Piña Coladas gave way to bourbon on the rocks real quick at around midnight in the Floridian hotel bar. I know few places more devastating to a winter hardened Northerner than a hangover in the stands at a spring training game in Ft. Myers. But, I had to risk it for I needed something strong. The pressure was too much. At my table, six grown men with their flesh burnt pink and peeling sat in Hawaiian shirts puffing cigars. They waited for a decision. They had come down to Florida for the weekend as I had to scout ballplayers for their teams and my decision could disrupt how the season went for them.
"Gentlemen, after long debate," I said to the table, "the waiver system is out this year and a limit on acquisitions will be implemented instead."
A few muted curses were cast out from turned faces while others shook my hand and told me I had done "the right thing". I was even told by one or two with no less than pure animosity straining their voices that I was ruining the essence of the game. I gave no emotion away though learning from re-runs of Law & Order that a judge must be impartial even when his own interests are at stake. The commissioner of a fantasy baseball league must make tough decisions even at great personal risk because anyone who has a fantasy team knows, there's nothing fake about it.
Is it wrong to feel like winning a fantasy sports league should go on my résumé? Is it crazy to be proud of such an accomplishment? Would you look differently at me if you saw my fantasy league trophy sitting above my bed? Well if you had, I'd tell you to get the hell out of my room because we take this stuff seriously. It is a feather in the cap to any baseball guy to win a fantasy league not unlike it would be for a physicist to win the Nobel Prize. Maybe that's a stretch. I'm not sure physicists get that excited.
What you doubters and sane people fail to understand here is that nothing attracts the never-was, could-have-been and over-the-hill athletic crowd like sports talk radio shows and fantasy sport leagues. Especially, baseball fans to fantasy baseball. The whole sport is set-up to destroy the social lives of fantasy players as it requires constant grooming from day to day with mid-season rookie call-ups, players constantly landing on the disabled list and the always possible Ryan Ludwick/Nelson Cruz/Carlos Quentin out of leftfield season or the comeback Zack Greinke/Chris Carpenter storyline that could become the reason Team Crash Davis beats Team Roy Hobbs by season's end.
"I'm not sure if that's legal," a law student and one of the fantasy team owners said as he put out his cigar. "It puts an inordinate amount of strain on signing free agents. In fact, I think we need to draft a resolution of powers for league commissioner."
The waitress came around and dropped off my bourbon. She must have thought us crazy. Well, either that, or important men discussing actual jobs with real major league teams. Although, the words "actual" and "real" become flexible when you're drinking heavily in Florida for pseudo-fantasy spring training. The lingo would give that away instantly. You see, we don't "play" fantasy baseball. Rather we "manage a team" or "own the majority of a club". And what the waitress didn't hear was that we have free agency, trade deadlines, team payrolls and even winter meetings to decide upon rules. You know it's serious when a league member offers you ten bucks for Miguel Cabrera and you turn it down or when another says that he regrets trading Tommy Hanson because he feels like he "brought him up through the system".
Don't look at us strange. It's no different with many other fantasy leagues.
For every fan of the game, fantasy baseball is a mere extension of trading baseball cards and mimicking the swing of a favorite major leaguer while playing wiffle-ball. It makes us feel part of something we never will be. The vast majority of us won't play professional baseball or be the general manger of a team and dreams die hard sometimes. So, we watch Bull Durham or The Natural in February, go down to spring training in March and turn on our computers everyday in summer so we can feel apart of the game again. We are elated when we rip off the thirteen year old in the league to the tune of Jason Bay and Marlon Byrd for Ryan Braun. We are nervous when we hear reports Francisco Liriano might have his old stuff back because someone else might sign him and we are furious when we learn that Joe Nathan is going under the knife. We are all these things because it is all we can do to still feel like we have a hold on the game.
"I'm building my team around chemistry. Sort of a Tampa Bay like run at the championship," one of the league members uttered.
"Bold call," another member uttered.
"Bobby Jenks is on the market, boys," the league member who narrowly missed finishing in last place a year before uttered.
"Jesus," a fourth member said shaking his head with a smile, "this is pathetic."
"Maybe," I replied, "but it's a lot of fun."
It's a whole, damn lot of fun.