"[Blogs] are clearly a presence on the Web, which is clearly a presence in our lives. They are out there doing things. I think we're all better served when they have as much good information as they can have." -- Stan Kasten, on the benefit of team access to bloggers, August 23, 2009.

THE RESULT: The Washington Nationals broke a five-game losing streak, defeating the Milwaukee Brewers 8-3, before 21,484 on a beautiful sunshiny Sunday at Nationals Park.

The Nats got early home runs from Cristian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn, and solid pitching from Craig Stammen (W, 4-6, 5.08) to notch their 44th victory -- against 80 losses -- this season.

Not included in the attendance totals were 16 members of the Natosphere, invited by the team to cover the Nats on the second "Blogger's Day" this season not from the stands, but from the press box.

As in the first Blogger's Day, the Nats Baseball Media Relations department had a scheduled itinerary for the event, then the Internet writers and bloggers were invited to cover the game from the press box. Team president Stan Kasten offered the use of his suite in the press box, now affectionately nicknamed the "Blogger's Suite", for the event, "the first of its kind," Kasten quipped.

The event kicked off in the main press conference room in the bowels of Nationals Park. Manager Jim Riggleman kept the stage after the official press conference finished up, and he took questions from the invited Internet writers and bloggers as he did minutes earlier from the press corps.

What Riggleman said (though his answers to a question regarding his handling of Kerry Wood when he was manager of the Cubs was particularly instructive) wasn't as important as how he said it. Rightfully so, he treated the meeting with the same professionalism as he did when addressing the assembled media. The questions were pointed -- but professional -- and at some points more pointed than what the regular press would pose, since they have closer access on a daily basis.

If this was going to be some of these folks' only shot at interviewing a major league manager, they weren't going to pull the punches for the opportunity.

When the skipper left to go back into the clubhouse (one place the bloggers and Internet writers were not invited), members of the Game Operations staff briefed the bloggers and took questions, centered -- not surprisingly -- on the Racing Presidents mascots. No, the race outcomes aren't scripted, per se, but simply "bullet-pointed", implied Tom Davis, manager of field entertainment.

At that point, outfielder Josh Willingham and pitchers Garrett Mock and Collin Balester, himself a blogger, came into the press room to take questions. All three were earnest and frank. While some of the questions they fielded were more appropriate for management, they all provided some genuine insight into what makes a major league player.

Next on the agenda was one of the team's Principal Owners, and director of the Nationals' Dream Foundation, Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, who discussed the Foundation's goals, and the impact of the economy on the charity works. The Foundation supports three fundamental goals: the Nationals' youth baseball academy, the pediatric diabetes center at Children's Hospital, and their "Neighborhood Initiatives", supporting the community local to the ballpark.

While grateful that donations to the Foundation were consistent through the rough economy, requests for assistance were up, putting a strain on the amount of projects they could take. Also, the completion of the baseball academy and the diabetes center were -- predictably and unfortunately -- caught up in government red tape, but moving forward.

Assistant Director of Player Development, Mark Scialabba, followed. In what was perhaps the most spirited discussion of the day, Scialabba was peppered with questions about players on all levels of the minor league system. Some of the names discussed were Steven Strasburg (naturally), Drew Storen, Chris Marrerro, Derek Morris, and the quintet of Dominican players recently signed.

Nats Farm Authority also tried to get Scialabba to spill the beans about which players are going to be sent to the Arizona Fall League and the Florida Instructional League. While the names were not revealed, promises that they were "coming soon" and that it would be the "most exciting group" the Nats have sent to the AFL got the group pumped up.

Everyone then headed up to the media center, where we set up shop in the "Blogger's Suite" and grabbed lunch in the press dining area.

At 1:00 pm, Kasten and newly-appointed Senior Vice-President and General Manger Mike Rizzo gave quick remarks, then took questions for about a half hour. No subject was off limits: player news, injury updates, planning for next season, free agency possibilities, the minor league system and many other topics were discussed thoroughly.

The juciest piece of info we got was the repeated message that the team would indeed be pursuing a veteran starting pitcher to help solidify the Nats young rotation. Kasten remarked that it would not be a "Sabathia-type", but a veteran that could help stabilize a rotation full of youngsters still learning how to pitch at the major league level.

Both Kasten and Rizzo espoused the "grow arms, buy bats" theory that Andy MacPhail, G.M. of the Baltimore Orioles, so eloquently phrased.

After the game started, Kasten returned to the box and "hung out" for an inning. He was engaging, personable and relaxed -- maybe for the first time in a while -- considering the events of the last several weeks. It was an interesting conversation with long-time executive who has literally done it all in professional sports.

THE TAKEAWAY: Representatives from Nats News Network, DC Sports Box, Federal Baseball, FJB, Just a Nats Fan, Nationals Review, Nats Fanboy Looser, Nats Farm Authority, Nationals Pride, Nats 320 and Nationals Inquisition were in attendance. It was a good cross-section of the diverse and widely varied blogs and websites dedicated to covering the Washington Nationals.

Mike Gazda, Director of Baseball Media Relations, was our host, along with John Dever, Senior Director of the department, and Bill Gluvna, Coordinator.

"I don't know if we've gone too far or we haven't gone far enough," Kasten said. "All of us in sports are learning, feeling our way through these developments. A year ago we didn't do things like this. A year from now we'll probably have a better fix on what's appropriate or what's not appropriate. We're trying to figure it out."

Kasten's remarks are not only pertinent to the Nationals, but all of baseball. MLB is notoriously protective of their intellectual property. With advances in technology and new media, baseball in general, and the Nats now in particular, are being forced to develop protocol for providing access to on-line journalists in some form or another.

Not all blogs or Internet writers need to have clubhouse access -- though some, including yours truly -- feel that our work can be much more complete and thorough if we had the same access that traditional media does.

The model works. The Washington Capitals credential more than a dozen independent online outlets -- again, including yours truly -- with press box, locker room and press conference access. The online coverage of the team is excellent, with several award-winning blogs counted in the contingent.

Several MLB teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, credential Internet writers as well.

But for most of the assembled blogs and Internet writers Sunday, "Blogger's Day" at the park, or events in similar structure, give them an opportunity to face the players, coaches, and management in person to get a better perspective of the team they passionately cover, and to get the information directly from the sources.

As important, the organization gets to meet and understand the people for whom that passion becomes displayed on the Internet, for all to see, read, digest and comment on.

An old TV ad used to say, "An educated consumer is our best customer." By providing bloggers and Internet writers access to the teams they cover, even on a semi-regular basis, the organization is helping to educate their most loyal and passionate customers.

Who, in turn, educate, enlighten and entertain the rest of the Nationals' fan base. It's only logical that the team would want to provide the necessary information for Internet writers to produce educated, informative and accurate content. As we saw last week, even the pros can get it wrong when they don't have personal access to the organization.

NOTES: Roger Bernadina, the speedy center fielder currently rehabbing a broken ankle, will miss the rest of the season, according to Rizzo. His ankle is not responding to running as the team had hoped, and he will not return to the playing field this season.

NEXT GAME: The Nats finish a four-game series with Milwaukee Monday afternoon at 4:35 pm. Collin Balester (1-3, 6.75) faces Yovanni Gallardo (11-10, 3.56).

All photos 2009 © Cheryl Nichols. All Rights Reserved.


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