During the week of March 31*, I will celebrate a milestone in my time on Earth. Nothing major in the grand scheme of things, but it has brought me lifelong friends, memories and enhanced my enjoyment of my favorite pastimes.
I’m talking about Fantasy Baseball.
I started following pro sports when I turned 8 (I began playing at 5 and would play sports in college), after watching John Elway lead the Broncos on The Drive, getting to the Super Bowl and starting his path on becoming one of the greatest QBs of all time. I remember watching some of the 1986 World Series as well, but watched the start of all of the 1987 World Series (I was likely in bed by the third inning) and became a baseball fan as well.
When 1991’s World Series came around, I was firmly entrenched in sports. I also learned about fantasy baseball. Back when Waldenbooks was around (remember them), I’d browse the sports section. I saw about about Rotisserie Baseball. Not knowing what Rotisserie meant, I asked my mom. Then she told me, and I was instantly fascinated about how chicken aligned with baseball. So I got the book.
What I found inside was not what I expected.
It talked about the basics of the game of fantasy baseball and strategy. For the uninitiated, fantasy baseball allows you to compile a team of major league baseball players, and using the stats they accumulated during the season, compete against other teams to win a title. Sometimes you play for pride, and sometimes you play for cash money. There’s a national event today called the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, where the winner in 2021 won a quarter of a million dollars.
Yes, you read that right.
I was excited about running my own fake team, and as a kid who was learning more about the game, chomped at the bit to play with some of my favorite players.
The book said to use a team of 14-15 players and play either just the National League or American League. The authors said this was best to avoid teams of all star players and would make strategy vital.
I was a kid, I didn’t care about that. So I grabbed five of my buddies and we formed a league. The book said to have an auction of players, but none of us knew how an auction worked (this was early 90s, remember), and when I asked my parents, they thought we would be using real money, so they said no and wouldn’t even entertain questions or explanations.
With some of my allowance every year I purchased a baseball preview issue, published by USA Today. And this particular year, the middle section contained five pages of fantasy baseball information, including suggested player salaries. My eyes widened and I realized this was our solution. So we decided to have a draft with the players salaries utilized in this magazine. The rotisserie baseball book said The League salary cap was $260, which we kept. So we had our first draft. (We’d use this magazine and these prices for another 15 years, which eventually morphed into a 40+ page fantasy issue).
My favorite player at that time was Don Mattingly (after he retired, I would adopt Frank Thomas, the Big Hurt as my favorite). I don’t recall him being on my team, but I didn’t have a couple of Minnesota Twins, who were the defending world champions.
The next step was to figure out how to calculate stats. The authors of the rotisserie baseball book had phone numbers and addresses for a couple of statistics services but again that involved money and it was more than my allowance go forward, and some of the other kids do not even get an allowance. So the next best thing was to check the box scores in the newspaper every morning. My parents subscribe to two newspapers, so I had all the information I needed. During the summer when I was a kid, I would attend RCOLT (ree-colt), basically a community recreation and babysitting service for kids. First thing in the morning I would check the stats and then spend the rest of the day with my friends. For the late games, I would have to look in the following day’s newspaper to get stats from the West Coast games from two nights prior.
I don’t recall much about the rest of that season other than I did win the first championship, which one of my friends call Shannon because I kept the stats. I did tell him he can look at the paper to confirm it, but he never did because he said “reading is for nerds”.
As time go on and I went to high school and college I mean more friends, but my passion state. The league I started 30 years ago was still in force and we have finally changed it to an auction league, and we also have capers, where we keep 10 players in the previous season. I have not won any title sadly in about 20 years, but I enjoy playing and enhances my enjoyment of baseball.
That fall, my buddy and I started a fantasy football league as well. We would work on it during homeroom. One day, our homeroom teacher asked to speak to us after class. After worrying all day and dreading detention, he asked us “What the hell is fantasy football?”
After exhaling, we told him and until we graduated 8th grade and went to High School, he’d always ask how our teams were doing.
I’ve had a little bit more success there, but my last title was a decade ago. It’s less involved than fantasy baseball, but it nonetheless enhances my love of the sport. I’ve made lifelong friends and during the last couple of years we’ve all experienced, having the camaraderie, fun and something to look forward to helped ease hardships we have faced.
Yes, this can be time consuming, and as one would think, might take away from time with loved ones. But I’ve always followed one of the central tenants of this hobby, which is, is if you do win, you spend your winnings on your family. I have always done that, so no one complains.
In today’s world of things constantly being tossed aside for something new, and feeling pressure to “grow out” of what you enjoy, I think it’s important to celebrate events and things you’ve done for a long time that still bring you enjoyment and closeness with others. It might be a simple game to you, but for me, it’s a source of enjoyment and friendship. And that should always be celebrated.
*At the time of this writing, Major League Baseball owners are still locking out the players, and they consider takks on 2.22.22 to be a “step back”. So who knows when this season will happen.