Fantasy as a Reality

Fantasy as a Reality

Friday, April 30, 2010
4:43 PM

As I am once again consumed by the monster that is my rotisserie baseball team, I sometimes wonder, Am I alone? Do others have this incurable disease? Or, Who on Gods earth unleashed this evil virus on the unsuspecting masses? Well some of those questions were answered for me when I watched the revealing 30 for 30 on the W.W.L. titled, Silly Little Game. The one hour show featured the Founding Fathers of Fantasy Sports, the original members of the Rotisserie Baseball League. I found it to be funny, sad, enlightening and downright scary, all at the same time. Having a sports affliction is never an easy thing. There is always heartbreak waiting for you around every turn. What these visionaries were able to do was to offer things that we never had before, among them, control and choice, while taking a geeks love of numbers to a different level. The numbers part is at the heart of this. For as anyone who has played any game knows, playing is the real joy of it. When, for any reason, we cant play, there is still a connection by understanding what we see in a game as it is played by others. For us observers, the ability to see what happened and truly be able connect the dots on what has transpired becomes a new type of competition. In fact, it becomes the root of just about all bar arguments. Now, in a measurable way, we can test our abilities against other couch-bound warriors in a match of wits. Instead of the old, Those who cant, teach, its, Those who cant, play fantasy games!

In a truly inspired moment, Daniel Okrent was able to take his obsession with baseball and take it to another level. Actually its a little beyond that, I liken it to someone who plays the guitar hearing, or seeing, Hendrix for the first time. You can hear Jimmy, but can you HEAR Jimmy? Fascination with the numbers of baseball was not something new. This was part of its allure. But to be able to use these numbers in a way that was not as a historical reference was what was revolutionary: Using past performance, to predict future results and to quantify them in a way that you could measure your predictions against others. Well, maybe it wasnt revolutionary, bookies have been doing it since the beginning of time, but it sure was different, and fun.

By being able to select your team, is where the control and choice comes in. For fans constantly clamoring about the ability of the G.M. of their favorite team to be able to construct a roster, this was their chance to do so. The fact that you do it against a group of individuals as sick as you are ensures that there is competitive balance and also means that you have to prioritize and make choices on what is important and how you can get more of it. Just like the big boys!

But an interesting thing happened on the way to baseball nirvana and this is the part that hit close to home for me. It also amused my wife, who happened to be in the room pretending not to notice, while I watched. (Her snickers and eye roles belied her indifference!) It was the psychosis that started even before the league had formally begun. The process of selecting league members and their merit was eerily familiar. The intense preparation for the draft and then the impending sense of ineptitude and doom as it occurred would have been funny if it wasnt so true. That most of them called it the greatest and worst day is something I can truly relate to. Then the real fun begins. As I listened to one member refer to her league mates as seemingly normal, I laughed out loud. Because as I know, there is nothing normal for anyone who is involved in any sort of fantasy sport. It takes over. No, you dont understand, I mean it climbs in your head, kicks of its shoes, hops on the sofa, and announces, Im going to be here a while and theres nothing you can do about it. Oh, and by the way, Im in charge! Am I married to fantasy sports?!

My ability to watch any game has been skewed as much as it has been enhanced and when you do what I do for a living, there is no escape. For instance, I walk into the bar on Wednesday for my night shift and the Phillies-Giants game is on. My Phillies! Only they had been dominated by the Freaky Franchise all afternoon and were down in the ninth 4-1. Of course, they proceed to start a rally and San Fran closer Brian Wilson is brought in. My closer! So as I walk into the bar Wilson is pitching to Jayson Werth, still with the three run lead, but the bases are loaded with two outs. What have we here? Not only that, two of my guys are on base and I can use the runs, but I need the save more. Not to mention, the Phils are scuffling right now and are behind the Mets. Theyre out of 1st place in the division for the first time in over a year, and as manager Charlie Manual says, I like being in 1st place. Well Charlie, I do to, with the Phils and Roto, but if Werth gets a hit, my WHIP and ERA are going to take a beating. Talk about conflicted. As Werth fouls of ANOTHER pitch, I actually ask myself, What am I rooting for here? Honestly! So when he bloops a double down the right-field line to clear the bases and tie the game, I think, Cool, maybe one of the relievers I have in the game, can get a win, provided by one of my hitters, since I have a total of 8 players combined from both teams in the game. Am I scaring you yet? I could go on!

But Ill spare both of us because as Im typing this little scenario, which seems to be played out many, many times, every night. Im reminded of something Okrent said about this: Theres nothing more interesting than your own team, and nothing more boring than stories about someone elses. He said this in relation to the fact that to capitalize on the growth of the game that he and his mates had founded, they organized a convention for Rotisserie Baseball players, where the Founding Fathers would be the featured speakers. The way he described their horror at being stalked by these geeks is hilarious.

