Pure Fantasy

Today is Sunday, the final day of Week 23—what will conclude, hands down, as my worst week—in the 2015 fantasy baseball season. It may be labeled as fantasy, but the impact of this disastrous week is very real indeed.

Come tomorrow, there will be three weeks left to play in the 2015 Idaho Power Rookie League, a group of eleven grown men and one woman, playing fantasy baseball on the CBS Sports platform. As someone dropping faster than a real baseball team, the Washington Nationals, in the standings this week, I’m getting very anxious.

Each participant in the IPCO Rookie League “owns” a unique team of twenty-six real MLB players. Well, actually, we own the stats of these players over the course of the 2015 season. Ten of the twelve “owners” work or have worked for Idaho Power; hence the league name. We are just a small dot on the proverbial fantasy map.

It’s estimated by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association that forty-one million people age twelve and above in the U.S. and Canada played fantasy sports in 2014. That’s all sports—well more than half play fantasy football—still leaving several million baseball zealots like me. I’ve been playing since two thousand and something when I joined a league started by a former Time Inc. colleague, Dan Okrent. The legendary Mr. Okrent is frequently credited as the inventor of Rotisserie League Baseball, the best-known format of fantasy baseball, in 1979. That’s not the format the twelve of us play today in Idaho; our format is known as head-to-head. It’s much too detailed to try and explain in a primer like this. Perhaps the reader will just accept that fantasies can be both technical and erotic.

Simply put, being an owner of a fantasy baseball team is like being, simultaneously, a general manager and a field manager of a real MLB team. Well, sort of. We don’t have to report to any owner; we don’t do press interviews; we don’t suck on sunflower seeds and spit them out in a dugout; we don’t get inside the ropes at spring training; and, in our format, there is no salary cap, so we can spend (yes, there is real money involved) like a Steinbrenner if we want to.

I hasten to add that real money to most of us fantasy types means hundreds of dollars—at the most—not hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet, my team name, Money Can’t Buy You Bobbleheads, fits both my spending habits, relatively speaking, and my own history of never winning the top prize, a bobblehead trophy modeled after a fictional baseball player caricature. It’s been elusive since I joined the IPCO Rookie League in 2011 and, barring some major collapse by the New Jersey Big Tomatoes, it will remain so.

Why, then, do I spend hours every week watching games, scouting players I might want to add to my humble team, analyzing pitcher versus hitter matchup stats and exposure my wife, Lisa, to most of it? After all, there are plenty of alternatives.

It’s a fun hobby! I remind myself. As such, I spend what I consider to be an appropriate amount of time on it. Most of my other hobbies, like solving Sudoku puzzles, volunteering, and writing blog posts like one this just don’t get the competitive juices flowing like fantasy baseball. When a real player does well, I, their fantasy owner, also do well. Two home runs by one of my batters in a game? Awesome! A shutout—or better yet, a no-hitter—by one of my pitchers? Pure envy, from all the other owners. Unless I happened to have benched that player for the week. Oops. That’s when I swear I’ll never play this game another year!

Tomorrow, only a handful of teams will head into Week 24 with some sort of mathematical chance to win the bobblehead. It’s an odd time to be setting lineups; some readers may know that major league rosters have expanded and former minor league players are now in the mix. Lots of high risk, high reward gambles tempt those owners who are still chasing the Maters. I’m one of them. I have this kid, yes, a twenty-one year-old kid named Corey Seager, who is now playing lights-out for the Dodgers! The Los Angeles Dodgers. Get over it, Brooklynites; your team’s been gone nearly sixty years! Do I put this young, yet red-hot, rookie into my Week 24 lineup? Do I bench an All-Star veteran incumbent like Jose Reyes, a thirty-two year-old with a chip on his shoulder for having been traded recently to the Colorado Rockies? You bet I do. I’m desperate; I’m going with the kid.

Call me cynical, a sore loser. A late-in-the-night gambler. Barring an injury to one of my players today, I’m going all in tomorrow. My roster will be comprised of players with the highest upside and the lowest downside. I’m rolling the dice, baby. I can’t stand the thought of losing to a Tomato! Or being caught by a Dung Heap. If I want to remain mathematically alive in the race for the bobblehead, I’ve got to beat both of my opponents—the out-of-contention Wilde Thing and Birds—in Week 24.

And it’s beginning to slowly sink in: that likelihood, as well as going on to win my first-ever bobblehead trophy, is pure fantasy.

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