One of the biggest issues facing Major League Baseball is the regionalization of the sport. Yankee fans watch Yankee games, Rockie fans watch Rockie games, and Twin fans what Twin games. Fans tend to watch the game their team is playing. This could be partly due to local television deals, which make it difficult to watch out of market games. It could also be due to the nature of the sport. Teams play almost every day during the season so keeping up with multiple teams at once can be daunting and time consuming. I have my teams who I root for, my one primary team and a few backups who I cheer for unless they are playing my main team. I keep an eye on the standings and can tell you which teams are good and which teams are starting their vacations early this year. However I cannot tell you about every player and how good or bad they are playing this season or during their careers. The sheer volume of games, combined with the regionalization of the sport, and the finite amount of time I have to spend looking at the sport each day prevents this from happening.
Despite all the forces working against me, there is something, which has expanded my view of the day-to-day happenings from around Major League Baseball. Playing Fantasy Baseball has taught me a lot about daily baseball in a short amount of time. The Fantasy Baseball League I play in, Infield Lies, makes you set a line up every day. You start understanding how great a player is after you look every day to see how they did the previous day. The competition of the league drives me to continually look for someone who is hot and can help me win the week or the season. You start looking around and you see these phenomenal players who do not get national press on a regular basis, or at all. These are not the Mike Trout’s or Andrew McCutchen’s of the world. These are the versatile players like Martin Prado who can essentially play everywhere on the diamond. You lock on to Prado, also known as Nitram Odarp, because he can fill so many gaps for you on your roster. Then you start seeing his ability with his bat show up on the daily stat line, and then you start watching a few minutes of the game he is playing in with the Diamondbacks and now the Yankees. Despite his not being on my fantasy team this year, I still follow him and will continue to do so because I “discovered” such a great player that I might otherwise have never known about.
Every year I hope to make the rest of the people who are in my league upset by finding that player who come out of nowhere to have a career year or to be a breakout star. I am not always successful in this mission, but it does not mean that players other league members “discovered” do not interest me. Trying to have more steals each week meant the “discovery” of the Dodgers’ Dee Gordon. Prior to 2014, Gordon had average 60 games, 223 plate appearances, 27 runs scored, 22 stolen bases, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 12 walks, 11 RBI, a .256 batting average, a .301 On-base Percentage in parts of three seasons with Los Angeles. In 2014, Gordon has his break out year. He played in 148 games, had 650 plate appearances, scored 92 runs, stole 64 bases, had 24 doubles, 12 triples, walked 31 times, had 34 RBI, a .289 batting average, and a .326 On-Base Percentage. Aside from the triples and stolen bases, which led all of baseball, Gordon could have gone unnoticed unless you are a fan of the Dodgers.
Looking to find the reliever that could put his team over the top in 2013, Jesse picked up Jason Grilli of the Pittsburgh Pirates after his hot start. Prior to the 2013 season, Grilli had collected five saves, a 4.34 ERA, 1.413 WHIP, and a 1.96 Strikeout to Walk Ratio in 10 seasons. The Pirates returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1992 and having a shutdown closer like Grilli helped them secure the Wild Card. Grilli had an All Star season with 33 saves, a 2.40 ERA, 1.040 WHIP, and 5.69 Strikeout to Walk Ratio. “Discovering” Grilli during his best season has led Jesse, John, and me to follow his career as it has moved forward. I hope that Grilli has a few more good seasons, but if not we were able to appreciate his greatest season while it was in progress.
After learning that Charlie Blackmon went to one of the local high schools near his house, John did the dutiful thing and picked him up. The 2014 season was Blackmon’s first full season in the Majors and it turned out an All Star year. He hit .288, with 19 homeruns, 72 RBI, 28 steals, 82 runs scored, 27 doubles, 31 walks, and an On-Base Percentage of .335. Not much in his stat line leaps out at you except for the steals. However, digging a little deeper and you see that Blackmon had 171 hits in 648 plate appearances. His batting average can be a bit deceptive, as it masks the success Blackmon had at the plate. The simple connection that occurs, like growing up in the same area, can help you “discover” players that you might otherwise overlook.
I generally cheer for all players; if they make a great play it does not dissuade my excitement even if they are playing against my team. There are exceptions though, mainly Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun both for their PED use and their lies about their PED usage. I was at the game in Yankee Stadium against the San Francisco Giants when Rodriguez broke Lou Gehrig’s career Grand Slam record. The entire stadium went nuts because it was a big home run in a big moment, but I knew what it meant and I just could not bring myself to cheer. I felt the pit in my stomach, which only sadness can bring. People did not understand the moment; they focused only on that single game. This singular focus on winning also seems to exist within fantasy sports in general. You are trying to win this week, so you are not so much concerned about next week or next year. People who become overly obsessed with their fantasy sports begin to root against their team, because someone on the opposing team in on their fantasy team. I have personally seen this and heard stories of this, which boggled my mind. I root for my teams and this will not change. I want the players to do well, but if I have to choose, I want the team I cheer for the win more than my fantasy team.
I understand that ultimately this allegiance to real life teams and players is in its own way a fantasy. However, it is a fantasy that does not continuously change. Once I begin cheering for a team or player, they have to do something terrible for me to stop, and I do not mean wins and losses. My dislike for Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun is because they both cheated and then lied about cheating multiple times, not the uniform they wear. Honesty goes a long way for me. Even if a player like a Rick Ankiel, when he was still a pitcher, clearly can no longer play at a Major League level, I will not stop rooting for them so long as they are honest and give it their best effort. Ultimately, every player deserves to be treated as a person, so why would I boo someone who is struggling, yet trying their best?
Fantasy Baseball has expanded the sport for me. It has exposed me to a slew of great players, who I may otherwise have never seen or noticed. Some see fantasy as a way to ruin the game, but for me Fantasy Baseball has made me a better fan of the entire game. The improvements of teams like the Mets the past few years or a player like Casey McGehee, and his career year last season, allow me to love baseball more and to be a true fan of the game, not just or a few teams. Fantasy Baseball is what you allow it to be, and for me it has allowed me to look into the game of baseball like never before.