We'd like to think that Brewerfan.net is the only stop you need to make for your Milwaukee Brewer Minor League coverage, but that's not really so. The affiliate websites play a large role in keeping the loyal legions informed. Brewerfan.net relies on the five affiliate sites for information quite a bit, so a worthwhile off-season project seemed to be a review and critique of the affiliate sites. Hopefully any praise won't over-inflate front office egos, and any criticisms will be viewed in the proper constructive light.
Our analysis will take an objective look at each Brewer affiliate site, and importantly, we'll point out features from other sites which could be "borrowed" in order to enhance the browsing experience of the Brewer-interested fan base. We won't pretend to know how much money is allocated for web management by each farm team, but it is possible for a Rookie League team to have a AAA-caliber web site, and vice versa, although that isn't necessarily the case with the Brewers' affiliates. It's our hope that the front offices involved will check out this review (yeah, we'll direct them to the article) and see if they can't borrow some of the ideas and concepts mentioned.
Before we break down the individual sites, we should talk about what makes a minor league site a winner with the Brewerfan.net "staff". There's no need for flash and splash, that's for sure. We don't want to have to download special effects software just to be able to view the home page. Statistic pages aren't a priority, either, surprisingly. Baseball America's all over that (via SportsTicker), and Brewerfan makes use of their numbers to provide you with every additional specialized statistic possible. Here are some things important to Brewerfan:
- Timely and detailed game summaries. Heck, we don't want to wait until noontime the following day when the local newspaper accounts are available.
- Roster information. Every site gives you the age, height, and weight stuff. And beyond the player's hometown and "How Acquired" information, the Brewers' own media guide provides little insight into the farmhands. Several sites provide more detailed personal background information and highlight key achievements in years' past, and a photo of the player discussed is always a nice touch.
- Special feature articles and interviews. Web sites shouldn't rely on local newspaper coverage to supplement their own attempts. Special "Let's Meet...." spotlight articles are always informative, and unfortunately, the sites within the Brewers' system don't make use of these types of promos.
- E-mail newsletter updates. While some of us check out the team sites on a very regular, almost daily basis, most fans, even die-hard fans of the entire Brewers' system, will not. So when news breaks, the newsletter option is vital. All the Brewer sites earn high marks in this regard.
Now to mention a few items, that, while nice, were not the focus of this review...
- General stadium information, ticket info, directions, etc. Add to this the usual suspects like "How to Contact Us", schedule and promotion info, and merchandise sales (online store). Just about every professional team in America is able to provide this information to their readers in some manner, otherwise they're looking for new management pretty quickly. We will note, however, that stadium info and team histories can be OK reading and helpful, but we'll lump those two categories here as well.
- Have you ever hung out with Rowdie? How about Homer? Wooly Bully? Maybe Snappy? The Kids' Corner portion of a website can be fun, and it's about time this Dad introduced his 6-year-old daughter to the interactive Wooly Bully games on the High Desert site. For our review here, we'll just let you know that Rowdie is Indianapolis' red bear with a baseball for a nose, Homer is Huntsville's brown bear (we think he's a brown bear) with a more traditional bear nose, Wooly Bully is a bull (no kidding), and we think you can figure out what Snappy is down at Beloit.
And on that enlightening note, here we go:
AAA: Indianapolis Indians (www.indyindians.com)
The Indy website underwent a makeover in 2002, and the new look is simplistic but very clean and stylized. This writer has never been to Victory Field, but from everything we've read, it is spectacular and deserving of being the focal point of the web site. Within the "Clubhouse" section, there are detailed biographies online already of Cecil Cooper, Mike Caldwell and Dallas Williams. The roster page (obviously with the 2002 names right now) includes several names with linked bios like this one on Bill Hall:
Huge plus with the Indians' site is the release of their media notes, usually nightly for home games, and at the beginning of each road series. Here's an example:
The Indy folks provide outstanding detailed game summaries, home and away, always within an hour or so after the completion of each game. They've been invaluable to the Brewerfan.net Link Reports. If we can nit-pick, we will note that only the most recent game summary is ever available (no archive), and it can be a bit tricky to find at times, particularly when the home page isn't updated as well (when the Indians are on road weekends).
Overall grade for www.indyindians.com : A-
The Indy management just needs to get a bit more creative with some original content spotlighting its players and coaching staff, especially since the local newspaper coverage in Indianapolis is weaker, surprisingly, than that of all the other Brewer affiliates. Otherwise, the Indians' site is top-notch.
Possible suggestions borrowed from other team web sites (obviously not only the Indians could borrow from these, but the Brewers' other affiliates should take note as well):
- The Toledo Mud Hens make use of a neat "Mail A Player" function which allows you to send a quick note of encouragement or fan worship to a favorite prospect. Since most of us are too lazy to write down the note and send it snail mail, it's a great feature, one that Brewerfan.net has advocated before:
- The Buffalo Bisons feature an "Ask the Manager" section.
