Friday, April 30, 2010
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 But to be able to use these numbers in a way that was not as a historical reference was what was revolutionary: Using past performance, to predict future results and to quantify them in a way that you could measure your predictions against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