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Sunday, April 10, 2005

A Note About Fantasy Baseball

I've been in the same league for 18 years, with a great group of guys. It's an 11-team league, National League only, and we measure four offensive and four pitching categories. On offense we measure batting average, RBIs, HRs and steals, and in pitching we measure wins, ERA, saves and WHIP. My co-owner and I won the league a few times in the late 1980's and then had consistent finishes in the low end of the first division or high end of the second division until two years ago, when we were in a three-team race down to the wire, only to remain in third in the final week. Growing families, more demanding jobs, and increased and tougher competition contributed to our fall from the upper echelon.

Every year we hold the draft in a large family room, and pretty much every year everyone sits in the same place as he did before. The seven year-old kid who knew all the numbers and who negotiated with us hard years ago (and sometimes dissed our picks) is now a first-year medical student. Another teenager who joined his dad at our annual auction drafts is now in the Marines and in Iraq, while another kid who we first met at the age of ten is in his mid-20's and is a schoolteacher. The founder of the league died suddenly two years ago at the age of 47, his legacy assured because we named the league after him, his now-teenage sons participate and his wife attends the draft. My co-owner's daughter (actually he has two, but this is the one who participates) now is old enough to do internet research for us, while my kids are still too young and remain uninterested (not enough happens on a baseball field to interest them, at least at this point in their lives).

The draft, which I had to miss this year, is a great time, a chance to unwind, tell jokes and stories, poke fun at the National League players, eat great deli and desserts and, plain and simple, relax. I think the spouses are glad that their husbands, all of whom work in high-pressure jobs, have this chance for a diversion, and I can see the enjoyment of the spouses who do show up -- seeing, well, boys being boys, even in their thirties, forties and fifties. One of us might even be 60, but he looks so great you wouldn't even know it.

These shared experiences, the draft, the late-season trades where we'll dump high-priced talent to contenders for lower-priced potential stars (each team has a hard salary cap of $260 that it must be under on draft-day, and we establish values through an auction at the draft), all contribute to a fun experience. I don't know all of the other owners extremely well, but most of us aren't obsessed with how are teams are doing (and from the finish of certain teams over the past couple of seasons, it is apparent that some franchises suffer from benign neglect at times), and no money exchanges hands -- it all goes into the spread that gets put out on draft night, the stat service and the trophies awarded for first place.

All in all, it's a great time. Men turning into boys, talking about a kids' game.

I had set out to write this piece on how baseball has changed so much that certain of our stats aren't as meaningful, particularly steals, for which owners will overpay for some banjo hitter who can't routinely hit line drives past the shortstop but who stole 77 bases at Lake Elsinore or some such place in Low A ball a few years back and therefore might steal 22 bases while hitting .229, but, then again, with the steroids ban, homer totals might well drop, and steals might return to vogue. I'm also not totally enamored of batting average, and would prefer on-base percentage, but in the end, these are details that pale in comparison to the shared times.

Yes, it's great to have your team in the pennant race, and it's also even better to win. But that stuff is pure gravy, because, to use a hackneyed phrase normally reserved for the parents of the yet-to-be-coordinated kids in youth soccer or Little League, "participation is everything."

And in this type of sport, that saying fits.

About as cozy as that old baseball glove you used to rub with Neatsfootol, put a baseball in, encircle with string and put under your mattress.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so right about the fun of your fantasy league. It's why we still have our APBA league that started with a famous Philadelphia mayoral candidate and the grandson of a president/son-in-law of another president. I started playing with my father and his partner as a young teen in the early seventies, and rejoined the league about five years ago.

We get together in March for our draft and play face-to-face weekly until October. The two hours per week of disengagement from reality are precious.

From a sports standpoint, since we keep our players from year to year, it's a compelling reason to read all the box scores every day.

I have had Sammy Sosa on my team since I joined the league, and this has turned my six-year-old into a huge Sosa fan. He didn't understand why the Cubs would trade him, so I told him that it was because the Orioles wanted him so much, and that Sammy is happy playing with his friend Miguel Tejada who is also from the Dominican Republic. No need for him to kow about Sammy's year-end blowup or steroid suspicions. Much as I would like to trade him or some day will want to cut him, I will never be able to do so, lest I break a little boy's heart.

Now if Sammy would just start hitting...

Enjoy your league -- it sounds like you do it just right.


9:10 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks, TIGOBLUE, and good to have you back posting comments. Your APBA is a great league and create an ability to bond with others. Life is so fast-paced, it's great to break away once in a while. And perhaps this year we're hoping we can win!

7:23 PM  

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