Editor’s note: Scott’s fantasy baseball origin story is, hopefully, the first post of many by him here at www.chinstrapninjas.com. Scott is a good friend and an esteemed sports journalist who has decided to join our ranks. Please welcome him with applause and comments.
The Holy Grail, I was reminded time and again, stood 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and 180 pounds.
Impressive size for a grail, I’m guessing. Not so much for the best player in baseball.
Yet his was the name we were anxiously waiting to see, huddled around our computer screens.
We were told to covet him, so we did.
See, this was completely new to most of us.
Fantasy baseball? Sandbox? Autodraft?
Might as well have been Portuguese.
But the excitement was familiar, like being a kid on Christmas morning.
When it flashed before my eyes — Pedro Martinez — I was suddenly embarrassed by my good fortune and looked away sheepishly, as though I’d seen Jessica Alba fumbling with her towel.
After a moment I turned back and stared, transfixed … as though I’d seen Jessica Alba fumbling with her towel.
The one guy all my work buddies wanted was on my fantasy team. I won before I even played.
In the back of my mind, I heard Humphrey Bogart.
I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
* * *
I was always a fantasy baseball player; I just never knew it.
My grandfather laid the groundwork, a ballgame constantly filling his basement with the incandescent glow of the tube or the cacophony from his transistor.
My dad fed the growing addiction with packs labeled Topps and Fleer.
It wasn’t long before I could name any player by looking at his cardboard portrait at 20 paces.
I would cut short summertime trips to the community pool to be home by first pitch.
I became every member of the early 80s Red Sox in Wiffle ball games, from Armas to Stanley and everyone in between. They hit lefty? So did I, and I sucked for it. (Thanks, Rich Gedman.)
I was young enough to never so much as snicker at outfielder Rusty Kuntz, yet old enough to be devastated by the ’86 Series.
I can remember jumping off the couch with every Calvin Schiraldi Game 6 pitch, hoping when I touched down the Sox would be World Champions.
Two strikes away. One strike …
That was it. When Ray Knight crossed the plate (I didn’t have to see Game 7), baseball was dead to me. I felt betrayed. I’d given one team — and, in a larger sense, baseball itself — my heart and it got stomped. I’d never subject myself to that kind of agony again.
Count me among those who wouldn’t have given a bucket of warm spit to have the game back after 1994.
And while I was mildly amused by McGwire and Sosa in ’98 (chicks aren’t the only ones who dig the long ball), I couldn’t have picked the likes of Paul O’Neill or John Olerud out of a lineup.
A few years later, I was once again immersed in baseball, enough to know a jughead named Eric Gagne was from Montreal, Canada.
I had fantasy baseball to thank for it.
* * *
The guys in my office had tried fantasy sports before. Pro football, to be exact. On paper.
It didn’t take long for Tuesday’s number crunching to sap the fun out of the weekend’s games.
So some of us were hesitant when the new guy suggested online fantasy baseball.
Assured the legwork would be minimal — right down to the Web site drafting our teams — eight of us agreed to play. More than a decade later, half the original players are still in a league that eventually moved from Sandbox to Yahoo! and gradually became a pseudo-dynasty, adding a keeper or two each year.
For me, though, the turning point was landing Pedro Martinez in our inaugural year of ’99.
It mattered not that he was Boston’s ace; I didn’t/don’t have near the rooting interest in the Sox I had 25 years ago.
It was finding the diamond ring in the grab bag. The thrill of pulling a rarity that made card collecting so addictive when I was a kid.
Pedro was the jewel everyone wanted and Lady Luck winked at me. My interest was piqued.
I didn’t win the league that year; finished second to the new guy.
Didn’t matter. I could have finished dead last. The day-to-day managing, lineup decisions, hunches, trade proposals, etc., had me hooked.
* * *
Simply put, fantasy baseball rekindled my love of the game.
Now I’ll watch any teams play, in part because I likely “own” a player or two and in part because these guys are the best in the world at what they do.
I lost that appreciation for awhile, spurned by the ’86 Series, sure, and happily distracted by video games, girls, music, college, whatever.
I chuckle when someone speaks out against fantasy baseball, or fantasy sports in general, dissing the “roto geeks” for their bastard fandom. We know better.
We know the reality of fantasy sports isn’t about rooting for five, nine or 11 guys in different uniforms but rather to feed the competitive streak in every one of us, whether it’s for bragging rights, money or merely personal satisfaction.
And every now and then something more significant comes from it.
On the day I’m able to pitch and hit with my son, like my dad did with me, I hope my boy has a favorite player to emulate in the batter’s box.
I’m going to be Chase Utley — lefty swing and all.