One day in mid-August, when Trea Turner was hitting .338 and slugging .546, the 23-year-old was scrolling through his Twitter account when he came upon a rather unpleasant tweet. In it, a man Turner did not know, who does not follow him on the site, generously offered his unsolicited thoughts about the rookie’s season in 140 grammatically suspect characters that included such phrases as “your a” and “U’ll.”
Turner replied with one word: “you’re.”
“I had 100 retweets and hundreds of favorites, and I was like, ‘Whoa,’ ” Turner said. “Then people just started tweeting at him left and right, trash-talking him. I felt kind of bad because I didn’t mean for all that to happen.”
Turner, like many public figures, receives a barrage of messages like those on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Sometimes, the feedback is positive. Often, particularly when things are not going well on the field, it is not.
Players such as Turner must balance standing up for themselves with the risks of embarrassing themselves, brushing it off with being ticked off.
As the Washington Nationals make the third playoff appearance in team history beginning Friday, heightened emotions almost certainly will inspire further participation in the social-media conversation that is becoming an increasingly complex part of life for big leaguers who choose to take part.
Some Nationals see everything sent their way on social media. Some ignore it, or choose not to have social-media profiles at all. All of them weigh the pros of interacting with supportive fans against the cons of hearing from critics who aren’t subject to the same levels of accountability.
“I have written out full tweets and figured out how to get everything I want to say in 140 characters, spend five minutes on it, then think, this probably isn’t a good idea,” first baseman Clint Robinson said. “They say if you have to say ‘should I?’ you probably shouldn’t. So I’ve hit delete quite a bit.”
Robinson reads everything. Others, such as shortstop Danny Espinosa, do not have a Twitter account. Espinosa said he mostly hears about things from his wife, who does have one, if he hears them at all.
“I used to have it when I was young, then quickly realized the negatives of it,” Espinosa said. “It just doesn’t matter who you are or what you do or what you’ve done, because the second you do something that somebody doesn’t agree with, people bash you.”
Outfielder Jayson Werth does not have a Twitter account, and he said “absolutely not” when asked if he ever seeks out what people are saying. However, when a reporter tweeted video of Werth’s first throw of spring training sailing a few feet over Bryce Harper’s head, Werth mentioned the tweet just a few minutes afterward.
General Manager Mike Rizzo does not have an account, either. He said he mostly relies on his public relations staff to show him things he needs to know — rumors of injuries, trades, free agent interest, etc. — which he then addresses with those responsible if he sees fit.
“I would say on a 20 to 80 scale, I’m about a 30 social-media person,” said Rizzo, who also has been known to bring up a tweet or two now and then.
Max Scherzer laughed out loud when asked how much he pays attention to social-media criticism. Joe Ross seemed amused and said he mostly enjoys reading the positive feedback, but as for the other stuff?
“Not at all bothered,” he said. “Not in the slightest bit.”
“I’ll get like one random person say, ‘Way to blow the game,’ and I’m just like, ‘Okay, what am I going to say to that?’ ” left-handed reliever Sammy Solis said. “I can’t imagine being like Bryce.”
Such was the sentiment of most of the Nationals, who see Harper bear the brunt of most online outrage. Harper said he is used to it, having been the center of attention and a powerful magnet for criticism since age 15.
He said he does not run his Twitter account, which sends out his Instagram pictures along with obligatory messages for sponsors to 736,000 followers. He tries not to read what people post on his Instagram, either, though he does see comments now and then. So does his family.
“My brother, of course, has it,” said Harper, of brother Bryan, who finished this season with the Class AAA Syracuse Chiefs. “He sent me this one: ‘Your brother Bryce is worse than Hitler.’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh — Hitler!?’ ”
Occasionally the Nationals will share mean tweets with one another, on the bus rides to and from the stadium or just in the clubhouse. Backup catcher Jose Lobaton had one of the consensus winners when someone tweeted that he should die of cancer.
“It’s not something that’s going to bother me like, ‘You know what? I’m going to die of cancer.’ It’s like, ‘What an idiot. Who is this guy doing that?’ Just say, ‘You suck,’ ” Lobaton said. “. . . I just feel bad for them. How can you say that to somebody?”
Lobaton said he knows comments such as those are meant to incite a reaction — but when players react, far more people see it than see the initial tweet, so the consequences are more substantial for players than their critics.
“It’s hard sometimes to see that. Sometimes I just want to get on Twitter or Instagram just to check,” Lobaton said. “Then you see that, and you’re just like, ‘That’s not what I need.’ ”
Robinson, on the other hand, feeds off it.
“Sometimes I do it to fire myself up and say, ‘Get your head out of your butt.’ Sometimes I like my ego stroked a little bit,” Robinson said. “It is a hard game. It’s a game of failure. So when you do something good, it’s great to hear that people appreciate what you did.”
Players agreed that the most absurd tweets, while disturbing in their own way, are easier to dismiss because of their irrationality. They also understand that, to the extent that any substantial negative energy is warranted for those who play a game all summer, they probably deserve a little criticism at times.
Early last June, a few months into his rookie year, Robinson was picked off first base to end a potential game-tying rally against the Chicago Cubs. He immediately told reporters he had made a mistake — Robinson is not particularly speedy, and therefore likely wasn’t headed anywhere anyway. But he avoided social media for a few days all the same.
“I knew I screwed up. I didn’t want to hear it,” Robinson said. “. . . Pretty much every time something bad happens, somebody’s going to pop off because it’s a forum you can have where you’re not going to get confronted about it.”
Therein lies the ultimate tension for players who want to interact with fans but must face negativity warranted and unwarranted to do so.
“If I was 0 for 4 with three [strikeouts] and somebody was talking crap to me, I’d probably be like, ‘I mean, you’re right. I was bad tonight,’ ” Turner said. “. . . You have one bad game here, it’s like you’re the worst player ever. And you have one good game, you’re the best and everything is just so extreme. It’s funny how it works.”