Fantasy life

I love sports. Baseball, football, basketball, whatever. Put me in front of a TV with a cold beer and don’t bother trying to talk to me until the final buzzer has sounded. If the game’s on, I’m watching.

Yet for a diehard fan, I came to fantasy sports on the internet only a couple years ago. I had a couple of fantasy football teams in high school that I would forget about for a couple weeks and then check, only to see I was the last in the league. But I never quite got into it the way fantasy sports diehards seem to.

For the uninitiated, internet fantasy sports work in a fairly simple way. I’ll use Yahoo baseball as an example. Players (or “owners”) form a league and then draft real players until each player has a full roster. The stats that each MLB player accrues get tabulated daily and their stat line is translated into a certain amount of points, the “fantasy points” that player earned for the given day.

Each player’s points are added up and that figure is the team’s total for the given day. The object is to have the most points by the end of the season. Fantasy owners tweak their rosters by adding free-agent players or trading players, and must also adjust their lineup daily to maximize the potential points for that day.

Last year was the changing point. I was invited into a fantasy baseball league and it consumed me – for a couple of weeks. Then I got bored and stopped checking my lineup and I gave up. My team would have been horrible except for a couple of star players (thank you Derrek Lee and Jon Garland).

When baseball season rolled around again this year I decided that I would give fantasy sports one more try. It hadn’t panned out before but I mostly blame my lack of dedication and sieve-like memory for my previous negative experiences.

Now I understand. Managing your fantasy team must be your religion. You must spend countless hours poring over stats, comparing batters and pitchers, trying to glean some small piece of information that will give you an edge over the rest of the league. It’s hard work.

The worst situation occurs when your team has a great pitcher and a great hitter who are on teams that are facing each other. It’s small consolation when your big slugger hits a two-run bomb when it was your ace that just coughed the homer up.

But fantasy sports do something more important for sports fans than merely provide entertainment – they reconnect us back to the games that are being played in a very tangible way. In the case of fantasy baseball, I can no longer only pay attention to the Red Sox, even though as a New England native the Sox are “my” team.

Now I have to watch the Cubs, the Reds, the Phillies. Now I care about the entire league. Now I watch way too much baseball and obsess over teams in cities I’ve never been to, teams that I would normally despise if not for a certain center fielder or crafty veteran pitcher that I need to come up big for me.

Fantasy sports aren’t perfect. There are still things that annoy me about it and there is certainly no better marriage of sports nerds and computer geeks. But I’m a convert. Add fantasy baseball to the list of internet obsessions I shouldn’t have: MySpace, Facebook, those scandalous pictures I uploaded from my phone. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to check on my team.