Brandon Phillips says Twitter's appeal is connectivity
You never know whom one might meet -- or what one might eat -- when you leave decisions to Twitter.
Those are some of the plans Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips,
Phillips had previously offered game-used cleats and batting gloves through Twitter giveaways, but his mother urged him to do something bigger, so he offered a free trip to spring training in Goodyear, Ariz., last year.
Phillips tweeted his trivia question -- What's my favorite drink? -- and a local woman named Rachel was the first to correctly reply, "milk."
Soon thereafter, Rachel and her husband, Dave, were Cactus League-bound for spring training baseball. And, it turned out, to meet a new friend.
"Rachel and Dave are two of the nicest people I've ever met," Phillips said. "I still talk to them to this day."
When he's home in Cincinnati -- where he'll make his home through 2017 after signing a $72.5-million extension in April -- Phillips will go out to dinner with the couple from Covington, Ky. He met their newborn baby. They've talked about any number of subjects, and Phillips, who is not married, said hearing the couple's story was invigorating.
"They made me a better person," he said. "You never know what type of friends and what kind of people you might meet."
That has been one of the most rewarding parts of Phillips' Twitter experience. He joined before the 2011 season, at the urging of his sister and then-Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, a pioneer among athletes on Twitter.
Twitter has helped him reconnect with old friends with whom he lost touch. It also led him to try expanding his culinary palette.
When the Reds had an unusual five-game road trip to New York back in May (two games with the Mets, followed by three games with the Yankees), Phillips asked for some restaurant recommendations. That request eventually led to Phillips meeting celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern, who hosts Bizarre Foods America on the Food Network. Sea urchin with pork fat on toast and octopus with bone marrow were among his samplings. (The MLB Fan Cave
"I ate some crazy food," Phillips said. "Some was good. Some was disgusting."
A year and a half after joining Twitter, Phillips has nearly 585,000 followers, which is the second-most among active major leaguers, trailing only Nick Swisher, whose legion is more than 1.5 million strong. Such rapid growth in support and attention appears to have humbled the 31-year-old.
"That's a lot, man," he said. "That's crazy. I must have been doing a good job representing baseball.
"Many people started supporting me. Some people follow me just to bad-talk me. Some people follow me to win my giveaways. Some people follow me to see what the life of a baseball player is. Some people follow me to see where I like to eat or where I shop. People follow me for many different reasons, but I'm just glad I'm doing my job."
The public accessibility of Twitter, however, has its downsides. Because Phillips does all of his own tweeting -- as opposed to some athletes, who have an agent of publicist handle their accounts -- critics can easily catch his ear and let their frustrations be known. Not that he lets it bother him.
"It's crazy just hearing some of the things that they say," he said. "I look at it as motivation. It just depends on how strong you really are. I like it. I like to hear people's input.
"Sometimes they go overboard with it and sometimes I say something back, but the majority of the time I just let people be who they are. I try to stay motivated and positive."
Few are more endearingly positive than Phillips. It takes a certainly personality type -- read: friendly, extroverted -- to enjoy such engaging via social media and doubly so to not be offended by the unforgiving, unfiltered words of outraged fans on Twitter.
Then again, among the locations listed on Phillips' Twitter bio is Zamunda, the fictional African nation from which the protagonists in "Coming to America" hail. "My favorite movie of all time," he said with a smile.
And, of course, it takes a certain disposition for Phillips' most famous Twitter escapade. In May last year Phillips was dining at PF Chang's during an off-day in Cincinnati, unsure of what to do next. He tweeted to his followers, soliciting suggestions, when a 14-year-old named Connor replied to invite the Reds All-Star to his youth baseball game. Phillips happened to be nearby -- and went.
"It was one of the best things to happen to me," he said. "Last year I think that was probably the highlight of my year, going to his game. It really showed me why I play this game, why it's so much fun."
He was talking about baseball, but he could have been talking about Twitter.