Fantasy sports have been in the news plenty in the last few months. The debate continues over whether Daily Fantasy is gambling, and if so how to regulate it. I personally have never partaken in Daily Fantasy or gambling in general just because I have no real interest. However, playing season long fantasy baseball is great, as it allows me to follow players and teams outside of my normal fandom. The league I play in, Infield Lies, along with the rest of The Winning Run, and others does not play for money. We play for something far more important than money, bragging rights.
This year we did an in-person live draft, except that Bernie couldn’t attend because of a tiny obstacle – a 10-hour one-way drive. Having previously done the draft online, the live draft was a much different experience. Our draft is fairly early for most people who play fantasy baseball, most people seem to get distracted by College Basketball in March. This year, however we held our draft in mid-March, later than usual as we had to work around people’s schedules. Typically, our league tries to hold the draft before Spring Training games begin. Blind drafting in a way, you do not get the advantage of watching who is hot and healthy through Spring Training. Researching and reading what experts are saying about the players poised to have breakout seasons shape who you draft and when. You cannot avoid a player who gets injured before the season either. Constantly reinventing your team separates people and gives the league more competition as it reduces the dumb luck factor.
The completed draft board. Somewhere on here is a championship team. (The Winning Run)
The live draft was different though. We still followed the same process as previous years, but with much more screaming and yelling in person. My perfect team was ruined by the other people, because they are spiteful and decided they wanted good players too. Among the many strange occurrences during the draft, the most odd was Jesse’s 7th Round pick of Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs. Schwarber is an excellent pick, especially when healthy, however Jesse failed to realize that Schwarber had been picked in the 4th Round. As he verbalized his displeasure, it turned to laughter as we had to tell Jesse that in the 4th Round he, Jesse, had picked Kyle Schwarber. Special.
The later into the draft you get the more cross over you have between teams, in terms of who you want. In the early rounds you are basically grabbing the best player available. The middle rounds are about grabbing the remaining stars. My own moment in the sun occurred in the 14th Round when I selected Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles. A solid closer, but there was a tiny problem, it was not my turn. I had not only skipped ahead of one person, but two. Britton was gone when my turn came, though I did get Glen Perkins so I cannot complain. Oops.
The Phillies draft room looks much more composed and formal than our draft room. (www.grantland.com)
The late rounds are reserved for grabbing players to fill a void and for taking a gamble on a hot prospect or veteran. Bernie selected Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees in the final round. A player Jesse had seen play only a day earlier when he was in Tampa. The Yankees sent Judge to their minor league camp the day after our draft. Sometimes you strike gold, and sometimes you hit the waiver wire. It is worth the gamble to grab the hot prospect if you can/and know to. Last year Jesse grabbed Kris Bryant. He had an undermanned team for a few weeks, but having Bryant around definitely helped Jesse throughout the season.
Then there is John’s 11th Round selection of J.P. Arencibia. A fine player with the Blue Jays for several years. However, before we allowed John to select him we had to double check he was on a major league roster, which he is. John made a clever pick with the backup catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. Later when it was time to enter our draft selections into the online league program, it would not recognize Arencibia as a major league player. Sorry about your luck and wasted draft pick, John.
I love fantasy baseball for what it is, a game that gives me an additional excuse to talk baseball with my friends all season long. Every one of us wants to beat the others, but ultimately our league is about having fun and gaining a more holistic view of the Majors. The rise of Charlie Blackmon, John alerted us to that a few years back. Jesse alerted us to Billy Hamilton as he made his way through the minors. Bernie brought us to Andrew Miller well before the media. I found Jose Altuve’s speed while looking for a good contact hitter. Fantasy baseball can help put you ahead of the curve before the media starts talking about a player. Why not enjoy an extra season or two of a potential future superstar?
The Infield Lies tropy, the prize at the end of each fantasy season. (The Winning Run)
Fantasy baseball is a fun game that makes the game of baseball more than just your local team. It allows those who want to learn about the game to access the game like nothing else. I love playing with my friends, and each of us will do everything we can to beat each other each week and to win the championship. As the season is has just begun I will say a final good luck to everyone playing fantasy baseball, especially Jesse, John, and Bernie as I attempt to turn my back to back championships into a three-peat championship. It is good to be the king.
