Reds second baseman goes extra mile to interact with fans via social media
CINCINNATI -- Scroll through Brandon Phillips' Twitter feed and you'll find there are about as many re-tweets of fan comments as there are comments of his own.
That's how it works in Phillips' public life as the second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds. He likes to be heard, sure. But he wants to hear from the masses as well, and the result has been a following that most players from mid-size markets can only dream of.
Tweet Phillips a photo of yourself in a No. 4 jersey, waving from high atop a volcanic tuff cone in Hawaii, and he'll re-tweet that to his more than 720,000 followers from @DatDudeBP with the comment "Awwww...#Mahalo." Tweet him a photo of your cute dog in a DatDude sweater, and you can bet he'll want to share that, too.
Same goes for the fan wearing the "Mrs. Phillips" T-shirt, and the guy who posed with Phillips during batting practice, and the happy couple posing next to a blow-up poster of a magazine cover the three-time All-Star recently showed up on.
Phillips without a doubt likes the attention. But he also appreciates the fans. Those elements together make Twitter the perfect landing spot for someone looking to continue the love affair with the ever-growing Reds fanbase.
"They tweet me, they say all kinds of things," he said. "I just do the best I can to make the fans happy. I do all kinds of crazy things. It's fun."
Crazy is right. Fun is, too. Not many players would be invited, on Twitter, to a kid's Little League game and then actually show up. Few would spend even two minutes organizing a scavenger hunt to give away autographed prizes. And it's pretty safe to assume you could count on one hand the number of ballplayers who would follow a disgruntled fan on Twitter just so he could direct message him and tell him to chill out.
But most ballplayers aren't Phillips, which is why most ballplayers -- even the ones who play in markets three times the size of Cincinnati's -- aren't pushing three quarters of a million Twitter followers. Phillips has, on his own, created this persona, and he's fully responsible for maintaining it. He doesn't have handlers doing the work for him. The words are his. The actions are as well.
Where many Major League players use Twitter as a way to get their word out without showing a real interest in hearing others' thoughts in return, Phillips sees social media as equal parts give and take. He views communicating directly with the fans without the use of a go-between -- agents, PR handlers, front-office staffers -- as a plus and trusts himself enough to do it right.
How this all began is somewhat coincidental. He had no interest in Twitter until former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson [formerly Chad Ochocinco] encouraged him to "get on there and let people see what I'm about, see what type of person I really am." Problem was, Phillips always saw himself as the private type, and that side of him wanted no part of this.
But still, he was intrigued enough to look into it. Finally, two years ago, his sister talked him into it.
"I just said, 'If I do it, I'm going to go all in and see what happens,'" Phillips said.
The aftermath was explosive. Phillips doesn't limit the Twitter chatter to just on-field happenings. He talks movies, food, even where he's headed to experience a little nightlife. He's also open to suggestions as to how to spend his free time. That's how Phillips ended up watching a virtual stranger play in a Little League game on a day off a couple of years ago.
Finishing up lunch at P.F. Chang's, Phillips tweeted, "What should I do today?" And a follower responded, "Well, you know, you can come to my game."
"I didn't have anything else to do," Phillips said. "So I said, 'Why don't I support this guy and see if he could really play the game?'"
Turned out, the kid was pretty impressive on the field. That is, when he wasn't freaking out at the sight of Phillips watching him from the sidelines.
"I said, 'Man, you have to pay attention,'" Phillips said. "It was a lot of fun. I signed a lot of autographs and took pictures with his teammates. I think that's probably the best thing I ever did in my career off the field."
But social media isn't all sunshine and roses, as we know. There's that other side -- the side that makes people say things they shouldn't, or lash out when they should instead take a few deep breaths and zip it, or exercise restraint even when every natural impulse makes it nearly impossible not to react -- and, invariably, overreact.
In these circles, those antagonists are known as "haters." In Phillips' world, they serve as motivation.
"I love the haters to keep on doing what they do," he said. "I love it. I'm the type of person where they're going to realize that stuff doesn't bother me. It doesn't make me mad. I just laugh at it."
The attention can even be flattering.
"It just shows that you dream about me at night or when you're at work, you think about me, for you to really go out of your way to send some hate mail to me, when you could be living your own life," he said. "I don't see the point of it."
For the most part, Phillips ignores the noise. He doesn't like to block people on Twitter and recalls doing it only once, when someone used "stupid words." Other than that, Phillips mostly just breezes past the negativity, although he's not averse to responding to the naysayers from time to time. Just to keep things real, on both ends.
"That's a way instead of blocking people -- I don't like blocking people -- but if they start saying some really ridiculous stuff, I say, 'If you keep that up, I'm going to block you,'" he said.
Phillips is obviously pro-Twitter and encourages his more suspicious fellow ballplayers to be open-minded about it. How involved in social media a player becomes is entirely up to the individual, and Phillips realizes not everyone is cut out to be as proactive, and interactive, as he is.
"I think it's something that a lot of athletes should try out," Phillips said. "If you don't like it, just stop doing it. If you do like it, just continue to do it. You can get on there just to say something stupid and you never know who might be watching or see it. You might get [an endorsement deal] or you might get some more fans.
"I'm surprised that I have all those followers that follow me, especially playing for Cincinnati. A lot of people say if I played for a big market I'd be way over a million. But I'm very happy with where I'm at and with the followers who choose to follow me. Hopefully, I can keep doing what I'm doing."