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August 13, 2007

A Friendly Game of Fantasy

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Written by: YankTank
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"Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world." -Bob Veeck, past MLB franchise owner

"I’ve come to the conclusion that the two most important things in life are good friends and a good bullpen."  -Bob Lemon, HOF-er

No one needs two catchers on his fantasy team. And no one’s going to win his league if his entire team targets one type of stat, whether it’s ERA, SLG, BA… 22 players with identical strengths will never give you the versatility and power to dominate a team of carefully selected position players that all satisfy unique roles. So, if we religiously apply this seemingly common knowledge to our fantasy teams, why can’t we apply these principles when coordinating other areas of life? Like…our friends.Maybe I can keep on top of my fantasy team by sneaking in add/drops during work hours, but I’m pushing the employee envelope if I want to neatly micromanage my personal life while at the office. And yet despite the trials and tribulations that stem from having to constantly minimize windows on my computer every time my boss walks by, I’m enamored of the organizing, compartmentalizing, and role-shifting options that a fantasy team affords me.

Which is why I extended the meticulous order of Fantasy Baseball into the less delineated aspects of my own life.

Which is why I actively keep a Fantasy Friend team.

See, there are some people in life who successfully keep in touch with their college roommates, who have drinks with their old coworkers, who legitimately make friends with people they meet online, who have Sunday brunches with high school alumni, and who remain in contact with their exes. And I’m not one of these people.

I work with the conventional 24-hour day schedule, and not the supernatural 76-hour days that the aforementioned people must have to accommodate all these extracurricular meetings. What’s more, I lose about half of these hours to box scores, game-viewing, and general preoccupation, when baseball season starts.

Any Yahoo Stat-Tracker-addict will concur that having even one fantasy team is a highly involved commitment. Having multiple fantasy teams? At least one ends up falling by the wayside. Plus, the amount of time we spend nurturing our players and coping with managerial pitfalls should entitle us to some kind of MLB maternity leave. Add to that the task of shoehorning into my life empty obligations like lunch with people I haven’t seen since the Cowboys’ dynasty? Too stressful and impossible to even think about.

Yet, everyone I know seems to have this inexplicable ability to divide their time evenly between work and an ever-growing pool of free agents. The logistics of this kind of rampant communication and interaction are mind-boggling. These are the same types of people who do things like balance their checkbook and have frequent flyer miles and extol the virtues of a 401(k) plan. Where do they find the time? Or the inclination? More importantly, what do these periphery acquaintances even bring to the table? Do you really need five first basemen?

The answer is no. Prince Fielder and Carlos Pena are plenty, just like having two friends-from-your-old-job-you-periodically-talk-shop-with is plenty.

As for my own Fantasy Friend team, I like to keep the roster limited yet malleable and always diverse. And while this entire system may or may not sound like a preface to some sociopath’s manifesto, it is really just testament to how there’s no problem in life that can’t be solved with the perfect tenets of baseball.

*   *   *

League Overview

The rules are simple. Fantasy Friend (FF) leagues are keeper leagues, which offer phenomenal opportunities to rebuild trouble areas during the off-season. They are always rotisserie and never head-to-head. The live draft takes place whenever you realize that those "catching-up" dinners 3 times a week are becoming more like "due diligence" obligations that conflict with 7:05 start times. Auto-drafting is feasible and often inevitable in certain situations, like freshman year of college or moving to a new city. Free agent pool is virtually limitless, as are the number of allowed trades and transactions. Roster is limited to pre-determined size, and you may only have 0-3 players for any one position.

The Breakdown

Team:            Oregon Trail Oxen
Manager:         Yanktank
Avatar Smack Talk:    I’m hot cuz I’m oxen. You ain’t cuz you’re not.

Batters

CATCHER (1 active)

Jorge Posada isn’t a forerunner for MVP candidacy, and yet what he brings to his team is immeasurable. Sometimes circumstances prevent you from playing him every game, like a conflict with an uptight pitcher, but you know that the benefits of a strong catcher are just as far-reaching as the benefits of DVR.

