For the longest time, I have prided myself on my almost total apathy for professional sports. The one sport I get up for is college football, and everything that is good about it (the rivalries, the traditions, stadiums packed with 80-100,000 fans) does not exist in the NFL. The NBA? Basketball in general just doesn’t do it for me. The excess of wannabe rappers doesn’t help either. Case in point: San Antonio Spur Tony Parker has started calling himself “Tony Pizzle” in promotion of his own rap album. That isn’t even the funny part. His album will be in French. How about hockey? Any sport with that much fighting must be cool, right? Wrong. Any sport that divides its games into three periods, counts assists as points and allows games to end in a tie is suspect. Plus, did anyone outside of Canada care that there was no hockey season last year? Speaking of fighting, I would rather watch paint dry than watch a boxing match. As for America’s Past Time, baseball – wake me up in September and maybe I’ll care.
Now, this isn’t to say I don’t like sports at all. I watch my fair share of SportsCenter and I even have a subscription to ESPN The Magazine. For reasons that aren’t worth explaining, I’m a rabid follower of the America’s Cup. I will also admit to being one of the worst cases of a fair-weather fan. Come September and the Dodgers may make the playoffs? I’ll watch. A miracle happens and the Redskins stop sucking? Go Skins. I even paid attention when the Spurs started to win championships a few years ago, but only because I’m from San Antonio. My worst offense is this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, an event that usually causes me to reach for the snooze bar. But since Texas A&M is ranked sixth in the country and looking to be a #2 seed, I’m watching games and dissecting RPI like everyone else. So I admit it, I’m that guy.
There is one thing that I don’t have to admit, nor will I ever. And that is playing any sort of fantasy anything. The situation has grown worse over the years and I don’t get it. ESPN actually devotes airtime to talking heads to tell people who to draft and who to “start” that week. The most recent issue of The Magazine includes 35 pages dedicated to fantasy baseball. Every position rank-ordered and how much you should pay for them ($4 for 2B Luis Castillo: “picking him is like ordering salmon in a nice restaurant: guaranteed to be good, not likely to be great”.)
Last year I actually witnessed a room full of grown men, shielding their notebooks, scouting reports and draft strategies from wandering eyes, go through their NFL fantasy draft. After about an hour and only being halfway through round two, I came to the following realization: playing fantasy sports is one very small step removed from playing Dungeons and Dragons. The guy declaring all the league rules and making sure the drafts goes smoothly? He’s the Dungeon Master. All those silly fantasy guide books that take up an entire shelf at the Barnes & Noble magazine rack? D&D Player Handbook and Sorcery Guide, Volumes I-III. Checking all of your “players” stats on the Internet after the big games? You might as well be sorting your “Magic: The Gathering” playing cards.
I enjoy reading Bill Simmons - he’s an excellent writer with a sarcastic flair that I admire. He also “fields” numerous fantasy teams and his wife’s sentiments on the matter are spot on:
This week, I noticed playoff baseball started, so I asked Bill, “What happened with the League of Dorks?” Bill said they won first prize. He didn’t even seem happy about it. He was just relieved that they didn’t lose. Then he said he’s having a celebratory lunch with Hench next week. I said they should order a bottle of fake champagne and fake pour it on each other. I hate the League of Dorks.
What motivates otherwise smart people to shift into Nerd Overdrive? Has professional sports team GM rocketed up the Walter Mitty standings? It can’t be a case of “I-could-be-a-coach” because fantasy players don’t do any actual, you know, coaching. Other than figuring out the “starting lineup” for their “team”, what other decisions are being made here? What is the friggin’ point in all of this? Sticking it to your nerd buddy on Monday because your team scored more points than his? To set up some brilliant mid-season trade to ditch your up-and-comer who turned out to actually suck for some other player who sucks a little less? What is the signing bonus for a trade like that, a bag of Doritos and access to your buddy’s Battlestar Galactica DVD collection? If you are into this sort of thing, best of luck to you. Just don’t misplace your set of twenty-sided dice. Determining hit points (or homeruns) is tough without those things.