Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Neighborhood Of Make-Believe

There will be no trip to the movies for me this weekend. I’m curious about Stop-Loss, and I still need to get around to The Band’s Visit, and I’m hoping that Run, Fat Boy, Run will do for the sports movie what Hot Fuzz did for the action flick. But right now I have no time for cinematic make-believe. I’m too busy losing myself in another world of pseudo-reality.

See, with apologies to the globe-trotting Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox, today marks the beginning of baseball season. And that means the beginning of the fantasy baseball season, too. At noon ET, I’ll be phoning a guy in Colorado and then using my three-way caller skilz to patch us through to a speaker phone in Oregon where a group of guys representing the other eight teams in our 10-team NL-only league will sit around with laptops, breakfast treats and very concerned looks on their faces wondering what it’s going to take to land the New York Mets’ Johan Santana. Today is auction day!

If you’ve never played fantasy sports, you probably feel a lot like Leslie Mann’s Debbie in Knocked Up, who follows her husband (Paul Rudd’s Pete) to a strange house, convinced he’s having an affair, and catches him in the act of … drafting his fantasy baseball team. It’s probably the funniest moment of the movie. Pete, as I recall, is decked out in baseball gear (team shirt and cap), and all the guys in the room clutch magazines and bundles of analysis. It’s the baseball geek equivalent of the orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut.

I’d like to think that my group isn’t quite so pathetic – no one has ever arrived at the auction wearing baseball pants or eye black, to my knowledge – but we must be. The league has been around since 1988. I’ve been a member since 1993. In that span I’ve made it to our league’s World Series three times, but I’ve never won the title (lost in seven games twice and lost in six games the year I looked destined to win it all). This is a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s a competitive league: two years ago I entered the final week of the season with the very real chance to finish first. But I had a bad week and wound up dropping to third, which meant dropping out of the money.

Uh-oh! I just committed Fantasy Sports Sin No. 1: I told you something about my team as if you’d actually care. My bad! I promise, no more war stories. But let me at least tell you what’s in store for me today: four-hours-plus on the phone. That’s what it’s going to take for all 10 teams to fill out their 30-man rosters before drafting two minor leaguers and a five-man taxi squad. Each fantasy player selected gets signed to a three-year contract. That’s why most of us have about 15 roster spots assigned already, based on carryovers. But the other roster spots will be decided through an auction format (straight drafts are for sissies): 300 fantasy dollars to fill out a 30-man fantasy team. As the best pitcher available, Mr. Santana will go for at least $60-something. Maybe $70-something. Other players will go for $1. You just never know, and that’s a major part of the fun!

But seeing as this is a movie blog, let me bring this post back to the world of cinema: At this very moment, a movie on fantasy baseball is taking shape. It’s called, or so I presume, Fantasyland, based on the book of same name by Sam Walker, the Wall Street Journal columnist who in 2004 took a break from his day job to figure out what all the fantasy fuss was about by talking his way into Tout Wars, the fantasy baseball league comprised of the most expert of the fantasy experts (the geekiest of us geeks).

The book is out in paperback now, and it’s a terrific, fast read for anyone who likes baseball (people who think fantasy sports are a silly waste of time may get more enjoyment out of it than those who get high off its stat-based thrills). What the movie will be like is hard to say. It’s a documentary. But in this installment someone else is stepping into Walker’s first-timer’s shoes. The film’s producers accepted applications with the hopes of finding someone who would take his/her shot at Tout Wars with the seriousness displayed by Walker, who not only poured through the stat books but also interviewed scouts and players in an all-out effort to win the league.

To me this sounds a bit like trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice, but I have hope. Walker’s personal experiences make for the heart of his book, yet there’s a lot of enjoyment to be found in the cast of supporting players that make up the regular Tout Wars warriors. Like the documentary King Of Kong (which I highly recommend as a Netflix treat), I suspect the film will introduce us to folks so, um, colorful that only the documentary format could allow us to believe in them.