- The Sacramento River Cats, along with a couple of other teams, feature a Game Center which is similar to the ESPN Gamecast.
- The Jacksonville Suns link to a site that keeps track of their road/home splits statistically.
AA: Huntsville Stars (www.huntsvillestars.com)
Huntsville's site compares well to their Southern League brethren, but none of the Southern League team sites really stand out. The Stars' staff does a good job getting their game summaries online shortly after the final pitch - a big plus, although the summaries are less detailed than the ones Indianapolis provides. But still, it's important that there are summaries at all, as the local Huntsville newspaper coverage only includes home games. (Throughout the Brewers' minor league system, there is no road "beat guy", so road game recaps are important at the site level. High Desert does get some road newspaper coverage due to the proximity of a few of their opponents.)
Huntsville's site also earns points with their roster bios and photos. We've also yet to find another team site that includes video coverage of their home games. It's a single-camera view from behind home-plate, and a high-speed internet connection is a must, but how can this be a bad thing? It can't, and for a diehard fan or family member trying to follow a particular player, it's a cool bonus.
In 2002, pitcher Paul Stewart provided the Huntsville Times with a diary of a week-long road trip, which made for great reading. A regular player journal, maybe every other week or so, is the kind of player-fan interactive idea that the Brewers' team sites should consider.
Overall grade for www.huntsvillestars.com: B
The Stars should feel very fortunate to have local fan David Wesier's own site available - www.starsboxscore.com - which will also link you to fellow fan Johnny Phillips' site, with its own link to the Stars' Booster Club page.
A+ ball: High Desert Mavericks (www.hdmavs.com)
Well, keep in mind that A+ stands for "high Class-A", and not the grade the Mavs' web site deserves. Hey, Brewerfan.net loves Mike Lindskog and the staff out in Adelanto, California, but the web site does have its issues.
First, the positives. Announcer Lindskog posts a timely and informative home page game summary. Kudos to the Mavs for going with SportsJuice as its internet audio provider. The web signal is strong, and for those with dial-up web access, there's virtually zero "buffering". Just sit back and enjoy the broadcast - if only mlb.com could do likewise! The Mavs have also come up with a way to pull archived box scores from Baseball America - very nice, indeed.
But we must point out the roster page goes several weeks, even months, at a time without getting updated (this is during the season we're talking about), and don't go looking in the archive of press releases available - none were posted since last January. And it sounds whiney, but the site just doesn't have an attractive look - something that shouldn't affect its grade as a useful site, but it's true. Finally, the site offers virtually nothing player-related as an "extra". To be fair, none of the other California League sites provided much beyond the necessities, so the Mavs are running in the middle of a tight Cal League pack.
Overall grade for www.hdmavs.com: B-
A-Ball: Beloit Snappers (www.snappersbaseball.com)
For a team site with a pretty uninspiring home page, this is a very, very underrated site with a lot to like about it. Can't be beat for ease of use, as it's very clear as to how to find what you need where you need it. The General Info, News & Notes, and Facts pages are all informative, as indicated by the fact that the Snappers are willing to admit that the 2002 season was the "losingest" in their history, something that slipped by most of us, for sure.
Snappers management provides game summaries on all home contests, and handy links to the other Midwest League sites are provided to get quick news on road games, even if those are from the opponents' perspective. But we'd like to see a LOT more detail in the Snappers' own summaries.
It's not really a web site feature, but we do need to follow up with Snappers management down the road and find out about the whole lack-of-audio issue, not only on the web, but overall. Local Beloit radio carries Brewers broadcasts - you might think that given so many alternative Brewer affiliates, the local Beloit station would benefit in the investment of carrying Snapper baseball.
The Beloit site wins us over for one simple fact, and (other affiliates take note!) a page that is elegant in its simplicity, but is ultra-informative. Check out one of our personal favorites, the Transactions page:
How easy is this? We know the nature of injuries (how is that collarbone, J.D. Wheeler?), as well as the dates of promotions, releases, etc. The Snappers keep this very up-to-the-minute with near-instant updates. A similar page should be the first order of business for Indy, Huntsville, and High Desert management after reading this review.
Overall grade for www.snappersbaseball.com: B+
The Midwest League blew us away in terms of its image-consciousness. Everything seems to be wonderfully crafted from a marketing-standpoint, from logos to very impressive-looking and informative web sites. So, as we mentioned earlier, it's not always the guys at the top of the food chain doing the best work. Kudos, Midwest League - you can check them out here:
So long to www.ogden-raptors.com and hello to a yet-to-be-created Helena Brewers site.
The Helena management can only improve on what the Raptors provided (not much), and we hope will do a much better job that what they attempted to do with the now defunct and obsolete Medicine Hat Blue Jay site, which was pretty dreadful.
Surely this was an article for the minor league diehards among us - hopefully it won't get to the point this winter that we start putting together baseball uniform reviews (love the Mavericks, not so sure about the Stars). Until next time, then, on with the "off-season"...
Jim Goulart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.