Can you smell it? The whiff of freshly cut grass and overheating laptops? Fantasy baseball season is here, and for hundreds of thousands of people around the country, it means the rebirth of an addiction.
I don’t have to tell you that the popularity of fantasy sports has exploded in the past couple decades, so I won’t. The pastime, however, has broken out of the confines of the dorm room and the man cave and into the mainstream. Now, it seems that everyone is in some type of fantasy league with their friends, coworkers and families. President Obama is famous for publicizing his NCAA Tournament bracket every year – mainly because he somehow gets more matchups right than you or I ever will – and the hit FX sitcom, The League, satirizes the game and the obsession it brings. Fantasy baseball/football has become more than a just a hobby; it has become a way of life.
For hardcore owners, there are few things more exciting than the days leading up to the draft. What’s more grueling than working during the day and going to school at night? Working during the day, going to school at night AND studying for your draft when you should be sleeping, eating, doing your taxes or picking your kids up from their soccer game (which ended three hours ago). Every morning, your inbox is filled with a dozen e-mails from fantasy sports sites giving you news you’re probably aware of because you haven’t logged out of ESPN.com in three weeks. You read your draft “cheat sheet” more than you read the news, trying to see whether or not picking Ike Davis in the sixth round might be wise (spoiler alert: it’s not). Fantasy draft preparation is reminiscent of the Tamagotchi craze of the late 1990s. The only difference is that, instead of habitually checking to see if your fake friend took a digital dump on your computerized carpet while you weren’t looking for five seconds, you’re checking up on player updates and real-time roster changes.
There’s also the emotional toll that hardcore fantasy owners have to endure. You’ve been eyeing that rookie sensation for a few rounds, and now seems like the right time to take him. No one would take a gamble this early on someone who hasn’t proven himself, right? You’re up next pick…and he gets selected by the team before you. If there is any time where it’s okay to throw a tantrum like a spoiled six-year-old who just learned his parents won’t get him a Porsche until he’s 16, this is that time. You’re angry that you just barely missed out on the opportunity to tell everyone in the league “I told you so” when he wins Rookie of the Year. You’re annoyed that you were just seconds away from taking the kid ESPN predicted would be the next Albert Pujols. You’re confused because you have no idea why you’re treating this minutiae like your team just lost the Super Bowl to the Giants for the second time in four years. Yet there you are, with your face in your hands because, of the 1100 available players, you missed out on one. To the outsider, this type of reaction is probably about as dumb as it gets, but to you, your team is your child, and you’re going to do anything you can to get your child to win.
The best (and worst) part of fantasy sports is that it’s all completely unpredictable. Maybe you take Miguel Cabrera first overall because you know he’s an offensive juggernaut, but what if he gets injured during the first week? What if on top of that, two of your pitchers and three other batters are sidelined with season-ending injuries or suspensions? You, the championship favorite, now might have to fight just to make it into the playoffs. Depending on how the season plays out, the one kid in the league who thinks Michael Jordan is playing for the Montreal Expos this season could very easily win it all at the end. That’s why fantasy sports are so appealing to so many noncasual and casual fans: you don’t need to be a sports guru to win the championship.
I was very close to not doing fantasy baseball this year because it’s a marathon. Having to check your team and the status of your players every day for six months is a pain. What they say in The Godfather: Part III does hold true: “just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.” Once you get hooked, fantasy sports become a part of your life. Whether you like it or not, the sad reality is that you’ll always keep going back for more, because you know – in your heart of hearts, you know – that your friends absolutely suck and THIS is the season that you will be taking all of their cash and pride (link NSFW) at the end of the season. You can expect more posts about fantasy sports throughout the year, but right now, my team, Firstings Milledge, needs me to update its roster.