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Better Know a Blogger: Gaslamp Ball and Uncommon Sportsman's Dexter Bustarde

Happy Holidays from SB Nation!  I figured you might enjoy getting to know one of our bloggers on this holiday weekend.

Dex Bustarde has been with SB Nation longer than nearly all of our bloggers.  He's been a part of the company for about four years and Gaslamp Ball continues to turn out the best San Diego Padres coverage around.  Dex also runs Uncommon Sportsman, which is one of SB Nation's quirkiest, most entertaining blogs covering everything from competitive eating to Survivor coverage.

Tyler Bleszinski: Tell me about how you came to be at SB Nation.

Dexter Bustarde:  I had been blogging on Padres Fans Since '76 for a few months with a friend of mine (jbox) when we first learned about SB Nation. We were doing our due diligence. Learning about the other baseball blogs that were out there and introducing ourselves. And we came across Gaslamp Ball, which appeared and then suddenly disappeared again. We both agreed that Gaslamp Ball was an extremely good name for a Padres blog. Where we had gone with the completely self descriptive name of Padres Fans Since '76, this Gaslamp Ball was a name that was much more subtle and symbolic. Something that only fans would get. The antithesis of how we normally blog, which many of our readers will attest, involves wearing our hearts and collective ignorance on our sleeves.

In any case, it wasn't very long after that before we were contacted by Blez to actually take over Gaslamp Ball as the regular bloggers/editors. If I remember correctly, the conversation sort of went, "We'd love to, but maybe you should ask Ducksnorts." Who was much more established than we were. Blez admitted that he actually had, but that Geoff wanted to remain more independent. 

"Oh, OK," we thought. "We'll go ahead and do it." Later, we came to realize that not only were we not the original Gaslamp Ballers nor the first choice for replacement, but that there was a strong possibility than maybe 2 or 3 other bloggers had been contacted first. At least we lasted the longest.

At the time, there were only maybe ten other blogs in the SB Nation. We're old hats.

Bleszinski:  The Padres have had a tough couple of seasons here.  Tell me about the road back.

Bustarde: The worst part about the road back for a Padres fan is that it's a boring road. As a Padres fan the last couple of years, you've understood not to get attached to players because the payroll isn't going to  keep them around. Unless the market changes or the new ownership somehow figures out a way to really make money in a city surrounded by things that aren't making us money (Los Angeles, Mexico, desert, ocean), we'll be counted among the "scrappy" teams. Trevor Hoffman was the last career Padre that fans have known and it may be a while before another guy like that comes along. Not just cause it's hard to find really great talent like that, but because the potential talent is really just trade bait. 

So when you're rebuilding and the product on the field isn't very good, you end up rooting for journeymen and future value. The trouble with rooting for journeymen is that they're eventually going to continue on their journey and the trouble with future value is that the realized value is probably going to be on some other team.

So then what happens is you end up rooting for things like broadcasters or people in the front office or people who used to be Padres or people who are related to people who used to be Padres. Worst of all is when you find yourself rooting for front office people who used be Padres and happen to also be related to other former Padres who are also broadcasters (Chris Gwynn). That's when it's really rough.  

Bleszinski:  Are they going to trade Adrian Gonzalez?  Would you?

Bustarde: They'll trade Adrian eventually. It makes more sense to me to hang onto him for another year since he's under contract. It's a win-win situation. If Adrian does well (say another 40+ HR season, 120+ RBI) then his value will be ridiculous high to a team like Boston, NY, Anaheim. If he doesn't do well, then it won't hurt as bad when the Padres trade him to Boston/NY/Anaheim. Short of horrific injury, I have trouble seeing a season so bad out of Adrian Gonzalez in 2010 that couldn't be attributed to the Petco Park bias.

I wouldn't trade him, but in my personal hypothetical situation, I also have a payroll of $75 million, a 20 game winner for my number three pitcher and a regional cable network.

Bleszinski:  Tell me about the kind of community you've tried to build at Gas Lamp Ball.

Bustarde: We've mostly tried to put together a place from diehard Padres fans to fairweather fans to fans who baseball fans who may have just somehow found themselves in San Diego for the weather. It makes for an interesting mix and one not unlike what you'd see at an actual Padres game.  

I also like the idea that you can be talking about the Padres without actually talking about the Padres. In the Open Threads, I love when people make references to random facts that enhance the game watching experience, but I also love when people will comment on a player's hair or the funny commercial that just got shown. Those are the kinds of conversations I'd have with my friends at the game and I love having someplace to have them when I'm not actually at the game.

Bleszinski:  How'd you come to be a Padres fan?

