I write a lot about my beliefs, politics, and the extraordinary beauty and awe of the world around me. Here on Super Bowl Sunday, I thought I would tackle a slightly different subject. Sports. Or to put it in a little deeper perspective, why I do not play Fantasy Sports anymore.
Yes, I used to play Fantasy Baseball, and Fantasy Football nearly every year. Being a super Baseball nerd, it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. And not knowing much at all about American football, that certainly seemed to be a fun way to embarrass myself during the winter while waiting for the restart of Baseball. I started playing in 2000, where Yahoo had an open Fantasy league system. I would draft my team, and then leave it alone for nearly half the season. That’s right, I would draft the team, set things up, and leave it alone.
This proved a good strategy for a few years, particularly during baseball season. I purchase MLB’s Baseball tv access, which allows me to see my beloved Cincinnati Reds for about one-hundred and fifty games during the one-hundred sixty-two game season. Back when Houston was in the National League, I would always get blacked out of the games because I was considered to be “in the market” of the Houston team. So, during those years, I usually lost out on about fifteen games each season.
And I do watch my team nearly every night or afternoon that I can. I keep a spreadsheet and track the statistics for the team, and utilize mathematical formulas to rank players against one another. I have even kept a baseball stats database that goes back to 1871 for all of major league baseball. And yes, I utilize the same statistical formulas to rank all major league players against one another. What can I say? I am a stats nerd.
About two years ago, I joined into a Yahoo Sports league for Fantasy baseball with a group of my coworkers. It was extremely competitive amongst the other folks. So much that I actually got caught up in the idea of trying to win the league. 2014 was the first major league season that I did not enjoy watching.
This had nothing to do with how my beloved Reds were doing. Cincinnati was on a stretch of a downturn that has continued into the 2016, and likely 2017, season. It is a cyclical part of a team’s ability to produce major-league talent and compete. Cincinnati’s competitive seasons are behind it, and the team must focus on gathering new talent in, growing that talent, and developing a mostly well-rounded roster that could theoretically compete. Being a small- to mid-range market team, this means judging exactly when to spend monies for veteran pieces to complete a young roster towards competing for the playoffs. It also means that the Reds cannot afford roster mistakes, such as players who suddenly do not produce. Big market teams such as the Yankees, Dodgers, and Rangers (to name a few) can definitely use their monetary resource pools to cover up any roster mistakes that they might make. But this is a tangent from the point…and I never move on to tangent (HA!).
No, the reason 2014 was a miserable season for me, was brought about by my focus on individual players that were on my Fantasy team. During Reds’ games, I found myself rooting for players that were on the opposing team, rather than rooting on my team. I had been caught up in the whirlpool of the manner in which Fantasy Sports removes the aspect of rooting for your team, and replacing it with rooting individual players on in their individual accomplishments.
Halfway through the 2014 season, I announced to the rest of the Fantasy league I was a part of, that I was not going to compete any longer. I was leading the league at the time. Many of these folks know that I maintain a baseball database, and are aware that my job includes working with stats and working formulas. Some of them thought that I was leaving because I didn’t feel there was enough competition. Only one of them ever asked me why.
My explanation was simple. The focus on individual accomplishments of players that were not necessarily on my beloved Reds had killed my enthusiasm for watching the game. Instead of watching every pitch of every at-bat, as I typically do, I was watching only the at-bats or pitching performances of the players on my Fantasy team. I was prone to changing channels in the middle of the game to another game – just to see how my Fantasy players were doing. Rather than examining the box score of the game I had watched the day before, I was combing the other box scores to see how my fantasy players had done. In short, I was obsessing over players that I normally would never have paid attention to, and not paying attention to the team that I have loved since I was fourteen years old.
When I stopped playing the Fantasy version of the sport, I just could not gather up the enthusiasm that I had in the 2013 season for my Reds. I could feel my excitement for the play of the baseball game slipping away. When the start of the 2015 season came around, I was invited to play again in the Fantasy league. Without hesitation, I turned it down. I even noted that I didn’t enjoy playing because it “changed the way” I looked at my beloved game. The individual who invited me was scornful, telling me that I was being childish about my perspective. Nope. Not being childish at all. I was going back to watching the game as I always had. Back to what made the game great for me.
It took some time to get back into the way that I watched the game. The 2015 season was one of mediocre hopes for the Reds. There was a chance that the team could compete, but things had to fall the right way for that to happen. It never did, and the Reds began to move veteran players off to other teams for young prospects. Some of these veterans I remember seeing their big league debuts years before with the Reds. And I was sad to see the changes happen.
The younger players began arriving to the roster more and more often. More debuts, more extremely young faces with names I had never heard of. But their enthusiasm for playing the game began to win me back by the end of the season. And with a full season separating me from the idiocy of Fantasy Baseball, 2016 was a season of watching players grow. The Reds never competed that year, and fell just short of losing one-hundred games. They were a young, inexperienced team for the most part. And even in defeat, I could see the proud attitude that these players had – being part of an elite group of players that reach the major-leagues.
2017 is just around the corner. In less than two weeks, the most beautiful words ever spoken will come about: Pitchers and catchers report. The annual start of a new season. Every single team has the same chance to compete at this point. All thirty teams have the same chance to get to the World Series and play for a championship. Certainly, when viewed on paper, some teams seem to be in a better position to do so than others. But then, anything can happen. That’s why every team plays their entire one-hundred and sixty-two game schedule. Because anything can happen.
And none of that is conveyed within the Fantasy Sports model. Instead, its a focus on individual effort. No concept of a group that did it together. No concept of how certain players fulfill certain roles because their team needs it. The players who can hit home runs, but lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner so that the chance of scoring a single run increases for the players directly behind him in the lineup. None of that shows in a Fantasy Sports model. Only individualism. And honestly, I would take a team player over an individualist any day of the week. In a one-hundred and sixty-two game season, it truly does take a team to make it through.