FF impact: This guy’s been on the team for a while, a real franchise player. Stats may fluctuate, but historical contributions to the club brand this player as clutch. This is usually the guy who you can see everyday, and then go weeks, or even months, before kicking it with him–all without diminishing strength of the battery.

***

1B (1 active, 1 bench)

For a while, watching who the Yankees decided to start on first base (Sheffield, Posada, Phillips, Duncan, Cairo, Mientkiewicz, Damon, Pocohontas, Yoshi, Dave Coulier…) reminded me of the moments right after a sublime, visceral meal: hot bread/crab cakes/filet mignon/mashed potatoes/bottles of wine… Then there’s that moment when I first see crème brulee or chocolate mousse on the dessert menu, and I wrestle with the plain truth that there is simply no room left in my stomach to accommodate a snow pea, let alone a plate of sugar. And maybe I should postpone giving the crème brulee a spot in the lineup, or order coffee instead. But instead, I roll the dice, because sometimes there’s something you know you like but can’t figure out what to do with it, so you do your best to keep it in the game. Even it means some of its intrinsic value is somewhat diluted by virtue of putting it where it doesn’t necessarily fit.

FF impact: I put my best coworker on first. I want to keep him in the line-up, but I’m not really sure how because of the contingencies, political ramifications, and social boundaries associated with being friends with someone who only exists in the cubicle bubble. 1Bs make work tolerable, if not enjoyable–like Mattingly’s record .996 career fielding percentage, this may not get the 1B into the HOF, but such significant and reliable stats will still earn him recognition and a starting spot in lineup.

***

2B (1 active, 1 bench)

This is truly a keystone position, one that mandates the agility to turn two and the adroit confidence to confront aggressive baserunners. I don’t really expect my 2B to contribute a lot towards my SLG stats, but now and then, you get Ryne Sandberg or Rogers Hornsby, and their quiet yet unassailable presence can make a profound difference on your club. More likely, however, is that you fill this spot with someone in the Craig Biggio and Dustin Pedroia range.

FF impact: Put your smartest friend on 2B. Your lifeline. The one who gives the best advice and gets into work on time and never seems to be in the throes of crisis. I tend not to have more than one of these, although I will carry Chris Burke’s and Ryan Theriot’s: the friends who primarily serve one role but can seamlessly settle into 2B and transition into being the voice of reason.

***

SS (1 active)

Every so often I think I’m making a sage fantasy move, and I’ll play JJ Hardy and bench Jeter, thinking, "I’ll show `em. Jeter’s gonna go 0 for 4 today, and my little hunch’ll pay off when Hardy spots me 6 ribbies." But that never happens, because there are some people you just never bench. Jeter. Morneau. Reyes. CLee. They’re that good, that consistently indefectible, that they belong on the field every game. Sure, they could go on 0-22 slumps, or record 6 errors in 2 games. It doesn’t matter. You’ll only hurt your team if you take this guy out of the mix.

FF impact: It should be evident. For me, it’s my sister. She brings too much to the table to play some Orlando Cabrera friend in her stead.

***

3B (1 active)

I learned today that third base is actually a shorter distance to first than short. Which is kind of like when I learned the Poconos and Acapulco are two different places. I’m still wrapping my head around this one.

FF impact: For some inexplicable reason, I can’t master the 3B position on neither my Fantasy Friend team, nor my baseball one: I either have too few or too many, and consequently, the Zimmerman’s and Beltre’s and Mora’s are in this constant revolving door of manic add/drop behavior. Just like the people I was friends with in college. There’s an unquestionably strong pool of players, but I never know which one to start. And just like I didn’t think A-Rod would be able to go from being a Gold Glove SS to an equally effective 3B, I can’t imagine any of my sorority sisters or roommates fulfilling the same role they did in college. They still get a spot on the roster, but I can’t really handle keeping in touch with any more than one of them at a time.

