent in a few comments. I think it’s a great way to give fans more detail than they can get from Gametracker, it’s usually a bit faster than Gametracker and it’s interactive communication. So people really enjoy all three of those aspects of it. I’m hoping to be able to do more live blogs in the future, but they may be limited to the early road trips, if and when I travel on those. Because of my overlap with the wrestling schedule, I’m not always able to go on those early trips. And I found that it isn’t possible for me to run the blog at home because of my additional responsibilities in the press box. It’s also pretty tough to run blogs while I’m doing radio during road games because I’m also usually writing the game recap for the website during breaks in the game. Glad you enjoyed them!
IBR: This year, I’ve noticed that the baseball program has made an effort to look back to its history. You have put up all-time rosters on the web and are now doing a series of Retrospectives. I think that’s great. What prompted this? Do you have other similar projects in the future?
BT: Well, I’d like to be able to honestly say that it’s a concerted effort to be more in touch with our roots, but it’s really the confluence of a couple of different projects. The rosters were typed in by members of our student staff as part of an initiative to have a listing of all past rosters for all sports on FightingIllini.com. We’ve made great progress in the first year of the project and should have it finished by next year. The other part of that project is to have a statistics archive on FightingIllini.com. As you can imagine, that project is a bit more ambitious with a sport like baseball that has been around for 130 years. But we already have stats entered into our software back to the early 1970s, and we only have season batting averages for players any farther back than that. So we may be getting close to getting those posted soon, too. The other prong of this historical bent has been the weekly Illini Retrospective series, which was part of our planning for the Celebration of 130 Years of Illini Baseball, which will happen this weekend (Saturday, May 15). Chris Tuttle, the director of our Varsity I Association, which works with former letterwinners, and I thought that a batch of articles that mentioned some of the great teams, coaches and players from the program’s history would be a great way to let people know about the reunion weekend while also educating them about the program’s history. Again, our two student assistants who help me with baseball wrote the majority of those articles, but I edited them before I put them on the website and e-mailed them out. I can definitely say that I’ve learned a lot about the program in the process!
BT: Yes, there definitely is a fine line. Fans have become much more adept at sniffing out spin in the last decade, so most of them can tell when they aren’t being given the whole story. But as the official spokesperson for the athletic department, our office doesn’t release much in the way of injury updates unless it’s of the season-ending variety. Even then, it’s often up to the head coach because it can be construed as a competitive advantage for opponents. We realize that it is our job to portray the program and the university in the best possible light, so we try to focus on the positive aspects rather than injuries, suspensions, etc., but we also realize that in order to have credibility with our constituents (i.e., fans) we sometimes have to provide the less positive side of things.
IBR: Finally, let me ask a strictly baseball question. Your personal thoughts on the Illini’s slow start, recent surge during Spring Break and their chances for the Tournament?
BT: Since it’s taken me a few weeks to answer these, a few things have happened. But I would say at this point that the team holds its postseason destiny in its own hands, which often isn’t the case when you’re tied for seventh place with six conference games left. But with the incredible parity in the league this year, it really is anybody’s race as we head into the last two conference weekends. The other interesting thing is that only Indiana and Purdue play two of the teams tied for seventh in the last two series, meaning that everybody else plays at least one team in the upper half of the conference. Not that they could claim this anyway, with as bunched-up as the standings are, but no team can claim that they have a schedule that’s more or less difficult than anyone else. And it’s fairly conventional wisdom, but it seems to me that of the six teams with conference records of 9-9 or worse, it’s going to be the two teams that win their final two series that will advance to the Big Ten Tournament. Of course, a team that’s tied for first could fall out of the tournament since first place is only a 10-8 record, but I wouldn’t count on it.