2X defending Infield Lies Champion
2015 has been a wonderful year for baseball. Baseball has been everywhere from Spring Training and Opening Day to playing catch in the backyard and playing a friendly season of fantasy. The big moments like the Royals winning the World Series can be just as special as feeling the pop of the ball when it hits your glove. Everyone experiences baseball differently. As 2015 comes to an end the staff of The Winning Run wanted to share our best moments from baseball in 2015.
Spending three days going through the National Baseball Hall of Fame was the highlight of 2015 for me. I literally moved inch by inch through the museum, reading every plaque and sign, look at every picture and artifact on display. Seeing everything from the baseball used in the first game in which spectators had to pay to watch, to the glove used by Willie Mays to make The Catch, to the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery. Three days and at least 24 hours may seem like an extraordinarily long time to spend inside of a museum, however when it was time to leave Cooperstown I found myself rushing to finish seeing everything.
Visiting Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame only increased my passion for the game. While the museum is just a building and Cooperstown is just a small town, there is something magical about both. 2015 has been a year of transitions for me personally and professionally. Visiting Cooperstown allowed me to be a kid again, even for a weekend. Walking through the Hall of Fame with the same wide eyes I have had since I first fell in love with the game only solidified why baseball is and forever will be special.
Fantasy baseball. I was mesmerized by Madison Bumgardner and the SF Giants in the 2014 World Series and was really excited to get back into watching baseball in 2015. Fantasy was such a pleasure because it helped me keep on track with news and yet had to pace myself to get through the week and season. There were plenty of great baseball moments but the overall winner that made the experiences more enjoyable started with playing fantasy baseball this season.
So 2015 is almost over and we think back on what a year it was. That’s a tough assignment when I’m sitting outside grilling in shorts in the last week of December. I should have a baseball game on instead of Christmas lights. But this does aid in recapping my best memory of baseball this season.
This season was my year of watching it on tv. I did not get a chance to travel and catch any games and only saw a handful of Atlanta and Gwinnett Braves games. A lot happened around the league but I’m going to share a personal trip to a Gwinnett Braves game in June. I remember the day because I was stuck on the stairs watching Max Sherzer flirt with perfection. I took the family to what turned out to be Back to the Future Night at the stadium so it was fairly attended. I got us seats down the first base line but in the outfield part that juts back into the field. I brought my glove this time and was determined to catch a foul even with the pessimist behind me ho thought no baseball could make it that far. As luck would have it a foul came my way in the fourth and I made a pretty spectacular play in my opinion and snagged in on the fly while crashing onto someone who ran into our row. I high fived and showed the girls our souvenir much to their non-caring.
By the seventh they mentioned the silent auction going on for the jerseys the home team was wearing for the promotion, so after conferring with our other writer Jesse, who’s as much a Back to the Future fan as a baseball fan, I decided to try my luck. I brought the older child and found a relief pitcher with no bids. I bid with a few minutes left and had the child stand in front and smile at other potential bidders. This guy was ours. We won, paid and were told to come back so we could go on the field to aquire our winnings. I brought the family unit down, hung out til the final out, and then was allowed on field to wait for our guy and his “game worn” jersey that did all of allowing him into the bullpen without credentials. He autographed the jersey for the girls and even signed my fly ball from earlier.
Even though the game was only seen by the crowd in attendance and didn’t help the standings at all, it brought memories and a story I can share for many years to come. I believe baseball is more than just what is happening in the majors or in the headlines. It’s about experiences and sharing your enjoyment of the sport with the ones you love. I am happy that my best memory of 2015 was personal and shared with my family. Happy New Year.
The best things that I ended up doing and/or experiencing baseball related in the year of our Lord, two thousand and fifteen are as follows (dates and order are questionable at best) Any pics that aren’t noted as being borrowed from the internets were taken myself or another member of the Winning Run. Enjoy.
For such a small town, the amount of fun that I had there was better than I could have expected. Only thing I’m disappointed about is that I didn’t see the ball that Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez busted the guts out of.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York (The Winning Run)
Walking among the legends of baeball. (The Winning Run)
Otsego Lake, a short walk from Main Street and the Hall of Fame. (The Winning Run)
Baseball game for my Dad’s birthday
Managed to score some pretty low seats at the Braves on the 3rd base side for my dad’s birthday. Just went with my mom and dad. We were low enough that we were able to see Ron Gant a few rows in front of us. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to check his Twitter account very often. I was hoping to get a pic of him and Dad together.
