February 18, 2013 - When pitcher C.J. Nitkowski first started blogging in 1997, even he could never have predicted how fast the medium would grow. By his own accord, Nitkowski “fell into being the first active player on the web.” In 1997, the Houston Astros website, astros.com, asked Nitkowski to write a semi-annual newsletter chronicling his experiences as a minor leaguer pitching for their club in New Orleans. For Nitkowski, the initial response was greater than he anticipated. “[It] became more popular than I had ever thought, and what I realized was that baseball fans really enjoyed the personal interaction with an active player.”
Following the success of the newsletter, Nitkowski took things into his own hands and established Cjbaseball.com. “My thought was instead of having to wait for my newsletter, how about a place on the internet that they can access at their leisure.” Over the next decade, Cjbaseball.com would chronicle Nitkowski's experiences pitching in the Major Leagues from 1995-2005, and in foreign countries such as Japan and Korea. “It was always about showing baseball fans the game from my view, the inside. It never was about me or self-promotion.”
It was while pitching in Korea in 2009 that Nitkowski first discovered Twitter. “In Asia, foreign players have a lot of alone time. I discovered Twitter then.” Though incapable of measuring how much of an impact the medium would have, Nitkowkski says that he “never imagined this but I saw the potential for growth.”
In the following years, Nitkowski has established himself as one of the more candid athletes on Twitter, analyzing the game as he sees it, and reporting on the ins and outs of a player with candor and honesty. Though many athletes, both retired and active use Twitter as a medium, Nitkowski believes that it isn't necessarily for all. “Certainly it’s not for everyone. There are bad people out there who say bad things, mostly just to get a rise out of a player. I could see where a small sector of fans could ruin Twitter for a player.” Twitter, due to its specific level of interaction, seemingly allows the unidentified heckler in the crowd, to take a crack at the athlete he dislikes.
This however has not entirely been Nitkowski's experience, noting that the majority of his interactions involve “respectful fans.” This seemingly comes with the territory of being a public figure on Twitter, Nitkowski notes that he “can only imagine what some of the biggest name in the game see in their mentions.”
As more and more athletes flock to Twitter, Nitkowski understands the importance of keeping a level head and not going too off the cuff. In 2011, the Florida Marlins spoke out against outfielder Logan Morrison's candid and often vulgar interactions with his followers. Though Nitkowski has never endured the same backlash as Morrison, he understands that learning the right voice on and the internet and in social media is process. “I made my own mistakes early in my career by spurting off on my web page when I was angry.”
It is easy for a player to let their emotions get the best of them. But Nitkowski thinks that the solution is simple. “You have to be smart and use good judgment. Teams are smart to monitor their players, and they'd be wise to train their players how to use social media properly.”
Going forward, Nitkowski values the relationship that is capable of being formed with fans via Twitter. “You can get the personal interaction with your favorite athlete or celebrity that would otherwise be unattainable.” As he continues to work his way back into the big leagues, Nitkowski is aware that a presence on Twitter may be essential for his next career. “I'd like to have a career in media when my playing days are over. I think a presence on Twitter is a must for aspiring and current media members.”