The Milwaukee Brewers' Eric Thames made himself one of the biggest stories in Major League Baseball earlier this season with a hugely productive first couple months. In 51 games before being derailed by injury, the first baseman — who’d spent the previous few years in various leagues overseas and in South America — hit an impressive 15 home runs. Yet even still, he found himself preoccupied with what people were saying about him online.
“If you had a good game fans love you, but if you have a bad game they’d just rip you apart,” Thames said. “It was unbelievable. I deleted my Twitter account because some people just use it as a springboard for negativity because Twitter is so anonymous. They just use it to be trolls, pretty much. I know a lot of players who don’t use Twitter anymore because of that, and they use Facebook or Instagram because you can block people.”
It’s that type of toxicity that led to MLBPA to take matters into its own hands. At the players’ behest, the union teamed up with tech company Honeycomb, which also partners with Lady Gaga to run her Little Monsters social media platform, to create Infield Chatter — the first social media platform designed specifically for players to interact with fans one-on-one.
The app employs full-time moderators, and all posts and comments are reviewed immediately. In addition, all users have the ability to report any post or comment for the moderator for additional review.
Thames is back on social media, and so far, he’s been able to experience the positive elements of connecting with fans.
“The fans are the ones that get the short end of the stick (when ball players aren’t on social media) because there’s people that have positive things to say,” Thames said. “But to filter through all the negative crap where they’re saying ‘you suck’ or ‘you’re taking steroids,’ to get to a sick kid in cancer treatment asking you to sign a jersey was challenging. That’s why I’m on board with Infield Chatter.”
In fact, Thames said the vitriol he often faced after a bad game when he was on Twitter actually had an adverse effect on him when he was at bat.
“The negativity affects you, but that’s just the way the game has always been,” Thames explained. “If you imagine being Jackie Robinson playing decades ago to so much hate, he had to play through it. You have to keep playing and do your job, but the social media negativity affects us.”
After a bad game Thames said he’d want to go online and delouse his head and see what his friends were up to on Twitter, and then — bam — he’d be hit with tweets like “Why’d you strike out?”
“You can tell when people aren’t genuine and they’re just trying to get under your skin or maybe they’re a fan for another team and they just want to talk crap and try to make you angry and try and get you rattled or whatever,” Thames said.
Now that’s he’s switched to Infield Chatter, Thames has been able to partake in his first-ever social media Q&A, share virtual fist bumps with fans (the platform’s version of “likes”) and interact in a relatively safe environment.
Having just launched, the free app has a much smaller user base than Twitter and other more established social platforms. But it was also specifically designed for baseball fans.
“I’ve found that it’s baseball fans who are on this app,” Thames said. “They’ll ask me questions about my workout, how I’ve changed my routines, what books changed my approach overseas in Korea, what’s my favorite type of food and beer. The kind of questions that would help a player get really close with his fans. So I really appreciate that.”
Thames said at the end of the day, players appreciate genuine conversations with fans. And that’s what social media was originally designed for, before the trolls and negativity took over.
Thames, although new to Infield Chatter, hasn’t experienced any negativity yet. While that’s likely not always going to be the case, this platform was designed from the ground up to fight that type of toxicity. Over 1,000 MLB players are already on the app, which is sure to attract legions of fans over the long baseball season.
“My plan for the app is to explore baseball stuff like workouts and what we’re up to when there’s a three-hour rain delay or what it’s like in the locker room,” Thames said. “This app allows us to share things you don’t see on ESPN or read in the paper.”