This is the debut post of The Irregular Season, a column where I’ll write about my fantasy baseball experience this season. Reflection, humor, insight and some venting are all fair game within this weekly post. Enjoy!
I’ve come to know one truth about our game and this is it. Our leagues aren’t a product of fantasy baseball itself. Fantasy baseball is a product of our leagues.
It took me ages to realize that.
I started playing fantasy baseball as a child. I’d estimate that I was probably ten years old when my oldest brother let me play with his friends in a fantasy baseball league. I know they just needed another warm body and figured I was an easy mark but, hey, I was the little brother being let into the big boy inner circle. Exciting!
Those early experiences defined my expectations about fantasy sports for years to come. I recognized it as a game that is filled with trash-talking, joke-telling, false bravado and intense conversations about our respective teams during the season.
I got older and formed my own leagues with my friends and tried to recreate that same experience. It didn’t come naturally. I wondered what I was doing wrong.
I got older still and joined other leagues with other friends. Once again, I tried to make the leagues into what I thought fantasy baseball was. It didn’t happen and it made me realize that it’s not up to me to define the fantasy baseball experience for everyone else.
Two decades and many failed leagues later, I now play in four leagues with rich histories. They’re all fantasy baseball leagues but there’s no way you could convince me that they’re the same game. That’s a good thing because it is the differences in each league that have showed me the many reasons to love this game.
The Keeper Points League:
For The Love Of The Season
This was another older-brother-inviting-the-little-brother-into-his-world league. The style of the league was what I was already comfortable with. During the season, the owners are constantly engaged in a very interactive experience. It is a head-to-head format and there is a sense of importance surrounding who you play each week.
This league recognizes the season itself as the true cornerstone of fantasy baseball. The commissioner embraced that concept so much that there’s a Twitter account with league updates and there’s a website with stories about the history of the league. There’s even a YouTube talk show about the league with episodes regularly posted throughout the season.
This league has taught me that being engaged throughout the season with your fellow owners is one of the best parts of fantasy baseball.
My Own Keeper Points League:
For The Love Of Gambling
I helped create a new league about a decade ago. I modeled it after what I knew. I wanted it to be a socially engaged league with trash-talking and history. This started my revelation that the experience cannot be forced.
The guys in this league all have loose connections to one another but there are a lot of people who don’t know one another. The draft happens online with minimal interaction. There is some chatter throughout the season but it usually involves countless trade offers and complex rule discussions.
I’ve come to realize that this is a league that is ultimately about trying to win some money. We don’t come back to the league every year because we love the social element or the draft or the season. We come back because there’s a pretty damn big check on the line and that makes it exciting.
The Traditional Roto League:
For The Love Of The Draft
This was my first rotisserie league. I only knew one guy in the league and it felt like I was joining a cult when I got to my first draft. It was abundantly clear that the draft event was oozing with tradition and ritual and I walked right in the middle of it. This wasn’t a first draft; it was an initiation. Bow down to the trophy. Kneel before the draft board. Eat the cheese curds. Drink the Yoo-Hoo.
Drawing upon my previous experiences, I still felt that social engagement was a big part of fantasy baseball so I initially tried to bring that to the league after draft day. I eventually realized that the tradition here is the draft and not the season. The season is a bit of a solo journey since there’s not a head-to-head element nor group interaction.
This is the league that got me to truly appreciate the ritualistic element of fantasy baseball and the traditions that can come out of it. Baseball is a constant in this world and fantasy baseball should follow that lead.
The Roto Auction Dynasty League:
For The Love Of Strategy
This is a low-stakes league and was the first auction league that I was invited to join. This is a group of loosely connected guys from around the country who all just love baseball and analyzing stats.
The league was constructed to maximize the strategic element: auction, dynasty, 6×6 roto. These are all things that require extra thinking and plotting.
It is a league that is all about trying to outsmart other smart guys. The other leagues have that element too but this was a new extreme to that idea. It allowed me to truly appreciate the strategy of fantasy baseball even more while exposing me to yet another side of this game.
What Is The Common Thread?
For me, the common thread between these four leagues is that I drafted Scott Kazmir in all of them.
Aside from that, the thing that makes all of these fantasy baseball experiences similar is they are centered around the people you play with. We are experiencing and defining it together, not alone, and that’s what makes these experiences special. Paraphrasing one of my favorite quotes, fantasy baseball [is] only real when shared.