September 7, 2016

ELDEN | Is This Real Life, Is This Just Fantasy?

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Most of the people close to me either don’t know or only have a marginal understanding of what I do in my spare time. My friends and family know that I am obsessed with baseball, but that’s about all they know.

When I was in sixth grade, I created a fantasy baseball league with friends, teachers and family members and continued this into seventh grade. After that year, I realized I was putting much more energy and time into the fantasy league than my opponents, who mostly consisted of casual baseball fans. Soon after, I joined an online simulation league played through the Strat-O-Matic simulation program.

This league was a major step up from the basic Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball leagues. It jumped from 10 to 30 teams, added the option to keep players and sign them to contracts and allowed for lineups and rotations to be used in a strategic manner.

The league was slightly less interactive than later leagues that I joined. The commissioner would ask us to input our weekly lineups and pitching rotations into a Google Form, and he would input it and simulate one week at a time, so that the game schedule was always on the same pace as real life. The program was based on stats from the previous year, it was somewhat predictable. The league consisted of 29 other owners, and we communicated mostly through email about trades.

After this intensive fantasy baseball experience, I joined and played in several fantasy leagues, such as Out of the Park Baseball simulation league, which are more complex, flexible and autonomous, but not usually played on real time, and proboards leagues, which use real statistics, but organizes contracts, trades and drafts on a forum website and with spreadsheets.

Both of these types of leagues were very rigorous and featured owners with varying levels of commitments and knowledge. Owners ranged from 13 to 80 years old, and trash-talking is the expectation. The complex fantasy baseball crowd is a niche community, which leads to a high failure rate for new league because qualified and committed owners are far and few between.

These fantasy leagues were a good experience, one that eased me into a strong understanding of baseball. It expanded my interests and expounded on my skills in a way that just watching baseball games or playing in simple fantasy leagues could not provide. I was able to learn how to negotiate trades, how to run a team on a budget — short-term and long-term — and how to evaluate assets using statistics. I picked up skills that were applicable to working for a baseball team, and applicable for my life as a student and as an adult.

A typical day in a complex fantasy baseball league might include negotiating trades — examining the statistics of players of interest — setting up a lineup — looking into match-ups or at specific games — and arguing with people on the league’s chat about baseball in general, which requires you to look up evidence to support your claims). In total, one could spend 15 to 20 minutes doing all of this, and get a lot of information in a much easier way.

A friend of mine acts as the commissioner for the league that I currently dedicate the most time to. He was the first person I knew at Cornell because we had been playing in the same fantasy baseball community for years. He has ran his league for almost six years, making it one of the most successful leagues of its breed.

As an avid Yankee fan, he told me, “for most fans in college, it’s pretty difficult to watch baseball during the school year. Fantasy baseball is really fulfilling in the sense that it’s a low-maintenance way to stay attached to and informed about the sport.”

The fantasy baseball umbrella covers many different breeds of entertainment, that require varying levels of commitment. My personal involvement is much more significant than the average fantasy baseball player, but it shows that there is more if a player wants to challenge themselves more, there are opportunities. It offers both a lower maintenance alternative to keep up with Major League Baseball, without having to spend three hours a night watching a game during the school year, and a fun way to relieve stress for a baseball fan of any interest-level.