Bustarde: I was born and raised in San Diego and have always rooted for San Diego teams. When I was younger, Tony Gwynn was always so amazingly good and it seemed like there was no chance that he was ever leaving the team. I don't remember the standings meaning much to me as a little kid just so long as we had all of these great players. I think it didn't dawn on me that Tony Gwynn was an aberration, both in his ability and the fact that he was a career Padre, until the early 90's firesale. When guys like Sheffield and McGriff went away, I think it finally dawned on me that the Padres didn't keep a lot of guys.

Interestingly enough, I think the bitterness that came with that realization was really the start of me becoming a true fan.

Bleszinski:  Who is your favorite current Padre?  Who is your favorite all-time Padre?

Bustarde: I don't have a current favorite really. I like Adrian Gonzalez a lot, which means he probably will get traded shortly.

Tony Gwynn is the default answer for my demographic. In no particular order, the shortlist for my all-time favorites: Trevor Hoffman (during his 95+ mph fastball years), Rickey Henderson, Steve Finley and Trevor Hoffman (during his 73- mph fastball years).

Bleszinski:  What is your favorite moment as a Padres fan?

Bustarde: There was a Steve Finley game winning grand slam that I remember watching from home that always stands out in my head. I jumped around the living room. I remember very few details about it other than being at the peak of excitement. 

Bleszinski:  You spent some time with the Sports Media Challenge, an independent organization that has rated a lot of SB Nation blogs highly.  Tell me about that experience.

Bustarde: I joined SMC after finishing my Sports MBA and helped flesh out the social media strategy and monitoring for the company. SMC's core competency is in media training, PR, reputation management, etc. Just prior to me joining, SMC had built Buzz Manager, which is a social media monitoring service, geared towards sports. This was 2006 and it was a tough sell for some people that social media even needed to have money spent on it. People on social media were the lunatic fringe, not worth paying attention to. 

It was a lot of fun to help define what makes certain blogs more "trustworthy" than others and also to try to get in front of conversations. We would look really closely at lots of really small blogs that we felt were seeds that eventually drove the news that would appear on the big dog sites.

I'd have arguments all the time with the analysts and my boss about why certain bloggers should be looked at compared to others. I can't speak to how the SMC ratings work now, but while I was there, we gave a lot of credit to blogs that could demonstrate an active community. You might be surprised at how many emails we got from really respected bloggers that basically dismissed the idea of community. We'd get emails from really good bloggers asking why they weren't ranking and we'd tell them that their comments were turned off and it was all but impossible to factor in how well they were building community. Some people never could understand why we'd ever care about what kind of comments they could draw. I guess they never considered themselves part of "social" media.

Interestingly, the clients who cared most about the social media stuff are also the ones you hear about as being the most business savvy. I can't mention all of them, but Peyton Manning's an SMC client as is Shaquille O'Neal. We were pitching Twitter to clients all the time. I will readily admit that Twitter is one of the times that I didn't give enough credit to early on.

Bleszinski: You also happen to run Uncommon Sportsman, which covers everything from the Lingerie Bowl to competitive eating to Survivor.  It must be a very different experience from Gas Lamp Ball.

Bustarde: It is and it isn't. JBox and I joke around that while tech and gossip bloggers are out getting rich, we've decided to focus on sports that nobody watches and the San Diego Padres, who non-baseball fans may not even realize is a real team. Lots of these sports are also the kinds of things that people don't really pay attention to year round and just check in on here and there. Not unlike your typical fairweather Padres fan.

Bleszinski:  Is running a community like that a little limiting or is it just the opposite?

Bustarde: It's limiting in the fact that it gets overwhelming at times to think about what to blog about. Sort of a paralysis by information overload. We're trying to build the number of writers that contribute regularly and I've recently taken to just sending out mass interview requests. As responses start coming in, I'll just blog about what shows up first. 

Bleszinski:  Tell me something about yourself that your readers mind not expect.

Bustarde: Newer readers don't probably know about SMC and Sports MBA background. I get told somewhat frequently that I don't know anything about marketing or sports business and I just kinda figure that I must be in the wrong line of work.

Readers who have been around a while would expect almost anything from me. I'm not surprising anybody anymore. I could say something like, "I didn't get my first pubic hair till I was 32," and a regular reader would respond, "Yeah. I figured as much." Similarly, I could say something like, "I was instrumental in the founding of MLBAM," and they'd respond in kind.

Neither of those is true by the way. I'm sure I had pubes by the time I was 24.

Bleszinski:  Thanks for taking the time this holiday week for Better Know a Blogger!

Bustarde: Thanks! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!