***

OUTFIELDERS (3 active, 1 bench)

I love them. They have a lot of open ground to cover, and while their role is just as important as any other, people like Eric Byrnes just don’t seem to carry the same internalized pressures of a pitcher or SS. At the same time, their fielding acrobatics and warning track grabs can still land them on your 10 Top Web Gems of the week.

FF impact: Drinking buddies. Beirut partners. The familiar crowd at the bar at 3 in the afternoon watching a day game. People who don’t know what you do for a living or what your significant other’s name is (or sometimes even what YOUR name is) or that you had an existential crisis right after graduation or that you’re scared of caramel. They’re fun and uncomplicated, and interspersed among easy cans of corn, are these explosive diving snags that end up being the Ford Bold Move of the Game.

***

UTILITY (1 active)

In terms of my actual MLB fantasy team, the amount of time I spend each week trying to determine who gets this spot, is roughly equivalent to the combined amount of time I spend in any given week quoting "Wedding Crashers" and "Dumb & Dumber." Which is to say, a great deal. The problem is that I can never discern any ostensible difference between Mark DeRosa, Chone Figgins, Mark Loretta, or BJ Upton. Their potential to add value is only evident when evaluated within the context of the game.

FF impact: My utility spot needs tend to change based on the season. My need to drink and watch games isn’t as prominent in late winter, and my need for level-headed rational people is significantly less during the regular baseball season. There’s usually one breakout talent a Util brings to the table when you need it the most. This is how people like Shane Spencer rise to fame. And then fall from grace.

***

DL (1 spot)

Reserved for very specific infirmities. In my experience, most of my friends end up on the DL when they start dating someone. They spend all day in bed, I barely see them, and it’s hurting the team more than it’s hurting them. As soon as someone starts limping around the field, you gotta pull him and let him work it out on the DL until he feels like himself again. Then after he gets it out of his system, he’s back in the lineup, and after a few initial shaky games, he finally settles back into his old self.  

***

BENCH (3)

Three bench spots is the perfect amount of flexibility I need to rotate people in and out of the lineup. Tenuous, email relationships sometimes get bumped up when one of my starters goes on vacation or has an unfortunate spill and lands on the DL or gets involved in a monogamous relationship with his/her Blackberry.

***

Pitchers*

*Reserved for members of the opposite sex.

I keep the pen very limited because I don’t really believe in the whole "Dude, she’s like a sister to me" or "No way! He’s like my best friend, it’d be too weird" thing. Almost always, one of the people in these pseudo-platonic relationships changes the dynamic eventually.  

STARTING PITCHER (1 active)

Boyfriend/girlfriend. And I cannot stress enough that, just like real hurlers, they should only start once every five days. You wouldn’t pitch Sabathia for 4 straight games, and you shouldn’t call your own SP to the mound any more than once or twice a week.

***

MIDDLE RELIEF (2 active)

Sometimes I imagine how fiercely awesome it would be if, when your boyfriend/girlfriend’s pitches started getting wild or they just weren’t throwing heat anymore, you could walk up to him or her, stick out your arm and signal the call to the bullpen.

Pitcher/Girlfriend: You know what?! I don’t even want to deal with this!
Manager/Boyfriend: Ok, maybe your arm is just tired; let’s rest it and talk tomorrow.
P/G: NO, I want to finish the inning NOW.
M/B: You just said you didn’t even want to deal with this!
P/G: ((crying)) Well, obviously YOU don’t want to deal with ME. Is it because I’m a righty?