Jesse enjoying a Braves game with the parents on Dad’s birthday. (The Winning Run)
In a quote I picked up the pages of history (not sure if it comes from Napoleon or Stalin, don’t care) “quantity has a quality all its own.” Thanks to the beauty of online retail and a secondary ticket market, I was able to see a MUCH larger number of MLB games this year. Yay internets.
Thunder and lightning on and off the diamond in Atlanta. (The Winning Run)
The sky was on fire. (The Winning Run)
It is never a bad day if it is spent at the ballpark. (The Winning Run)
The Force is strong with these Tomahawks. (The Winning Run)
After working in an unairconditioned shop in the middle of summer near the exact center of the Everglades (the place was exactly 2 hours from EVERYWHERE in Florida, a true geographic anomaly), I decided to drive to Miami and look for Will Smith. I didn’t run into him, sadly, but I did manage to go to a Marlins game and have very low seats. I was probably as close to Ichiro as I’ll ever be, and that was titillating all on its own. Also, if for nothing else, the bobblehead museum is worth the ticket price.
Inside Marlins Park, watching Ichiro up close and personal. (The Winning Run)
The Bobblehead Museum at Marlins Park in all its glory. (The Winning Run)
Minor League Baseball
Minor League Baseball is my jam. I love the stuff. I can’t say that there is a better bang for your buck in the entertainment world. This year I managed to sit directly behind the net at the local team (the Gwinnett Braves), thanks to buying an A/C, I saw a dog act as ball boy AND run the bases (Myrtle Beach Pelicans), and I walked up to a craft beer and unlimited hot dog night (Chattanooga Lookouts). That was a fun night on the Twitters. It was a good thing that I was only walking two blocks back to the hotel that night.
The batboy for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans at work. (The Winning Run)
Watching the Chattanooga Lookouts play on a warm summer eveing. (The Winning Run)
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans shoot to thrill. (The Winning Run)
Baseball, beer, and hot dogs. What more do you need? (The Winning Run)
Enjoying a lookouts game and a beer. (The Winning Run)
No food is more baseball than hot dogs. (The Winning Run)
Fantasy Baseball has become a great way to sit and talk about the minutia of the day’s baseball awesomeness. This year I managed to get my girlfriend, and now wife, talked into playing. Once she got the basics of what should be going on, she became dangerous. Dammit.
I’ve only watched a few college games live, but this year’s first game was at Gardner-Webb University. Yay baseball’s back.
The 2015 playoffs were some of the most enjoyable to watch in a long time. I simultaneously wanted the Cubbies to win to fulfil their Back to the Future density (yes I meant “density”. Watch Back to the Future if you don’t get it), but I longed for the curse to stay in tact at the same time. Daniel Murphy seemed to be able to do no wrong (until the WS at least). Then there was the “slide” Take a look at the pic, you’ll remember it.
My now son/stepson/boogerface (still working on the naming conventions) confided in me that his favorite team wasn’t the Braves. Mind you that he isn’t much for baseball, of which I intend to learn him in the ways of the base on balls, but he came to me in a bit of a quiet tone to inform me that he liked the Marlins. I was a little take aback, UNTIL I heard the reasoning. His favorite player is Ichiro. He likes the way he tugs at his shirt when he comes to the plate. Sounds like a great reason to me.
Hell Froze Over
Citi Field. It was cold. We were in the nosebleed. It was cold. We rode the 7 train. It was cold. It was cold.
I found a complete set of Fleer baseball cards from 1989 at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore (kinda like a Goodwill for non clothing stuff). Welcome to the Bigs Mr.Griffey. Also, I sadly got the edited version of Billy Ripken’s card. So close.
My First True Doubleheader
Manage to make it to my first true MLB doubleheader on the last day of the regular season. That seems like an awesome way to go into the dark dreary non baseball time of year.
It’s a beautiful day for baseball, let’s play two. Lots of fans came dressed as empty seats. (The Winning Run)
I got a baseball signed by Matt Cain to go along with my ticket from my perfect game. Time to make a display for that awesomeness.
The Nationals didn’t win.
2015 was the most exciting and successful year for The Winning Run. There was so much in and around baseball that we were able to experience. Baseball is special in that you can always feel like a kid even when you have played, watched, and followed the game for decades. While it is impossible to see and experience everything that makes baseball wonderful, we will not stop in our quest to achieve the impossible. We hope our efforts in sharing our love and knowledge of the game have added to your enjoyment of baseball in 2015.
Happy New Year,
The Winning Run
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.