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06/30/11 1:00 AM ET

Cubs reach out to fans through social media

CHICAGO -- Rhys Maloney, then 7 weeks old, was in the hospital for four nights after having serious surgery in December.

His dad, Ryan, sent updates about how his son was doing on Twitter. Many of the 800 followers of Ryan's Cubs-focused blog, Prose and Ivy, part of the MLBlogs network, saw the updates and sent him messages wishing Rhys (pronounced "Reese") well. The Cubs noticed, too.

Cubs public relations and marketing specialist Kevin Saghy is the primary operator of @CubsInsider, the official Twitter feed of the Cubs' front office. The Cubs created the account in April 2010 -- two months after hiring Saghy, the front office's first person whose job is devoted largely to social media -- and it now has almost 19,000 followers.

On Thursday, as part of MLB's participation in Social Media Day 2011, @CubsInsider and the team's other Twitter account, @Cubs, will facilitate several activities on social media sites, including a Twitter "hashtag battle" against the Giants. The @CubsInsider and @Cubs Twitter accounts will post various topics asking fans to vote for the Cubs. The winning team's fans will receive 25 percent off purchases at the online MLB fan shop; fans of the losing team receive 15 percent off.

In addition to posting Cubs news and directing fans to promotions and giveaways, Saghy regularly scans Twitter for updates from Cubs fans and also receives all sorts of messages from those who follow the team. He replies to as many as he can. In December, he noticed messages about Maloney's son.

"Kevin saw a lot of people sending these messages to me," Maloney said. "So he went out of his way -- he didn't have to do it -- but he direct-messaged me and asked me if my son was a Cubs fan. And I was like, 'Yeah, of course.' He heard about the surgery and asked if it would be OK if he sent a care package.

"A couple weeks later, we come home one day and there's a package there from the Chicago Cubs to Rhys. It was just amazing. There was a handwritten note: 'Hope you feel better soon. Maybe these items will help speed up your recovery.'"

Also in the package were two hats, one with a Cubs logo and one with a "W" win logo, a Carlos Zambrano bobblehead, a Wrigley Field marquee picture frame and a Cubs light-switch plate.

"The fact that Kevin and the Cubs took the opportunity to use that connection to the fans and to me and my family and do something nice that absolutely is not part of the job description, not required or anything, it just made me feel like the organization is very classy," Maloney said. "And the relationship with me is about more than the tickets I buy or the merchandise I buy or whether I tune in to watch the game."

Saghy says the real-life interaction that has stemmed from @CubsInsider and other Cubs social-media efforts is helping fans relate to the team. When Saghy sees a Twitter message about fans attending their first Cubs game or fans bringing their boyfriend or girlfriend to their first game, he'll often send them a message asking where they are sitting. When he finds out, he delivers a hat or a T-shirt to their seats.

"I've gotten everything from, 'Hey @CubsInsider, I'm in section 214. I love the chicken sandwich at the ballpark. Can you tell me where the closest one is so I don't have to walk around and look for it?'" Saghy said. "And I'll answer that."

Twitter also allows the Cubs to interact with celebrities. Saghy said the Cubs have received messages from celebs like George Lopez, John Cusack and Billy Corgan.

"We'll get a picture of them throwing the first pitch, and we tweet it," Saghy said. "They'll tweet us and thank us for having them out."

The Cubs also interact with fans through the team's Facebook page, which is currently "liked" by more than 1.3 million people. Saghy said the Cubs gave away Opening Day tickets to fans via the site. Facebook also gives people the chance to vote for their favorite weekly T-shirt designs for shirts that are occasionally given out to fans entering the bleachers.

After beloved former Cubs third baseman and announcer Ron Santo died in December, the Cubs posted a Facebook message asking fans to share their favorite stories about Santo.

"We got almost 2,500 comments," Saghy said.

Saghy's interaction with fans has grown beyond the Internet and even the ballpark. Last September, Saghy and @CubsInsider held a "#FollowFest" to reward followers of the account and attract new followers. Saghy and fans met over drinks three separate times at Wrigleyville restaurants and bars and shared ideas for improving @CubsInsider.

"I think it's just important to listen as it is to speak," Saghy said.

Saghy and the Cubs use their Twitter and Facebook accounts to spread information about charitable things the organization is doing or about promotions and sponsors. But the personal connections facilitated by social media make the biggest impact.

"I really believe, you do nice things for people one at a time, it spreads word of mouth, and that means a lot more than simply trying to broadcast them," Saghy said.

Maloney said his family could not believe it when they received a package from the Cubs.

"Generations older than me, my parents and grandparents, just the idea that an MLB team would go the extra mile for a fan just to do a nice thing, I think it really showed how classy a baseball organization can be," he said.

Rhys, who is doing well, might not be able to appreciate it now, but Maloney said there's no way he won't be a Cubs fan for life.

"His wardrobe is filling up with Cubs material," Maloney said. "He'll be seeing Wrigley Field soon."

Maybe with a visit from Saghy.

Alex Ruppenthal is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.