If you Google “detroit tigers” and “blog,” the first listing will likely be the Detroit Tigers Weblog, the creation of a 33-year-old engineer, Bill Ferris. Established in 2001, Ferris has written about a variety of topics including players, statistics, and what it’s like to be a Tigers fan.
Ferris likes to write and isn’t shy about sharing what he considers to be his best writings. One post in that group has this creative title: “En-Inge-matic.” Here’s how it begins:
Coming off a 3rd straight frustrating loss, Jim Leyland announced that Ryan Raburn would be the starter over a struggling Brandon Inge. With Inge’s recent play, and Craig Monroe’s departure, Brandon has taken over the role of the Tiger that people love to hate. And with statements like the following, he isn’t exactly endearing himself to the fanbase.
He follows that with this quote from Inge:
“I can’t explain it,” said Inge, batting .242 with 12 home runs and 56 RBIs. “I’m getting pitched like I’m Babe Ruth. Everything is on the corner. I haven’t seen a ball in the middle of the plate for a week.”
It’s the kind of writing that you want to keep reading.
Ferris doesn’t limit his blog writing to the Detroit Tigers Weblog. He also operates two other baseball blogs, one of which is devoted to Tigers’ prospect Jair Jurrjens, and a site for parents of preschoolers.
When not writing, Bill Ferris enjoys sharing his baseball obsession with his very tolerant wife, his six-year-old son, and his four-year-old daughter.
I began my interview with Bill asking him why he began the Detroit Tigers Weblog.
Question: To start, tell me a bit about your Detroit Tigers Weblog. Why did you start it? What did you hope to accomplish?
Ferris: I started it on a whim in 2001. I had recently discovered blogging, when I ran across a site called baseballnews.blogspot.com. The site is long since been defunct, but in the sidebar were links for various specific team blogs. There were not Tigers blogs at the time, so I decided to start one. I had no idea what I was trying to accomplish at the time. I was just doing it because it was something I was interested in.
Question: It’s been about six years since your Tigers blog began. How has it changed since it began? Has it developed the way you expected?
Ferris: I can’t believe I’ve been doing it that long. In the beginning it was a group of friends who would mostly post links to Tigers articles. There weren’t many links because the team just wasn’t that good. As time went on, it just became me, and I started to produce more original content.
I started to take things a little more seriously around 2004 when I did a couple of interviews, and I think it helped with visibility and credibility. Last year things started to really take off in terms of visits as the team actually got good.
One thing that has happened is that I haven’t been writing as much original content. I started doing game threads, which on their own don’t take so long. But I’m fortunate to have a relatively active community and I end up spending quite a bit of time reading and responding to comments and less time on posts. It’s one of the things that I’m looking forward to this offseason, being able to get back to doing more articles.
Question: Whom have you interviewed? Do you still do interviews? Tell me about your interviews.
Ferris: I’ve done Dave Dombrowski, Ernie Harwell, Dan Dickerson twice, and Rod Allen. Dave Dombrowski was my first, and I figured I could just type everything up as he talked. Yeah, not so much. I can’t type that fast. Still, it was a great experience and it was great of Dave to take the time to talk with a blogger.
The Ernie Harwell interview was really a thrill, and this time I was prepared to record it. He was kind enough to give me a full half hour of time. I’d nervously stumble through a question and he’d respond with an eloquent answer.
Dan Dickerson (radio play by play), and Rod Allen (TV color man) were the last 2 that I did and both were great. I’ve been pretty surprised that when I’ve asked, I haven’t been turned down yet.
I typically do the interviews in the offseason because I think people are more accessible with less going on. It helps to maintain interest in the blog for the readers with some special features during a time when there is less news breaking. And really, it’s when I have time to do it. Prepping for the interview, and transcribing it afterwards is time consuming and would be tough for me to do during the season. I hope to do a couple more this winter.
Question: Most bloggers have trouble even getting a response from an MLB’s team’s PR department. How did you manage to get an interview with Tigers President/CEO/General Manager David Dombrowski?
