OpinionMay 21, 2007

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Fantasy Before Reality

By StlSluggers

In the world of fantasy baseball, there seems to be an unwritten rule that goes something like this: “No matter what, your fantasy team may not take priority over your real-life favorite.” For over a year now, I have been living in constant defiance of that rule. It wasn’t easy at first. I felt the pangs of conscience as I tried to reconcile my new priorities. After time, I became numb to the concern that I was a bad fan, but something else happened that surprised me. I found that my new take on the game has given me an even greater love of the game. I really want to just jump into this article and tell you why I appreciate the game more than ever, but that would put the cart before the proverbial horse. Let me start this article off with a little history about how I came to accept this “sinful” approach to the game.

As with any story, context is everything. I play in a pretty serious H2H, money league. The main motivating variable in that equation being the money, of course. When you stand to financially gain from your fantasy baseball team, it becomes really easy to realign your fan-based priorities. I remember a game early last year when one of my closers, Brad Lidge, came in to a tied game against my St. Louis Cardinals. He promptly gave up a game-ending double, and I got hit for some negative points in my league.

I distinctly recall not being glad that the Cards had just won a game against our real rivals (sorry, Cubbies). I was livid that my fantasy team was taking a hit because my closer was put into a non-save, non-win situation. I continued to grumble about the ending of the game when my wife – who was sitting next to me in the car – began chastising me for not being a good fan. I turned to her and said, “The Cards could win the whole thing, and I wouldn’t get a plug nickel for their success. But they could go winless for an entire season, and I could still make over $300. I want the Cards to win and for my team to do well, but if I have to pick, I’m taking me over the Cards.” Needless to say, she had the same look on her face that you have right now.

If money were the only factor here, you would be 100% justified to call me a greedy SOB and to dismiss this article at that point. However, there’s more than money on the line here. Let’s talk about pride. With fantasy baseball growing by leaps and bounds, it’s not hard anymore to find someone with whom you chat fantasy baseball, which means we need to face a simple fact. Almost everyone here is a man. Nearly all of us have that beat-our-chest mentality, right? For that reason, I know that we all want to be able to brag about something. If you’re hanging your hat on your local team, how much bragging can you do?

Think about it. The person you’re talking with – be him family, co-worker, or stranger – is in the same geographical location as you. Odds are, he is probably also a fan of the same real-life team as you, right? That means you certainly can’t exclaim, “Oh yeah? Well my Cardinals won the Series last year!” He’s going to look at you like you’re crazy, because he was rooting for them, too. On the other hand, you can most definitely show them your FBB prowess when you brag about conquering your 14-team league last year, since he was almost assuredly not one of your opponents. Looking at things that way, it sure seems like you have more to gain from your fantasy team, doesn’t it? If you have more to gain, why aren’t you rooting for them?

I’ve got more, too. What are the odds of your team winning the World Series? 1-in-30, right? Oh, you’re a Royals fan? Well make that 1-in-1,000,000 then. What are the odds that your fantasy team will win the league? 1-in-10? 1-in-18? Either way, it’s better odds than your local team has. Also, how much control do you have over your real-life favorite? Think it’s smarter to bat your right fielder at leadoff instead of eighth? Tough luck. You’re not the manager. But how many times have you felt that surge of pride as a result of picking a great spot-start pitcher when everyone else said not to? How many times have you wished that you hadn’t benched Damian Easley when he hit three home runs in one game? Can you get that emotional range with your real-life team? Never mind. You’ve heard more than enough random numbers, rationalization, and personal history. Let’s get return to the original point.

Back at the beginning, I said that this new view of the game gave me a greater appreciation for it. Surely you’re thinking, “How does that give you a greater love for the game?” Excellent question. Let me answer it with a real-life story. My father and I both share April birthdays. As a result, it is commonplace for us to go to an April game together each year. This year, we went to see the Pirates play the Cards here in town. Without planning, it happened that Ian Snell – one of my fantasy pitchers – was throwing that night, and he was throwing well. The Pirates won that game 3-2, but the Cards played extraordinarily poor ball throughout the game. I guarantee you that 90% of the fans in that stadium did not enjoy that game. But me… Well, I loved every second of it. When Snell was pitching, it was fun to watch one of my guys throw and rack up the points. When the Cardinals put together a rally in the 9th, it was fun to root for the comeback. In the end, I walked out of a Cardinal loss with a smile on my face and a pleasant memory that I won’t soon forget, all thanks to fantasy baseball.

I decided to write this article because it seems like every time I mention this philosophy, I am immediately chided en masse for having this point of view. I try to explain myself, but many people don’t seem to listen. I wanted everyone to take a step back and really evaluate that viewpoint. If you truly love your favorite team more than fantasy baseball, then I’m happy for you. However, if you are more of a pragmatist, like I am, maybe you will read this and free yourself from the irrational dichotomy that has stymied your love of the game for as long as you’ve played fantasy baseball. Go on. Give it a shot. I promise you won’t hate yourself. After all, it’s not like fantasy baseball is still going on when the playoffs arrive, right?

John Sherwood is a proud member of the smallest portion of the fantasy baseball community. He is an avid H2H, points player. Surely, his love for such a disdainful format will cost him his eternal soul, but in the meantime, you can find him posting here at the Cafe under the screen name StlSluggers.
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