If you’ve even had a passing moment of interaction with the baseball Twitter community, you certainly know about the Cespedes Family BBQ guys. You might not know their names – Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman, btw – but you’ve probably laughed along with them.
The two became friends in middle school, talked a lot about baseball during high school and started a blog and Twitter account that took off during their college years. When they graduated, they were hired by MLB.com and produced content for Cut4, an offshoot that focuses on the lighter, more fun side of the sport.
And now they’re anchoring the weekend edition of “ChangeUp,” the nightly whip-around highlight show on DAZN. It’s been quite the rise for the longtime buddies.
I met up with them in Cleveland to chat, a couple of hours before the start of the All-Star Game. (Full disclosure: DAZN is Sporting News’ parent company.)
The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
SPORTING NEWS: Let’s start with this: You’re wearing a Pitching Ninja shirt. Nice.
JAKE: I had to actually have this shipped here because I wanted to wear it for our show today. He’s like the nicest human being on the planet earth.
SN: And what he does on Twitter is a great service, too.
JAKE: A great service.
JORDAN: It’s a big deal for actual players, too. They really care about this stuff.
JAKE: I want one player to walk over to me and be like, “Oh, you’ve got the Pitching Ninja shirt!’ And then that leads to a conversation. But he’s helped us out so much. We do a segment on the show every week with the nastiest five pitches of the week. He’ll email me on Sunday afternoon and be like, here’s what I want to do. So, I mean, whatever percentage of me paying for this shirt went to his pocket, I consider that way less than what that guy deserves.
SN: Speaking of the show, what’s that experience been like for you guys, hosting “ChangeUp” on DAZN? It’s different from what you’d done in the past, right?
JORDAN: Yeah, I’d say it’s different. We had gotten a little bit of an experience over the last couple of years doing some postseason watch parties, with the help of MLB.com and the network. Those were practice for us, watching a live baseball game, but actually hosting a real live whip-around show, it’s different. But our Sunday show is different than all the other “ChangeUp” shows. It’s like, “Here’s two hours without live baseball, but you guys can do a highlight show, do segments and whatever you want.” We have stuff like Jake mentioned with the Pitching Ninja segment, or the best bat flips of the week. Being able to mold that into two hours of whatever baseball fun that we want is an awesome experience. We’ve learned a lot from it and it’s been awesome.
JAKE: And even more simple than that, every day I go in to work, I get to watch baseball with my buddy and then talk about it.
SN: With resources, too.
JAKE: That’s a great point. That’s actually a huge thing. That’s not something we were totally used to, where if we’re in a pre-production meeting and it’s like, “Oh, is Justin Verlander the oldest player to ever accomplish X?” as a thought and in 25 minutes there’s something in my email and it has the answer. And it’s like, “Whoa!” It really makes you appreciate all the people behind the scenes that you don’t really see who make it happen. Like, they could take any two schlubs off the street and pop them in that set, you know what I mean? They really, really have been amazing.
SN: I want to go back all the way to the beginning. Who saw the Cespedes barbecue video first? Who was like, “This is what we need!”
JORDAN: There was definitely a moment when we both saw it. Of course, we’ve always loved baseball, but that’s when we were falling in love with it to a new degree.
JAKE: It wasn’t cause and effect. We became really good friends in high school. We were having all these baseball conversations and we wanted to write them down and we wanted to start a blog and then we came up with the name after that. It wasn’t like we saw the video …
JORDAN: … and we were like, “We need to do this!” But there was the thought that, once we saw that, it was like this speaks to so much of what we love, which is not only an awesome player, but an awesome player who is so eclectic and bizarre and would do this. And that was just the beginning of the journey as he has only proven to become ever more bizarre. Now, you feel bad because he’s hurt …
JAKE: 2020 Home Run Derby champ, baby!
JORDAN: He’s given us so much. And even, I hate to say this, but even falling in a hole on his ranch is bizarre. Last year, he was hurt and then comes back, hits a home run and then goes back on the DL and is out for the year. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving. He’s representative of that, but obviously so much of what we do is loving all players and loving everything about the game. That is a huge part of what we do.
SN: That’s what resonates. People get enough of juiced baseball talk and whatever elsewhere. It’s fun to celebrate the game.
JORDAN: Absolutely. I was talking about this yesterday. When people ask, “Oh, what do you do?” It’s like, well, we celebrate the parts of baseball we love and talk about it. It doesn’t sound like rocket science, right? And it’s not like we stumbled upon something crazy, but it’s true that so much of the discourse in sports – and this isn’t just baseball, but I do think baseball has an issue with it – is a lot of negativity, a lot of what’s wrong with it and how do we fix it. But we’ve got a lot of good going on. We saw in the derby last night, there’s a lot of good going on. There’s a lot of youth that is exciting and the future of our sport, so we’re going to choose to celebrate it. Not just because obviously we’re promoting baseball for MLB Network and DAZN, but because that’s what we’d be doing anyway. That’s what we were doing before they hired us.
JAKE: Exactly. Even when we were in high school before we started all this, Jordan wasn’t coming over to my house and being like “Yo, like what are ways to fix pace of play to speed this thing up?” He was coming over and sitting on my couch and we were watching Chris Davis go 1-for-4 with a 500-foot home run and three strikeouts. That is where the spark of all this comes from. So for us, we try and follow that energy and keep that same viewpoint on baseball, and that kind of directs everything that we do here.