So keep your eyes open for that film in 2009(?); the documentary is filming over the 2008 season, so that seems about right. In the meantime, here’s to Opening Day: the crack of the bat, the pop of the catcher’s mitt and, as Shoeless Joe says in Field Of Dreams, the thrill of the grass. Now, forgive me, I’ve got to go back to my last-minute cramming, trying to determine if Andruw Jones is Orson Welles (a once great talent grown fat and washed up) or Martin Scorsese (a guy who wandered off course for a bit but is ready to be a star again). Maybe I’ll let someone else find out.


Fox said...

Opening Day never stops feeling like Christmas morning to me.... ahh, life is nice through October!

I hope your draft went well. As for me, allow me to get off this pre-O'Day blast:

Cardinals SUCK!
Mets SUCK!

(no hard feelings on that last one if you did indeed end up with Santana...)

hokahey said...

I'm totally ignorant of how fantasy baseball works. For Example, how are the games played? Does the computer determine how the game goes all at once?

The only fantasy baseball I understand is the game invented (as far as I know) by my older brother back in the 60s. His fantasy baseball involved 2 dice, line-ups of baseball cards, games and players stats recorded with pencil and paper. Each dice combination equated to a strike-out or some sort of run or play. I think boxcars meant a grand slam. He rolled the dice for each card up at bat - three outs per side - nine or more innings - and he supplied the running commentary in imitation of the announcer at Candlestick Park. He had multiple teams, played game after game, and it all culminated in the World Series, of course. I can just about hear the clack of the dice against the shoe box in which he kept his baseball card teams.

So I don't follow baseball and I have no clue how fantasy baseball works, but I totally understand your passion for both real and fantasy baseball because I understand the extent to which a passion can go. My passion for movies took me to 88 movies in theaters in 2007 - that's my fantasy baseball.

Mark said...

hokahey, Unless your big brother is Ricky Brown, my best friend at that time (which would make you Wendy Brown), I don't see how he can claim to have invented that game with the dice and the baseball cards. That was Ricky and me.

As Lon Simmons used to say at Candlestick, "You can tell that one goodbye."

Jason, thanks for the update on "Fantasyland." I'm still looking forward to reading the book too. Meantime, here's to a big year for the Naturals. Although I'm not in the Stathawk League anymore, I still love that stupid game.

Jason Bellamy said...

Fox: I’m with you on the euphoria of Opening Day. And, no, I didn’t get Santana. However, I did get Astros speed demon Michael Bourn, so if you could root him into a Rookie of the Year kind of performance I’d appreciate it. While you’re at it, cheer harder whenever Wandy Rodriguez starts. He’s not in my rotation at the moment, but he might be soon. Right now I’m writing this comment while my new No. 4 starter, Barry Zito, is getting slapped around by the Dodgers. This is especially painful for me as I’m a Giants fan and already loathed Zito. Landing that overpaid loser in my auction was like deciding the chainsaw wound to my abdomen could use a bucket of acid. Oh well, it’s a long season, right?

Hokahey: All fantasy leagues are different, which is always one of the challenges of discussing the fantasy league that you’re in: it takes 15 minutes of background conversation to discuss how the league works before you can even get to your team. I’ll be short and say that we play our game through a company called Scoresheet that takes stats from the week, matches them up against opponent stats and creates full fantasy games. It sounds like the thing that would never work, but the year-end fantasy stats always wind up pretty close to the real stats. It’s cool stuff. As for the dice game, I think kids have been “inventing” that game for as long as there have been dice. Kids today have no idea what they’re missing out on with Playstations and X-boxes and all of that.

Mark: You’ll love "Fantasyland." And we’ll catch the real thing when you come to the East in a few months.

ghibli said...

Loved the book, can't wait for the movie. I just hope my assessment of the film is not overly critical or over hyped due to my affection for the book. Yet another topic for another day.

Baseball season is the best. All this talk of the dice game, that clearly my dad invented, makes me want to get out the strat-o-matic board and quit my day job!