If there was ever an appropriately-named hobby in this modern society of ours, it’s fantasy sports.
I admit it. I play them. I’ve had a fantasy baseball team on and off for about 20 years, and I’ve been in a fantasy football league with the same group of guys for the past 10 years. Granted, I am not that guy who is constantly scanning message boards on the Internet for tips on my team or recording shows on television with “experts” on fantasy teams, but I pay attention to my roster, make substitutions as needed and generally follow the statistics of my players.
But that’s about the extent of my involvement. In my football league, for instance, I’ve made four trades in those 10 years. I have one friend who makes 10 to 12 trades a season and is constantly bombing me and other guys in our league with e-mails to make more trades. And, somehow, he keeps coming in last.
Yeah, I’m looking at you, Sully.
His obvious problems aside, I do enjoy playing fantasy sports. As a kid, I remember waking up every morning during baseball season and grabbing the Sports section of the Washington Post to look at the box scores (granted, the box scores in the Post are typically a day late as the paper seems to go to press before the majority of the games end). I would look for players across the Major Leagues who had three or more hits, four or more RBIs or pitchers who threw complete games.
This early love affair with the numbers associated with sports probably led to my inevitable attraction to fantasy sports leagues. See, these leagues have less to do with actual performance by players, and more to do with sheer statistics. Sports are actually complicated. A player can have a major impact on a game without putting together any significant numbers. And, on the flip side, a player can put up some gaudy numbers without really having an impact on his team’s performance.
Fantasy sports take the complications out of interpreting players’ performances. It’s black and white. It doesn’t matter if a quarterback threw for 250 yards in the second half if his team was down 40 points, and his performance did nothing to help the team win. Or if a baseball player hits a grand slam in the 9th inning with his team down 15 runs. It just sees those numbers.
No complications, right?
Let me give you an example about how playing these “harmless” fantasy leagues can mess with your mind.
I was sitting on my couch Sunday, watching my beloved Baltimore Ravens take on the Minnesota Vikings in a game that was pretty important to both teams’ seasons. My Ravens had made a fairly improbably comeback in the game, and took the lead with a little more than three minutes left to play.
Ancient Vikings quarterback Brett Favre (who is technically younger than yours truly, but prehistoric in football years) brought the Vikings down the field and they were lining up for a field goal with about two minutes left to give his team the lead. I was aching inside for Minnesota’s kicker to shank the field goal and leave the Ravens in pretty good shape to come out with a win.
But something else was happening inside, too. See, Minnesota’s kicker is on my fantasy team, I was up against a 4-1 team in my league and needed every point I could get and ... well, the guy I was playing against is someone I really would have enjoyed talking trash to if I was able to win. My thinking changed.
“Make the kick, and let the Ravens come down and win the game at the end,” I thought inside. “Win-win.”
He made the kick. I smiled. The Ravens indeed drove down field and got themselves in position for a game-winning kick.
Which they missed.
I felt sick inside. The temporary euphoria of my fantasy kicker adding some points to my team’s total was lost in the face of despair over my Ravens losing the game at the end. It was as if a ridiculously-flexible Sumo wrestler kicked me in the face and sat on my...
But I digress.
It was saddening, but I did beat my friend Brady. Chew on that!