Ferris: Basically I just asked. The media relations people have been accommodating of me. I try to tread pretty lightly in that regard but when I’ve had questions they’ve generally responded.
Question: Besides Dombrowski, you’ve interviewed Harwell, Allen, and Dickerson. Why did you choose the latter three to interview?
Ferris: I chose Harwell because he’s a legend and a Hall of Famer so I know he’s interesting. Plus, I thought I had a decent shot to get an interview given everything I had heard/read about him. With Dickerson, I had been a fan of his from his earlier days on WJR and calling University of Michigan Basketball games. I also think he’d done a terrific job filling some large shoes in that he took over after Harwell left. With Allen I just thought he brings a different perspective in the way he calls games. Plus I wanted to learn more about him.
Question: Whom would you like to interview next?
Ferris: I’m not sure. I’d like to do a player at some point and maybe a young prospect in the farm system.
Question: Looking at the questions you asked in your interviews, you seem to spend a lot of time preparing for them? I particularly like this question that you asked Dan Dickerson: “What is a typical game day like for you during the season?” How much time do you usually spend preparing for an interview? What do you do during that time?
Ferris: I spend an hour or two preparing I suppose. Coming up with questions is the easy part, whittling them down to get it in a reasonable time frame is the harder part. I also spend some time doing searches for background information. I don’t want to ask something that has been answered recently, or maybe something I find will generate more questions.
Question: How does your Tigers blog differ from the other Tigers blogs?
Ferris: Other than having archives that go a little deeper due to age, I don’t know that it differs a great deal. We’re a pretty collaborative group, and we’ve even formed a loose association called DIBS — Detroit Independent Baseball Scribes. We all have our own voice, but that just comes from having different individuals.
Question: What affect has blogging about the Tigers had upon you as a Tigers fan?
Ferris: I think that I try to look at every move or decision in a broader context than just instantly reacting to things. What I end up blogging about a topic isn’t always my first reaction.
I’ve also become a lot more knowledgeable about baseball as I try and stay current with what is happening around the league, and what’s new in research. My RSS reader has dozens of Tigers and baseball related feeds and I devour all of it. It’s also helped to make me a little more objective, or at least more aware of my biases.
Question: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a baseball team blog?
Ferris: It can be a big-time commitment, so if you have plans on making money or having lots of readers, realize it can take a long time to get it to where you’re happy. And also know that building up a following means producing content consistently and for an extended period of time.
But if you just want to write about your favorite team, by all means start doing it. It’s been a great experience for me, and I’ve met a lot of really great people online through the blog and I’ve had some great opportunities come to me through the blog.
Question: You mentioned that you’ve “had some great opportunities come to me through the blog.” Tell me about them.
Ferris: The highlight had to be attending a media-only session when the traveling Baseball as America exhibit came to The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. It is an exhibit that features hundreds of items from the National Baseball Hall of Fame. At the event Ryne Sandberg, Fergie Jenkins, George Kell, Al Kaline, and Sparky Anderson were all on hand. I was very much out of my element seeing as that I’m much more a fan than I am a journalist. I played it cool and all, but it was a thrill.
Plus bloggers some times get free stuff, like baseball books (which I love) to review or cell phones. It makes for some nice perks.
Question: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a baseball team blog?
Ferris: If you have even an inkling that you might want to do it long-term, cough up the $10 bucks to register a domain and then find really cheap hosting. I also recommend WordPress, which is so flexible and has so many smart people extending the functionality of the software to do really cool things. Install some stat tracking, be it Google Analytics, Sitemeter, Statcounter or something else. They’re all free. And offer a full feed and route it through Feedburner right away so you can track how many subscribers you have.
Question: What else would you like people to know about your blog?
Ferris: I can’t think of anything else. I invite people to check it out and if they have feedback or questions I’d love to hear it.
About 1,700 pages link to the Detroit Tigers Weblog.