April 15, 2004

Fantasy Baseball Season Winds Up, and Athletes Become the Real Deal

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Unless you’re from Oakland (in which case, God help you), you don’t know who Bobby Crosby is. Until recently, I didn’t either. It turns out that he’s the rookie shortstop for the As, a kid so skilled that Oakland GM Billy Beane let Miguel Tejada sign with the Orioles in the off-season. I know, I know — La-de-frickin’-da.

Normally, I wouldn’t even blink at the mention of this guy’s name, except for the times he comes to the plate against the Red Sox. I’d probably yell horrible things about his mother and throw my half-empty bottle of Sam Adams at the TV after he’d hit a home run just to spite me, but that’s about it as far as my caring about Bobby Crosby goes.

Ah, but 2004 is no ordinary baseball season. This year, my friends and I have delved into the geekdom that is fantasy baseball, a life choice from which there is no going back. Really, it’s getting to the point where I’m fairly sure that my last words on my death bed will be, “I wish I had drafted an infield with a higher OPS.” And my tearful wife and children will cry, “Damn you, Luis Castillo! Damn you to hell!” But I digress.

During one of the six hours a day that I spend watching ESPN, I heard Peter Gammons raving about Crosby, so I decided to take a flier on him as my backup shortstop. Naturally, I had Nomar Garciaparra as my starter, but since God will not allow Red Sox Nation any time to feel good about itself, Nomah is currently on the DL. So, I’m left with Bobby Crosby filling the six hole. And now, I care about his every move. I spend ridiculous amounts of time pouring over the Oakland box scores and stay up late at night to catch his West Coast games on the Internet. I feel like Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham: “Come on, Bobby! You’re releasing your hips too soon!”

This is what my life has become.

It all started a few weeks ago during our live draft. These things are so much fun; there are few events that inspire more childish animosity and backstabbing. Four of the “managers” in our league happened to live with me, so the air was getting thick:

“Per, should I take Mariano Rivera to fuck with Mark?” Hell yes! What a bastard.>p> Thirty seconds later:

“Oh no!!! You took Rivera! Why did you take Rivera?!?”

As the draft went along and we shorted out AOL’s IM server with our insults, my team started to take a very pleasing shape. I had parlayed my draft slot (sixth) into landing my top picks at nearly every position. Aside from Garciaparra, I grabbed Todd Helton, Bret Boone, and Eric Chavez going around the horn. My outfield? Sammy Sosa, Andruw Jones, and some guy named Barry Bonds. Maybe you’ve heard of him. With Pedro Martinez, Barry Zito, Josh Beckett, and Trevor Hoffman rounding out my pitching staff, I felt unbeatable. I did cartwheels in my room as I watched everyone else pick guys like Danys Baez and Sean Casey. Fools. I began to salivate at the thought of watching my outfield knock in 500 runs and my pitching staff sport an ERA under 2.00. I was going to tear through these guys like Bonds through a hanging slider. And then I opened the season against The Curse Enforcers.

My roommate Mark is a Yankees fan. Knowing that I root for the Red Sox, a team supposedly cursed to never again win the World Series after the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yanks, he named his fantasy team “The Curse Enforcers.” He’s an asshole.

Mike, the Cubs fan, went with “The Billy Goats,” paying homage to Chicago’s own “curse.” Mike’s brother is an MIT grad student. I suppose the name “Fortran Lightning” means something really cool and important that I’ll never understand.

Jimmy is a recovering Indians fan who thinks that Milton Bradley is a cancer. I play his “Red Barons” in a few weeks. Chris called his team “The Big Sixties” because, well, he’s Big Sixty (either don’t ask or visit a Winn-Dixie supermarket anywhere in the deep south. You’ll understand).

Hoping to tap into the karma of the greater Boston area, I named my team “The Drunken Irishmen.” That’s at least twice as clever as “The Curse Enforcers.” Seriously Mark, one of these days you’re going to wake up with a decapitated horse’s head lying next to you.,p> But, just like those soulless mercenaries wearing real pinstripes, Mark’s fantasy nine was beating my Irish soundly by the end of the week. All my All-Stars decided to go 0-372 (give or take). Even mighty Bonds went an Enrique Wilson-like 2 for 13. My pitchers gave a gallant effort, but since Bobby Crosby and the As can’t score any runs in support of Barry Zito, he took a loss after throwing 8 innings and giving up two lousy runs. And why did the damn Cardinals have to come back and give Isringhausen a save opportunity on Sunday night? And who told the White Sox to lay down and die in front of Javier Vasquez? And why can’t Bill Mueller get a freaking hit??? Is it me? Was it something I said? Tell me, dammit!

Really. I’m fine now.

But see, that’s the kicker. I get all worked up over Aubrey Huff going 0 for 4 with an error. Normally, I’d just live and die with my Red Sox and follow guys like Bonds as they swing their ways into history. But 2004 is no ordinary baseball season. Having a fantasy team lures you into paying attention to nearly every team down to the last meaningless groundout. Wait — there are no meaningless groundouts anymore. They affect batting average and OPS, not to mention GIDP. Three of us were crowded around the TV watching the Astros game on Thursday, something none of us would normally do:

“Brad Lidge is the beast of Houston’s staff.” “Yeah, but he’s not the closer! Dotel is the closer! Hey, is that my boy Berkman coming up?”

I don’t know if fantasy baseball makes us better people, but it certainly makes us better baseball fans. And I think that should count for something. Because steroids and Donald Fehr and Bud Selig are killing a sport that I love. Because the NFL and it’s video-game violence has torn the young fans away from emerald infields and pine tar. A true understanding of the game is so rare to come across nowadays; I feel like baseball has become Latin in a world that is hip to English — only the weird old guys speak it anymore. And that’s a shame.

So go draft a team. Scour the morning box scores “as if you were Eisenhower planning the invasion of Normandy” (thanks, Jim). Log on to Barry Bonds’s website and congratulate him on his 661st home run. Round up your friends and hit Yankee Stadium and Fenway in the same weekend. Give a no-hitter a standing ovation from your living room, even though you know the pitcher can’t hear you. Just don’t laugh at the guy in the library who’s pulling out his hair trying to decide whether or not to drop Tim Worrell and pick up Mark Malaska. Clap for him, too.

Per Ostman is a Sun Senior Writer. The Wrong Advices Will appear every other Thursday this semester.

Archived article by Per Ostman