Nats' Lannan, Balester dueling online

By Dan Steinberg
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Remember this summer, when Charlie Villanueva and Chris Bosh had a race to 50,000 followers on Twitter, with the loser doing something embarrassing on YouTube of the winner's choosing?

Watching those guys talk up their contest on ESPN back then made me think how far behind D.C.'s sports stars had fallen from the days when they were social media pioneers, with Gilbert Arenas and Chris Cooley leading the charge.

But one generation falls, and another rises, and now Nats pitchers John Lannan and Collin Balester are having a Twitter race of their own. First to 500 wins. Loser gets a mullet. As I type, Balester has 286 followers, and Lannan has a tad over 200. Baby steps.

And they've started promising prizes for their 500th follower. Lannan has a modest gift pack: watch batting practice on the field with three friends. Balester, on the other hand, is offering everything but an ownership stake and dinner with Tom Boswell: three baseballs signed by any person in the majors, five tickets to any Nats game, home or away, some time on the field during batting practice, and a clubhouse tour. He was originally promising a chance to shag balls during batting practice, but stood down when Lannan pointed out there was no chance that could happen.

"I actually ran [my offer] by community relations," Lannan pointed out. "I think he's just going in blind. He's offering stuff that people really can't get."

Which leads to a larger point: The two pitchers sort of have different social media styles. I'm typing these words around 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and as I type, Balester had already posted more than 70 updates on this day, including his kickball batting line.

He's repeatedly, almost obsessively written back to Nats fans who contact him. "People are just like, 'what's going on, what a freak,' " he said. "I like that they think I'm a little weird."

And indeed, Balester has posted numerous photos of his mustache, and his costumes, and has repeatedly attempted to engage with other celebrities.

"I'm trying to get Rainn Wilson to write back to me, but he just big leagues me," Balester told me. "I guess he's over me. Larry Fitzgerald wrote back to me, so I felt pretty good about that."

Lannan, on the other hand, only joined twitter Tuesday morning, because he "was kind of bored, I guess." After Balester and others welcomed him, Lannan quickly attracted a couple hundred followers, but he doesn't know how to reply; "I seriously don't even know how to work it that well," he admitted.

And Lannan also admitted that Balester would be a more amusing player to follow, which seems like an odd strategy for winning this race.

"Bally's pretty entertaining," Lannan said. "I think he's got me on that."

And here's where I make my official endorsement for Collin Balester. I mean, c'mon, people. He's posted a photo of himself with his head in a hair dryer. He's already one of the three weirdest D.C. sports personalities on Twitter. And he'll buy you 17 season ticket packages if you follow him. Why does Gilbert Arenas, who doesn't even tweet, have 20 times more followers? Sign up, now. I asked Balester whether he would be a more interesting tweeter than Lannan.

"I mean, c'mon, that's like asking me if a ball goes over the fence, is it a home run," Balester said. "I don't want to have a mullet shaved in my head. Geez. C'mon. Plus, I want to be more popular than the face of the franchise, John Lannan. It's all good fun, but gosh man, it would just feel good to get 500 before him."

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