So, I was reading this King Kaufman column in Salon last Monday. He was talking about ESPN’s broadcast on Jackie Robinson Day, and was relating a story that Henry Aaron was telling a story about playing second base against Robinson and — wait a second, Hank Aaron played second base?
That was Kaufman’s reaction, and mine as well, but for totally different reasons. He was just interested in it as a baseball historian, and so looked it up. And sure enough, Aaron played games as a second-bagger for the Braves as late as the mid-1960’s.
Me, all I can think is this: Hank Aaron had fantasy eligibility at 2B! How cool would that have been for my fantasy baseball team!
I tend to break my life-long love baseball into different eras:
- The Kid Era (1969-1980): — I fell hard for Baseball: collecting baseball cards, playing Cadaco All-Star Baseball, and reading every single book I possibly could find about it, my all-time favorite being Ball Four, which I read over and over and over and over. Influenced by my Great-Aunt Betty and the presence of the San Francisco Chronicle in our household, I chose The San Francisco Giants as my team, even as Willies Mays and McCovey lost their powers, Bobby Bonds was traded for Bobby Murcer, and the Dodgers routinely killed them. Still, I listened to as many games as I possibly could and grew up with this home run call: “And you can tell it good-bye!”
- The 49ers Era (1981 – 1996): — During my post high-school boho era, where music, booze and girls had solidly eclipsed every other thing in my life, I still loved the Giants, but I didn’t follow them as heavily as in the past. There were several reasons for this (see the above part about music, booze and girls), and during that time the 49ers eclipsed them as my favorite sports team. This was of course due to the fact that the 49ers had Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice and Steve Young, and the Giants had, er, um, Will Clark. During this entire time, they managed a divisional title and an ill-fated World Series appearance where not even a earthquake could mask how outgunned they were.
- The Barry/Dusty Era (1997 – 2002): I got to the Bay Area the year after Barry Bonds & Dusty Baker did, and thanks to the amazing sportswriting in the Chronicle (in the mid-1990s, the Saturday Sporting Green columns were as good as it got); daily inundation on KNBR and the fact that the lion’s share of the games were broadcast on TV (oh how I miss Mike Krukow), I remembered why I loved the Giants in the first place. And I fell for the beauty of Barry Bonds’ at-bats. Talk about steroids all you wish, but the real point was watching him process every single pitch like a mentat before figuring out which one to swat into McCovey cove. Those teams — Barry, Jeff Kent, JT Snow, and whomever Brian Sabean had given the very much missed Dusty to work with that year — will go down as my all-time favorite Giant teams ever.
- The Fantasy Era (2003 – ): I blame Kirk for the Fantasy Baseball thing. He started the Superman-Tim Fantasy League in 2001. It was a league consisting mostly of people we’ve known for years and years and one guy whom only one of us has ever met face to face (but it now feels like I’ve known for years and years). When I moved from the Bay Area into Dodger country in the aftermath of 9/11 (a coincidence, but the “things will never be the same” trope was actually true in my case), I lost my daily immersion in the Giants. And after my heart was broken by game six of the 2002 World Series, that was almost a relief. I still love them, of course, and always will, but we’ll be lucky if they don’t lose 100 games this year. ‘Nuff said.
And besides, after a couple years of struggling with the concept, I got the hang of the whole Fantasy Baseball thing.
It took me awhile to warm up to the idea — I’d resisted it for a long time, because I’m not much of a gamer — but with the way the neato internets do all of the mathematics and providing the real-time updates and interfaces, I soon fell for it. I actually think it was the decision the second year to change to Yahoo! and change the league to allow to make updates on a daily basis as opposed to a weekly basis.
Suddenly, I had a reason to pay attention every single day. Not for hours and hours every day, but just for a few minutes a day. Make sure that the right pitchers were in; making sure that everybody was actually playing that day (which has been weird this year because of all of the funky bad weather). Make sure that I don’t have the guy who hits .074 against lefties in instead of the guy who hits .426 against righties.
To paraphrase Woody Allen: 90% of Fantasy Baseball is just showing up. Paying attention. I have some other strategies, especially on Draft Day (one of the best days of the year), but I’ll keep those to myself for now. They are nothing earthshaking anyways; I’d get killed in one of those experts leagues.
You know what I like about it? It’s gives me a chance to make decisions about something that has absolutely no real-world consequence whatsoever. The worse that happens on a daily basis is that I put the wrong guy in; the worst that can possibly happen is that I could not finish first. Which hasn’t happened in, ahem, three years. (Oh come ON, y’all knew that I had to mention that at some point!) Just mentioning that fact might be construed as trash talk.
So I guess that I’m somewhat of a gamer. Fantasy Baseball, where I’m now up to managing three teams this year — all with different rules — and where I can only dream of a second baseman with numbers like Hank Aaron. Which I’m guessing is going to happen sooner than the Giants winning the World Series.