So for me, I found the show to be a mirror for myself to gaze in. As I looked at the reflection and wanted to recoil, I could not. As the show depicts how the new game grew to the point that it could not be controlled by its original masters, neither can I. Fantasy sports now are as much of the sports culture and experience as the smell of the hot dogs and the long lines for the restrooms at the game. They enable a connection and understanding that I feel enhances the rooting interest, even for a stuffy purist. That they can make you crazy and obsessive only adds to the fun, and cant be avoided, because to win you have to be in and once youre in, theres no way out! A Silly Little

Game indeed!

Sub-.500 Hawkeyes on four-game losing streak after home loss to Omaha

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USA TODAY

Sub-.500 Hawkeyes on four-game losing streak after home loss to Omaha

Things are not going too well in Iowa City.

The Hawkeyes saw their losing streak stretch to four games Saturday with an upsetting 98-89 home loss to Omaha.

Iowa has been a high-scoring team this season, entering the weekend with the Big Ten's No. 2 scoring offense at 85.6 points a game, but it's also been the league's worst defensive team, allowing an average of 85 points a game. And that's before the Mavericks nearly hit the century mark on Saturday.

The Hawkeyes were out-rebounded, including a big advantage for the Mavericks on the offensive boards, where they turned 19 offensive rebounds into 20 second-chance points. Omaha's bench outscored Iowa's bench, 37-9, and the Mavericks had a 40-26 scoring edge in the paint.

Trailing by six after allowing 53 first-half points, the Hawkeyes led for just 18 seconds over the game's final 21-plus minutes.

Peter Jok, the Big Ten's leading scorer, poured in 33 points in this one, though efficiency was not his strong suit, going 8-for-21 from the field. He added 10 rebounds for a double-double.

Iowa's losing streak stands at four, the loss to Omaha linking with losses to Virginia, Memphis and Notre Dame. In the last three games, the Hawkeyes have surrendered an average of 96.7 points. In four of their five losses on the season — the heretofore unmentioned one coming against Seton Hall — opponents have scored at least 91 points.

The Hawkeyes' only wins this season have come against Kennesaw State, Savannah State and Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

Iowa has five more non-conference games — including a date with ranked in-state rival Iowa State — prior to the start of Big Ten play at the end of the month.

Illini defense dominant in capping bounce-back week with win over VCU

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USA TODAY

Illini defense dominant in capping bounce-back week with win over VCU

What a difference a week makes.

Last week was a nightmare for Illinois, with a home loss to Winthrop followed by back-to-back double-digit losses to West Virginia and Florida State in Brooklyn.

But things went much differently this week, with Tuesday's win over North Carolina State paired with a Saturday victory over VCU to make for a bounce-back stretch for a team that looked lost just a handful of days ago.

Saturday's win in Miami came in convincing fashion, Illinois victorious by a 64-46 score over a team that's been to six straight NCAA tournaments.

The Illinois defense held VCU to its lowest scoring output since 2005. The Illini held the Rams to just 30.2-percent shooting and 2-for-18 shooting from 3-point range.

The Illini fell behind early in this one but countered VCU's opening success with a 19-3 run that put them ahead by eight in the closing minutes of the first half. That run featured seven points from Leron Black and five from Maloclm Hill, the start of huge games for both guys. A Hill buzzer-beater at the half gave Illinois its biggest lead of the opening 20 minutes at 10.

VCU scored 11 straight points in the early stages of the second half to chop a 12-point Illinois lead all the way down to one. Things stayed close until a 10-3 run by the Illini — featuring eight points from Jalen Coleman-Lands — stretched the Illinois edge back out to double digits, an 11-point lead with about three minutes to go. After a pair of VCU free throws, Hill knocked down a 3-pointer with two and a half minutes left to seal the game, establishing a 12-point advantage the stretched to nearly 20 by the final horn.

Black finished the game with a career-high 18 points, coming close to a double-double with eight rebounds. Hill had 16 points and filled the stat sheet with five assists, three rebounds, two steals and a block. Coleman-Lands was an unusual oh-fer from 3-point range but still scored in double figures with 12 points. Tracy Abrams was a perfect 3-for-3 from deep, accounting for all nine of his points, and had six rebounds and four assists.

Illinois sits at 6-3 on the season, two games better than it was a week ago after back-to-back wins against name opponents. Four more non-conference games are on the docket — against IUPUI, Central Michigan, BYU and Missouri — before the start of Big Ten play at the end of the month.