Oakland has connections to a lot of digital media companies. Oakland native Jonah Peretti co-founded the Huffington Post and created Buzzfeed, and Oakland A’s superfan Tyler Bleszinski co-founded Athletics Nation which eventually led to SB Nation and later become Vox Media. Is there something in the water that perfectly plumps a Coliseum dog and also leads to digital media moguls? Unclear, but Oakland Local caught up with Blezsinski to ask about the beginning of Athletics Nation and A’s baseball in the lead up to the Athletics home opener April 6th.

When you started Athletics Nation/SportsBlogs, Inc. in 2003, was the goal just to have a place with more coverage of the A’s, or did you always have small samplea bigger network of blogs in mind?

It was initially just a place for me to deal with obsessive-compulsive baseball therapy. I’d had a journalism background but I wanted something that was more fan-driven while trying to maintain the quality of what your typical media outlet was providing. It was the nexus of fandom and reporting. I realized that it took hold very quickly and the audience showed up. I also found out that there were other similarly-minded people out there covering other teams in a similar fashion. Thanks to my partner and DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas, we had a great offer of a platform upgrade to the people out there, and our pitch was, “We’ll give you access to a better platform to show off your talent, so come do it for us.” We got five other interested baseball writers and SB Nation was born.

What was missing from traditional sports media that the site tapped into?

I think the site empowered fans. It gave people a megaphone to communicate with other fans who were seeking an outlet that was as obsessive about their team as they are. And up until that point, all that existed for hardcore fans were message boards that were full of fans of other teams trolling others. It was an ugly, nasty scene. Our promise was to create an intelligent dialogue that was in a safe corner of the internet of whatever team or passion you had. Nothing like that had ever existed.

The benefit of AN/SB Nation is that it has always felt fan-run. valueHow important has it been to have the main voices of the blogs be fan-focused, for example, Nico and Baseball Girl with AN?

I think that’s at the heart of it. Forgive me if I reference Wayne’s World, but it’s exactly why Noah Vanderhoff sponsors the show in the basement. As Rob Lowe tries to tell him, “If I may, speaking from a producer-director standpoint, kids can relate to this show. These guys aren’t phonies. Kids can spot phonies. Theyre very smart.” I didn’t think about it that way at all, but looking back on it, I think that’s exactly why it worked. People can spot someone who isn’t truly a fan. That’s why every site we’ve recruited people for, we always tried to find people who were already proving their passion elsewhere.

This off-season was a bit of a whirlwind for A’s fans in terms of trades and acquisitions. Fans went from shock and grief (Donaldson), to anger (Norris, Moss), to acceptance (Samardzija), and finally excitement again (Zobrist). How do you view what it’s like to be an A’s fan in the Fisher/Wolf/Beane era?WWBD

I think this might be the best way I can describe it. I personally love it. Although there are times that I inevitably get sucked in and wind up having a favorite player (bye bye Brandon Moss). Truthfully though, Billy Beane is a hero of mine because of all that he deals with and how unbelievably deftly he has maneuvered through it.

New or old, what player are you most looking forward to watching this season?

Ben Zobrist. The A’s have re-invented their team over these last few seasons by loading up with players who were extremely versatile. No player in baseball is as versatile as Zobrist. He’s probably a SABR-followers pure dream, and he just seems like he always should’ve been an Athletic. If Billy’s great change-over fails this year, he becomes quite the trade chip later in the season as well, so no matter what happens with the team, Zobrist will be fascinating to watch.

About The Author

Katie is the Music Editor at OL. She's a music geek, culture junkie, massive A's fan, and Oakland native. When she was six, she stood for five minutes with a felt pennant stuck under Chris Mullin’s armpit. Check out her Oakland music listings at www.oakampd.com, follow on twitter/instagram as @craziesthawk, or contact at katies@oaklandlocal.com

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