For the Love of the (Fantasy) Ballgame!

*Please read as if in song*

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! 

*You can stop reading in singing voice, if you please, if you don’t please, then you don’t have to*

Seriously, though, one of the best times of the year is here: Fantasy Baseball. I wrote three months ago about the joy that Fantasy Football brings my family, and I stand by that: fantasy sports brings people closer together. Families can compete and enjoy the company of their siblings or parents or children because they watch an out-of-market game together. The connection I established with my sister as we grew closer through Fantasy Football will never be matched, but the coming of Fantasy Baseball had me oh so very excited. 

Baseball, you see, is my favorite sport. It always has been – I remember memorizing stats off Topps and reading ESPN’s Baseball Encyclopedia – years before podcasts and baseball-reference.com became things. I show preferential treatment to Dirt Dogs like Trot Nixon and remember the legendary days of Kerry Wood and the futility of Moises Alou in the 2003 NLCS. 

The advent of Fantasy Baseball let me bring my Strat-O-Matic obsession to real-life baseball. ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary about Fantasy Baseball, Silly Little Game, is the perfect description of how I felt. Dan Okrent, to whom the game owes it’s genius as its inventor, has never won. Fantasy sports will do that to you – be the object of your love and show none in return. 

Before last season, I never had any close friends who played, so I spent the ages twelve to fifteen using about two to three teams in random enter leagues on Yahoo and ESPN. Of those four seasons, I won one championship out of eleven teams. That one team? I took Alex Rodriguez first overall in 2009. I have decided not employ the same strategy this season.

Last season, I finally got a group of guys together from my high school and organized a league. Seven kids, our gym teacher, and two dads played in the league. Trash-talking began before the league was even formed. One member, noted in every sport as a profound incendiary, kept a stream of invective going for so long that many of us knew not to trade with him. 

On draft day, I moved in and out with surgical strikes. I sneakily snagged Scherzer, the eventual AL Cy Young award winner, in the 9th round. I thought he was going to be good, but I confess I did not prognosticate upon a Cy Young. I shored up David Price and stabilized the infield with Robinson Cano – it was a dream team.

I used my positional flexibility (Ben Zobrist, Carlos Santana, etc.) but, with my team debilitated with injuries, I limped the the finish line at 14-8. However, our league was so competitive that year – five out of ten teams had 30+ transactions – that that standing was good enough for second place. 

The regular season standings had closed and four out of ten teams made the playoffs. My friend Kyle, who owned the magical Gryffindor Lions; myself, owner of the Bailey Island Buoys; Ben, a friend who loves the Far East baseball players, owner of Choo Gotta Be Kidding Me and our friend, Pennsylvanian-born Thomas, who ran Too Hot to Hamels. A note about Thomas’ team: on his roster, he had both Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, as well as Domonic Brown, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins. Needless to say, his team was home-grown.

My dad’s team, The Shawshank Inmates, had started off the season at 9-3. They then collapsed. Like, 2011 September Boston Red Sox collapse. They finished the season 10-12. Thomas’ team, conversely, stood at 4-8. Living up to the billing, Too Hot to Hamels became just too hot and reeled off seven straight victories to end the season and make the playoffs. They hadn’t lost since mid-July and were a dangerous club entering the playoffs. 

Since he snuck into the playoffs, Thomas was forced to face top-seeded Kyle in the first round. The Lions were the Yankees of our league. They had David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Freddie Freeman, and Buster Posey for an infield. They had Hyun-Jin Ryu and somehow good Bartolo Colon on the hill – this, of course, after seeing NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez get shutdown come playoff time for Kyle. Thomas was considered, by Kyle, a warm-up game for an eventual showdown for in the championship against me. 

In possibly the greatest week of Fantasy Baseball ever for any team, in a standard ESPN league, Thomas put up an incredible 317 points. Kyle’s powerhouse, hum-ho total of 284 paled in comparison. Kyle had been eliminated and Thomas’ run stayed alive. I had dismantled my opponent, Ben, 243-184. 

This set up a matchup featuring the Buoys and Too Hot to Hamels. The Buoys were favored, slightly, by league opinion, but Thomas, once again, battled. Cliff Lee’s 28-point performance and Lance Lynn’s 27 were strong and established his team and gave him a 254-213 lead going into the last day.

I wasn’t worried, I had two Starting Pitchers probable for that day and he had used all seven of his starts and a 41-point deficit seemed nothing for my, mighty team. Marco Estrada of the Milwaukee Brewers and Ubaldo Jimenez of the Cleveland Indians spun beautiful, near-flawless games and I seized the lead. Earlier in the week, I decided to go with those guys as they pitched twice that week and it seemed then that I had made the right managerial decision.

I hadn’t made the right move in other spots. I elected to go with hot-hitting Nationals’ 3B Ryan Zimmerman over Evan Longoria of the Rays. Longoria had 21 points that week, Zimmerman had minus-4. I even went with Chris Perez, Indians Closer, who rewarded my faith with two blown saves (one without recording an out) en route to minus-13 for the week. I chided myself, but I was in the lead and ready for the victory.

I had won. 276-275. The Buoys finally chilled a team that was too hot to lose and even Cole Hamels couldn’t save them. 

This whole post has been an ode to my genius as a fantasy baseball owner, thank you for reading.

Wait, what? 

This sentiment was echoed in my head around 4:15 P.M. ET, when all of Thomas’ team (made up of East Coasters) had finished playing. He had managed a meager 21 points that day, a paltry total in comparison to his other days that week. I had zoomed ahead with 63 points. 

To best capture Thomas’ reaction, I talked to him later.

“I was at work,” he says of Cooper Hill Pizzeria (Northwood, NH). “I went to ‘the bathroom’ in order to check my Fantasy Baseball matchup around 4:30 and saw that all my players were done. All finished. I had lost 276-275. I was crushed.”

Meanwhile, I was joyful. 

“But then, when I got home from work, I saw the score read 275-274 and that the league trophy was awarded to Too Hot to Hamels, my team!”

How had this happened? He didn’t have a player left!

I read the box score later and figured out that Michael Cuddyer, a late-round pick who blossomed into a .331 hitter with 20 bombs on the season, had gone to bat four times that day against the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching. 

For some reason, the staff mystified him and he managed nary a hit. Not so bad, right?

Wrong.

Michael Cuddyer went down by way of the strikeout twice that day. He had minus-2 points. He lost me the championship. I was ahead by one then – presto! – by the ingenious method of Cuddyer, I had lost by one.

Don’t believe this cute picture of Cuddyer holding his twins. He’s a bad man.

I couldn’t believe it. I disown the name Michael Cuddyer. I will never draft him ever again. He ripped my heart out.

All kidding aside, once again Fantasy sports had brought friends closer together and created stories that people will tell for years to come. In school, Thomas and I are in the same class for “Sports and Society” and we discuss the story often. We’ve shared it with our teacher and my friends know that one mention of “Michael Cuddyer” can ruin any good mood instantaneously.

Fantasy sports wouldn’t be fun without these types of stories, they make the game fun. Being on the losing end isn’t so nice, and I wish the roles were reversed in this story, but the experience nonetheless made it an enjoyable one to tell. 

 

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