This story also appears in The Times of Trenton and at nj.com/thunder.
Churning out some of the biggest prospects in baseball is nothing new for the Yankees.
The eruption of new media and social networking tools now documenting their every move is.
The image of minor-league baseball played in ramshackle structures depicted in films such as “The Natural” and “Bull Durham” is gone, replaced by fan-friendly, revenue-generating ballparks and an expanding media capable of covering the game’s players like never before.
Imagine downloading video of Yogi Berra taking practice at Newark of the International League in 1946?
How about a YouTube clip of Mickey Mantle shagging fly balls at Municipal Stadium for the Kansas City Blues in 1951?
Or perhaps sending a Facebook friend request to Derek Jeter during his days at Albany-Colonie in 1994?
How times have changed.
It is common knowledge that some of the most renowned and respected sportswriters in history looked the other way when players (Mantle and Babe Ruth immediately come to mind) ran afoul after hours.
ESPN and sites such as TMZ and Deadspin can be at the scene before the squad-car door closes.
“It is a blessing and a curse,” Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said of the ever-expanding role of the media. “Most of us here have been doing this a long time, but things are a little more intense now because of the explosion of the different media sources and an increased emphasis on prospects. Believe me, our players understand the difference between what is hype and what is real, and if they forget they will be reminded.”
Helping prospects such as Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos deal with the hype connected with their ascension through the Yankees’ farm system has become part of the development plan.
Since 2007, the Yankees have made their young players take media training on the first day of spring training and, while helpful, Newman says that is really just a couple of days of videos, mock interviews and some guest speakers.
Living it every day over the course of a 142-game season, alongside the media and all their new tools stationed at affiliates such as Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, is a far more realistic classroom.
“When you play in New York you are going to deal with a lot of those things anyway, so if you can get started learning at an early age that helps,” Newman said. “Guys that go through our system tend to handle that stuff pretty well. I remember when (Yankees All-Star second baseman) Robbie Cano first came up and started poorly, a headline in one of the tabloids said: “CANO CAN NOT.” So, they get that, too. They get the hype and they get vitriol, and they have to learn to deal with it.”
Some top-tier prospects, such as Betances, take advantage of their time in major-league camp to get advice from veterans that have been through the media pressure cooker in New York.
“I definitely have gotten some feedback from CC Sabathia and Mariano (Rivera) about how to go about your business,” said Betances, the likely Thunder starter for Opening Day Thursday at New Hampshire. “Staying focused and working hard is what it’s all about. You know it’s there, but you try not to worry about all that other stuff.”
Waterfront Park will be buzzing for the Thunder home opener April 14 against Harrisburg, but more than a week earlier the 2011 club will take part in media day as reporters, bloggers, Tweeters and internet scouting services will be on the field obtaining and relaying instant information from the latest crop of Yankees farmhands and Trenton coaches.
“The landscape of sports media has changed dramatically since I started in 2003,” successful blogger and “Thunder Thoughts’ beat writer Mike Ashmore said.
Ashmore’s blog is one of the most widely read sites in the minor leagues, closing in on 1 million hits since its inception.
“Twitter didn’t even exist. Now, it is arguably the best source for information around. With so many online outlets, whether it is blogs, or websites and so on, getting it right and getting it first – and it isn’t always in that order, sadly – has become much more important.”