Monday, April 15, 2013

In 1991, We Started A Thing

This is my rich and rewarding fantasy life
22 years ago, we started a thing. And by thing, I mean "4x4, NL-Only, Standard Roto Fantasy Baseball League"

There were ten of us, mostly friends from college. One guy's dad and kid brother, another guy most of us didn't know whom someone brought in because we needed to round out the numbers. We drafted that year on the living room floor of the commissioner's housing unit, crammed onto college furniture and beanbag chairs, and reading the agate type baseball stats from the NY Times as cheat sheets. One league member showed up late; he'd forgotten it was Daylight Savings that morning. One league member - me - had to run off mid-draft and fix his girlfriend's computer. The first throw was Benito Santiago, then catching for the Padres. And since we'd all read the same one fantasy baseball guide, which said "pay for premium talent at premium positions", we bid him up and through the roof.

Benito went for $25 to Bob Mangels, the aforementioned father. In the two decades since, he has steadfastly refused to pay more than $2 for a catcher. Generally, he'll only pay $1.
The guy almost none of us knew won that year, going away. All-Stars went undrafted. A guy named Scott Coolbaugh incited a bidding war. And after that season, we scrapped everything and started over - sans the guy who won, whom most of us still didn't know.

Fast forward from 1991 to 2013. We're still going. Mostly the same crew, too. A few folks have joined, a few have dropped out, a couple dropped out and came back. There have been marriages and births, medical scares and job changes, a Draft of the Long Knives and a Draft of the Long Spoons. We've got two folks trained professionally in the Dismal Science in the crowd, so you hear "price fixing" as much as you hear "BABIP" between bids. We all know each others' tendencies by now. The in-jokes have in-jokes attached to them; Some hairlines have receded, some waistlines have not.  Nobody who was draft-eligible the year we started is still playing, but the kids of some of the guys we drafted are, and we can spend hours cringing over memories of overpaying for the Archi Cianfroccos of the world.

(He was shortstop-eligible. This made him a hot commodity.)

And every year, we gather to do this thing. We're all still on the east coast, which helps, and it moves from year to year. DC, Raleigh, Long Island, Massachusetts...we rotate hosting sites. Everyone tries to make it every year, and generally we all do. There have been years when someone's had to call in; there have been years when someone's had someone else draft for them. But generally, we make the once a year pilgrimage.

It's not about baseball, of course. Or it is, in the sense that baseball is what defined the tribe that gathers every year. Baseball gives us the excuse to pick up the phone or send emails or IM trade proposals at awkward times. It's the shared language, the secret handshake. We love the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd; we love each other more.

And we will remember that, mostly, as April turns to May and expensive closers blow out their elbows and All-Star second basemen get traded to the Yankees and seasons' worth of dreams go up in smoke one by one.. We will make horrific trade offers and bitch about receiving same, we will race each other to the waiver wire for marginal talent in hopes of finding that one gem in the rough like Steve found back in '97 that won him the pennant, we will argue the minutiae of rules interpretations for the hundredth time. Because the season ends too soon, and when it goes away so do the excuses to talk quite so much.

Which leaves us with scouting, and commiseration over free agents, and the occasional trade offer which generally doesn't come to fruition. And along with it, the knowledge that we're going to do it again next year.

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