SN: Do you guys ever go back and look through the blog archives?
JAKE: Oh, great question.
JORDAN: Yes, we actually did this last night. When we get to these events, it’s fun to reminisce about where we started. In some ways, you know, we’re still younger than the average media folk here, but we also have been doing this for a long time, relatively. It feels like a long time.
JAKE: This is going to be Year Seven.
JORDAN: Right. Last night we were looking at the description of our first podcast, from August 2013, right before we went off to college. It was about Jeremy Guthrie and Kyle Farnsworth and stuff. And maybe you’ll remember this debate, but apparently we discussed – and I don’t really remember because it was six years ago – the meaning of a true No. 1 pitcher.
SN: Oh, yeah. Is he a real ace or just the best guy on a team’s rotation?
JORDAN: Right. Exactly. So that’s the kind of discussion that we would talk about.
JAKE: We must have made fun of it. You know what it was? We were talking about who the true No. 1 guys are and I set you up to read the list of your best pitchers and I just had a list of all the guys who wore No. 1 on their uniform. Right? So Jordan lists guys like Verlander and Kershaw and I’m like all right, I got Elvis Andrus, he’s a true No. 1. Steve Lombardozzi, he’s a No. 1. But yeah, we look back at it and I think it gives us perspective, because I never want any of this to feel normal, you know what I mean? I don’t want to walk out here and get jaded. So one way to do that is to go look at like awful things that I wrote in 2013, where I didn’t know how to write anything yet.
JORDAN: It is interesting, and it is funny, going back and seeing what holds up and what doesn’t.
SN: I know that. Some of my early stuff at the paper, I’m like, “I hope no one still has that.”
JORDAN: Oh, trust me, trust me. We’ve had that thought. But it’s also finding stuff and thinking, “Oh, that was funny.” And there’s also stuff like, “Oh man, we’ve come a long way since then.”
SN: You guys have gotten to a point where you are a thing people know and recognize, “Hey, it’s the Cespedes BBQ guys.” Is it weird, still, to get recognized and have people know you?
JAKE: Yeah, so weird.
JORDAN: It took a few years, even as we had success and recognition online, it took a while to accept that we could turn that into something real and turn that into jobs and whatever.
JAKE: And no one knew what we looked like because we weren’t really doing videos at that point.
SN: Even now, do they know who’s Jordan and who’s Jake?
JORDAN: Well, it depends. The people who have followed us for a long time, they do. But then, you’d be surprised because there are people who have followed us for six years and still don’t know the difference. And there’s the people who have been following us for six months and can tell us very specific things about each of us. Growing a following on Twitter is an interesting exercise because of the level of engagement that people can have.
This is a funny story. I didn’t even tell you this last night (turns to Jake). So we were talking to some nice folks last night and one of them came over to me. He was kind of familiar with us and he goes, “So, how many people from Cespedes Family BBQ are here?”
JAKE: No way!
JORDAN: A hundred percent. I was like, “All two of us are here.”
JAKE: It’s just us, man.
JORDAN: So I think the perception of it is weird, and the mystery of it has its pros and cons, right? Sometimes you have moments like that. Other times people have totally ridiculous misconceptions of us. Other times, you have to explain the name. And sometimes they just know us as the barbecue guys and it’s frustrating that they don’t know what our real names are. But it goes back and forth. It all kind of evens out, and it’s obviously been an awesome thing for us. So you can’t complain, but there is a very huge variance in what people know about us.
JAKE: Getting recognized, though, will never not be weird. I got recognized on the subway, and it was just so weird, man. Whenever people are like, “Oh, you’re the guy!” I’m like, “What’s your name? Tell me about you. I know about me. I don’t need to talk about me. Tell me about you.”
SN: So, baseball stuff. What are a couple of things you’re looking forward to in the second half this year?
JAKE: I am really interested in the Texas Rangers, about what the hell they’re going to do. Because if they stay in the wild card hunt, they can’t trade Mike Minor and they can’t trade off those other pieces. But if they do stay in it, I think they’re an underrated, sneaky, very fun team to watch, between Joey Gallo and Hunter Pence, who is hilariously good now. And Shin-Soo Choo, who is one of the weirdly underrated players.
SN: Great comeback story.
JAKE: Yeah. And Rougned Odor, who is just perpetually watchable, even when he’s unwatchable. He’s still watchable. When he’s going bad, he’s terrible TV. But it’s great TV. So I’m very intrigued by the Rangers. And the other thing is I just want Mike Trout to continue getting better.
JORDAN: I was kind of mad that we had the All-Star break right as he was hitting a home run every day. I want the NL Central to be a five-team tie. That’s what I’m rooting for. I want the NL Central to be the best, because all the other divisions are kind of already done. And I’m sure one of them will end up getting close, and yes, the AL wild card is interesting, but I can’t remember a division race where the team in last is like four games out at the break. That, I’m excited to see it.
JAKE: Give me the five-way tie. Give me a five-way tie and a round-robin series to figure it out. That would be awesome.
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