by West Coast Craig
FANTASY ISLAND — After Replacement Matt stirred up the old soccer debate last week, itâ€™s obvious that a little controversy gets the fires going here at MTMlandâ€¦and always one to jump on a trend and ride it into the ground, Iâ€™m here to goad some more responsesâ€¦particularly from Management if I can. Theyâ€™re always on me about something.
Yesterday, after celebrating the wifeâ€™s birthday the night before by mixing Manhattans, Chimays, and wine with dinner and getting five hours of sleep, I was up at 6:30 amâ€¦still in a daze but too excited to get back to sleep. So, popping 5 ibuprofen and tossing on my Fantasy Football Champ 2007 tee shirt, I parked myself in my chair and got ready for a day of sitting, fretting, squirming, sweating, writhing, groaning, cheering, and snacking. This was like Christmas morning, the electric atmosphere before a heavyweight fight, the anticipation of Sonny the cuckoo bird as a bowl of Cocoa Puffs is placed in his vicinity. At last, the Venn diagram of my two favorite sports revealing a glorious, brightly colored overlap area where baseball season meets football seasonâ€¦and, fortunately enough for me, where one fantasy season meets the next. Fortunate because these are the playoff weeks for fantasy baseball, and my squad, A-Rod Butterfly, was lucky enough to make it, and lucky to still be alive on this wonderful day.
Now the Matts are on record here, quite vigorously, about being aginâ€™ fantasy sports. No real reason has been given yet, so Iâ€™m hoping this leads to another stern, passionate (if undoubtedly rambling and unfocussed) rebuke. I suspect itâ€™s that the whole idea makes them furrow their brows in a vain attempt to understand why anyone would want to follow players from teams other than their own. Traditional reasons for finding and following a teamâ€”loyalty through geographical proximity, paternal (or maternal) influence, or simply jumping on a winning bandwagon at the right timeâ€”isnâ€™t necessary in fantasy, or even recommended, but it can be a plus. A-Rod Butterfly happens to contain five Yanks (A-Rod of course, Jorge, Cano, Hughes, and Moâ€¦all of whom have had outstanding years for the squad), which makes for a big goose egg when thereâ€™s a rain-out, but otherwise gives me an added rooting interest when I watch or listen to the games from out here. So what happens when somebody on your fantasy team is facing your real team? You root for your real team, of courseâ€¦and learn to compartmentalize. Itâ€™s like being a good bettor, you should separate your head from your heartâ€¦but getting a little something down on your team makes it that much more fun.
I say thereâ€™s enough love to go around, and thereâ€™s no better way to learn about players around the league, learn who all the real prospects are, and who may get a lot of hype but are actually busts. Now it may be argued (and undoubtedly will be) that thereâ€™s a difference between a great fantasy player and a great real player…for one thing, fantasy doesnâ€™t take defense into account, of course. There are players who get a rap for not being â€œclutchâ€ enough, for hitting home runs when their team is way ahead or behindâ€¦making them great fantasy players but indifferent real ones. That may be true to an extent (though this line of thinking has been pretty much debunked), but itâ€™s the purist who worships the sanctity of stats, and stats are what fantasy is all about. Appreciating a good player and finding a way to fit them into your line-up is its own great rewardâ€¦especially if you figure out their value before anybody else in your league does. This of course is the true beauty of the idea, the fact youâ€™re competing against your friends, relatives, co-workers, friends of friends, people from different parts of the country, a league of peers. And if you can put a little side wager on some of these outcomes, so much the sweeter.
Loving your favorite team is a tangible thing, but frankly no matter how many rituals you go through as a fan, the rabbitâ€™s feet you may rub, the special jersey you may wear, no matter what anecdotal proof you may think you haveâ€¦you really have nothing to do with its success or failure. Youâ€™re a passive observer. Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with this at all, following a favorite teamâ€”especially a baseball team over its long seasonâ€”is like reading a favorite book, or watching a great show or movie. Running a fantasy team is more like playing a good board game, a mix of study, strategy, and a lot of luck. (I got to this point despite using my first draft pick back in March on Jose Reyes). To use a Hollywood development term, itâ€™s more proactiveâ€¦and sometimes the storylines that unfold are just as compelling.
Yesterday was just such a dayâ€¦and how it played out may be giving the haters out there, especially in Met land, some ammunition. Itâ€™s the first playoff week, and my team had slowly built a lead over the last few days against my buddy Steve, a perennial power and two time champ, but he had four pitching starts on this final day and was sure to make a big charge. He did, and my day started at ten with CC on the hill for both the Yanks and Steveâ€™s squadâ€”and for the record, I rooted for CC to get the winâ€”and continued all day as I sat and stressed and squirmed, we were on the phone numerous times, ripping on each otherâ€™s players, at various gaffes we made in our line-ups, but I was getting very nervousâ€¦we were literally counting down the last at-bats of our seasons, trying to find scenarios where somebody like Felipe Lopez could get up one more time. Iâ€™d micromanaged the hell out of my team all week, even going so far as revamping my entire line-up on Thursday, a getaway day with only a handful of games, even picking up the light hitting (to put it mildly) Reds shortstop Paul Janish (who ended up getting me two points that day that I wouldnâ€™t normally have had). A-Rod getting tossed didnâ€™t help my cause anyâ€¦but Phil Hughes picking up a hold (2 points in our league) didnâ€™t hurt. Still, Steve got a huge start from Javier Vasquez, and just enough out of the rest of his guys to pull within two points of me with only one game left on the docketâ€¦the Mets-Phillies nighttime end of the double header, the ESPN game, and he had one last bullet left in Carlos Beltran, who promptly walked in the first inning to pull Steve within one. From that point on, with my chest tight, my shoulders tensed, yelling NO! a little too rashly at my kids when they asked if they could play the X-Boxâ€¦this was a feeling not unlike rooting for any of your favorite teams in a real playoff situation, and nobody can tell me different.
Of course, if I was a Met fan, this was an instance where yes, I may have had to root against Beltran, and can see how this would be torture for somebody. Each time he came up I tried to resign my self to a double in the gap, or even another walk, and I would lose and hell, it was a good run…but who was I kidding, it would’ve sucked for me. When he grounded out in the eighth inning, his last at bat barring extra innings, it wouldâ€™ve been heartbreaking and bittersweet for a Met fanâ€¦and all I felt was incredible relief. Sorry about that, folksâ€¦but let me ask you this, my final argument for this whole fantasy businessâ€¦when it comes down to rooting for your real team or your fantasy team, when was the last time your real team ever helped you win any real cash?
I know there are a lot of fantasy players out there in MTM land. Let the shouting beginâ€¦