TEMPE — Baseball is one of the more fan-involved sports that exists. From outfielders playing catch with children in the stands before games to everyone in the crowd singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” there’s an innate sense of community in every ballpark. Kids line up along the first-base line to greet their heroes and ask for a quick autograph on their ball, mitt, bat or baseball card. With the simple scribble of the pen or sharpie, players can gain a fan for life.
For Angels relief pitchers Keynan Middleton and Adam Hofacket, social media is their method of choice for fan interaction.
Hofacket said he first discovered Reddit, a news aggregation site and discussion board, when he was in high school.
“I was a senior in high school, and my little brother showed me Reddit and all the different subreddits,” Hofacket said.
Reddit is divided into tens of thousands of subreddits, or subs, and each dedicated to a different subject. There are sub for movies, video games and politics — almost anything you can think of. There are even sub for almost every professional sports team. Each sub is a hub of sorts for those interested to congregate and engage in online discussion about the news of the day.
Angelsbaseball is the name of the sub on Reddit where Angels fans unite. There they discuss games, roster moves and the current state of the club. Hofacket said he was drawn to it before he was drafted, because of his fandom.
“I saw the Angels subreddit and thought I should check it out, because I’m an Angels fan,” Hofacket said.
His first comment came two years before he was drafted in the 10th round by the Angels. The Angels were facing the New York Yankees on August 15, 2013. The Angels were winning 8 to 1 late in the game, when the Yankees started somewhat of a comeback.
“Even with a 7-run lead in the 8th inning, I know the Angels will make it a close game,” the comment by Hofacket read.
Hofacket’s interaction on the board showed online fans that the Angels were drafting a true Angels fan, something users on Angelsbaseball have embraced. He’s become somewhat of a favorite for the 6,700 Angels fans on reddit. Hofacket said, “it’s awesome,” to have a contingency of online fans cheering his every move.
“I have my family and friends back at home,” Hofacket said. “These guys, I wouldn’t say they’re complete strangers, but they support me because I’m part of the community, and always have been. It’s really fun.”
Although he doesn’t post on Reddit as frequently during the season, Hofacket said it’s awesome to have people following him throughout his career.
“I’m not really great at posting things, I mostly just thank them for the support,” Hofacket said. “A lot of guys post more on Twitter, and I don’t post there at all.”
Middleton, meanwhile, has been on Twitter since July 2015, and his Twitter feed isn’t relegated to baseball talk, and only baseball talk. Middleton tweets about rap, video games, basketball and whatever else is on his mind.
“It’s another way for me to express myself,” Middleton said. “I’m not like everyone else where I’m just going to keep my mouth shut all the time. If I have something to say, I’m going to say it.”
One such moment where Middleton decided to tweet what came to his mind came after a game against the Yankees on June 22, 2017. The hard-throwing right-hander faced off against Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, known for his home runs and fans who carry signs that say “All Rise.”
Middleton struck out Judge twice during the series — once swinging and another time with a 100 MPH fastball that froze Judge in the batter’s box — and tweeted “You may be seated,” after the game.
“It was just something I thought was pretty clever and pretty funny,” Middleton said. “If he would’ve (hit a home run) on me, there would’ve been a video of that on Twitter, so I just said what I wanted to say.”
“That’s the kind of pitcher I am. I grew up a basketball player. Playing basketball, I showed a lot of emotions, and that’s how I am here too. That’s just how I compete. I love to compete. I learn from my failures and learn from my success. I just love going out there to compete and show my emotions. If I didn’t do that, that’s not me. I’d be holding something back. I’m just trying to have the most fun I can playing a kids game.”
Middleton finished his 2017 rookie campaign with a 3.86 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 58.1 innings pitched. He also converted three out of five save opportunities. Although Middleton isn’t one of the more-known relief pitchers in baseball, he said he still takes time out of his day to talk to potential fans.
“I remember when I was younger, I wanted to be the guy who would always talk to fans who reached out,” Middleton said. “Every day I try to go up and meet one little kid, or I try to sign someone’s ball, just to make their day.”
“That’s a story they’re going to have forever. I’m not the biggest name out there, but one day they’ll be able to tell their kids that they met me and we had a conversation,” he said.
Middleton’s Twitter username is Major Key, a line said by rapper and producer DJ Khaled. Middleton, whose official Twitter handle is @since93key, said the username came in the midst of Khaled’s Snapchat fame.
“(The name came from) DJ Khaled’s stuff, and that’s the kind of music I listen to,” Middleton said. “When I was in Triple A, someone said ‘Major Key,’ to me and told me I should put it as my Twitter name, so i did.”
The name quickly caught on and Middleton said almost nobody calls him Keynan anymore. It’s all ‘Key’ and ‘Major Key’ when his teammates address him.
In a world where everybody has a computer in their pocket and the world is more connected than ever, Hofacket and Middleton are using technology to stay connected to their fans and express themselves in a way that differentiates them from the average ballplayer.