Announcer: Anddd… it looks like there’s some activity going on in the bullpen now. This call to the bullpen was brought to you by Verizon Wireless…

M/B: ((Sigh)) I’m sorry you’re upset.
P/G: That doesn’t count as an apology! I want you to be sorry for putting your center fielder in the clean-up spot instead of me.
M/B: Are you kidding me? This isn’t the NL, you’re being ridiculous.
P/G: Oh, I’M ridiculous? It’s ridiculous you pay more attention to everyone else on the field except me, when I’M your PITCHER.
M/B: Um, I think we need a break. ((Signals bullpen))

You could even have relievers begin warming up at the first sign your starter’s getting erratic. Your relief pitcher trots in, throws a few innings over a few drinks, then gets taken out–posting a respectable Hold or sometimes even a Save.

In the absence of a starter, middle relievers can step up their responsibilities a notch without officially being termed the ace starter. But sometimes they’re so good at this role, they become a permanent fixture in the rotation, and it works out brilliantly. Just look at Fausto Carmona.

***

CLOSERS (2 active)

The rare arms who actually successfully execute the whole "just friends" thing. Their appearances can be few and far between, especially if you got an SP who insists on throwing the whole game. But if an SP gets dropped to waivers, or the relievers start indicating they want the nod to start, the Rivera-like stability and reliability of your closer is crucial.

*   *   *

And that’s about the long and short of it. There are a lot of other mitigating factors that affect league play, but basically the rules are never much different than any other fantasy sport. The advantages of drafting a Fantasy Friend team are constantly manifesting themselves. Out-of-towner in for the weekend? Not a problem, you pick them up off waivers, drop an OF, and then pick the OF back up on Sunday night, just as he’s finishing clearing waivers and out-of-towner is back on a plane.

After years of doing this, I’ve learned to maximize the off-season by picking up certain position players. For example, when the Yankees swept Boston in 5 games last year, I felt something I hadn’t experienced since Fall 2004: a small but palpable sense of vindication. All I wanted to do was capitalize on this opportunity to once again be an obnoxious Yankee fan, but there were no Bosox supporters on my roster to facilitate this.

Which meant I had to spend the off-season cultivating a relationship with someone from Boston for this specific need. He’s currently playing with the farm team, but will be brought up for middle relief as a 1-inning set-up fan in the event of a Yankee comeback–I need someone to throw in for an inning or two to watch get battered around. Because beating your rival without being able to rub it in, is like putting artificial movie-theater butter on only the top layer of the popcorn. You really need to coat everything in it to get the full experience.

Playoffs also have a special set of rules. Whenever the Yankees hit the post-season, I can’t bring the whole roster with me into the playoffs. I have to bring the players who can bring the most to the field, the people who understand the exhilarating and excruciating rigor of championship play. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been on the club for a decade. How frustrating is it to have to field calls during the game? How confusing is it that there are people who think it’s acceptable to do this? It’s too much of a liability.

So maybe I don’t grab drinks with my old boss or have a dinner party with my second cousins or call up my high school lab partner to catch up. And maybe I’ll never be a first-round pick with my college alumni association’s FF team. But with efficient team management and religious adherence to basic FF principles, I may be able to reach that elusive nirvana where the line between the sport and real life dissolves, and baseball ultimately reigns supreme over everything.  

Until then: it’s like I said, there will never be any problem in life too great that a baseball analogy can’t take care of it. I’m hoping my FF team agrees.

Or at least signs their contract extensions before realizing their manager is certifiable.



About the Author

YankTank
Kris Pollina lives and works in New York City as an advertising copywriter. She lives and dies by NY sports and is the first to admit she can be wildly irrational in defense of her teams. She spends too much time thinking of fantasy team names, too little time reading injury reports. She doesn't understand people who keep score at baseball games. She has more interest in the Kreb Cycle than she does in the NBA, tennis, golf, or anything that is limited to running around a track. She doesn't mind the NFL overtime rules, thinks hockey is wildly underrated, and hates the expression "step up to the plate." Most importantaly, she doesn't believe in wearing baseball hats with football logos on them. Football players wear helmets.




One Comment


  1. [...] sports was born sometime in the last decade, in retrospect I think I’ve been subscribing to the concept and principles of fantasy as early as age [...]



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