Fantasy Dork

     New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez came off the disabled list yesterday after three weeks to repair a strained quadriceps, and promptly hit a home run against the Baltimore Orioles. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay Rays third baseman and potential rookie of the year Evan Longoria struck out once, walked once, singled once and left three men on base in a late game against the Oakland Athletics.
     A-Rod was sitting on my bench yesterday, while Longoria took one last game at the hot corner. I just didn’t want A-Rod to go 0-fer trying too hard his first game back, and right now I could use all the offensive numbers I can get. My decision partly explains why I’ve been mired in the cellar of my fantasy league most of the season.
     In the past seven or eight years fantasy sports, particularly fantasy football, have become big business in America. There is actually a Fantasy Sports Trade Association, which estimates that there are between 15 million and 18 million fantasy sports players in the U.S. (as of 2006). Actual revenue created by this group of losers, myself included, is hard to nail down because of the varied nature of the product and its wide availability, but one estimate places the number around $1.5 billion.
     If you’ve ever watched an NFL game and tried to catch scores from other games on the bottom of the screen, you’ve been affected by fantasy football even if you don’t actually participate in a league. The reason it takes roughly three days to get all the scores is because every network seems to think every person watching is running a fantasy team; hence the need to show the individual stats for every position player on every team.
     There are fantasy football, baseball, basketball, hockey, NASCAR, golf and even fishing leagues. Fantasy lacrosse is in its third season.
     Without a doubt fantasy football is king of the hill. But it’s also lame. Fantasy football is for people too lazy to think or care about their team on a daily basis. Considering the attention span of your average American these days it’s pretty obvious why fantasy football is the most popular type of fantasy league.
     Fantasy baseball, though, is the game to play. If you have adult ADD it’s not for you but if you have more than two I.Q. points to rub together and possess the Herculean ability to concentrate for minutes at a time you’ll be fine.
     This is a game that requires daily attention. Not hours per day, or half hours or even fifteen minutes a day. Ten minutes first thing in the morning. Check your starting rotation, sit any of your position players who don’t have a game scheduled that day Maybe check the free agent market for a diamond in the rough or put someone on the DL and look for the best of the rest to fill in for the time being.
     Fantasy baseball players care more about their teams, if for any other reason simply because there’s more opportunities to revel in a good performance or curse a bad outing. Football games occur 17 weekends in the fall; baseball games happen every single day from opening day to the last day of the season, except for the days immediately before and after the All-Star game.
     It’s why I know in late May that Florida Marlins hurler Mark Hendrickson, who normally doesn’t get much attention outside of south Florida, is making a good argument for a reserve spot on the National League All-Star team. Or that Baltimore closer George Sherill, the Austin Peay legend with 21 career saves, has gotten 17 of them this season, 12 more than reigning AL fireman J.J. Putz. Or that what’s more impressive than Arizona Diamondbacks’ ace Brandon Webb’s nine wins and 2.56 ERA is his 0.99 WHIP.
     I look at numbers like this every morning from April until October. I don’t take five minutes on a Wednesday afternoon in the fall to set my team. Fantasy baseball teams are organic; not a single roster in any league looks exactly the same on the last day of the season as it did on the first day. It takes dedication to pay attention to something that doesn’t really exist for six months.
     In real life Evan Longoria will play for the Rays tonight as they look for a sweep in Oakland. But on the Devil Mullets, he’s riding the pine until he starts hitting above .250, especially since I got A-Rod back into the lineup.
     If you’re going to play for me and hit .246, you’ve got to have more than five home runs to show for it. I won’t accept anything less.

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