Thursday, February 17, 2005

The true harbinger of the coming baseball season...

Oh wondrous day! Oh happy occasion! I now have completely verifiable and indisputable confirmation that the Major League Baseball season is nearly here. How do I know this? Well yes, it's true that Spring Training camps have just opened.

But the REAL harbinger of the coming season was the invitation I received by email today to join the Fantasy Baseball League run by my brother-in-law. I've already purchased my first 2005 Fantasy Baseball Guide and am beginning to prepare for the draft to be held on March 19th. Though I've been a baseball fan for most of my years (originally for the Detroit Tigers and now for the Chicago White Sox), this will be only my second season playing Fantasy Baseball.

Last year, being a rookie at this, I had to learn many new strategies. Do I pick up a .500 pitcher for a single week (but who was scheduled for two starts, both of them at home) or do I let one of my studs pitch (but his single scheduled start was on the road)? Or, do I let my 1st baseman, a career monster player (but in a year-long slump) start for one more week or bench him in favor of somebody who is a career .240 hitter (but for the past two weeks has been tearing the cover off the ball)? The learning curve is steep and it took me about a half-season before I felt that I could well-justify the roster moves I was making. And it showed in the standings. I got clobbered for most of the games in the first half of the season, but won slightly more than half of the games after the All-Star break. This league has a 28 game season (one game per week) and my goal this year is to finish above .500 - at least 15-13.

A very good buddy of mine, and a much more learned sports fan than I am, declined when I tried to convince him to join the league with me. He said that "you have to pay way too much attention at that to be successful". And this is true - this is not an activity you can succeed in if you're not willing to spend at least a few hours a week on it. But for me, it's a labor of love.

I've always been a baseball fan. I love Baseball. Baseball is something I grew up with. I understand the game. I know that "the tie goes to the runner" is a myth. I know a way to fix the strike-zone problem. I grew up playing in Peanut League, then Little League and finally Pony League. When I lived in Saudi Arabia, I played on various softball teams over there. There's continuity in our family with baseball. I played on a team that my dad managed and my son has played on a team that I've coached. I remember sitting with my Dad in our back yard in a suburb outside of Chicago in the late 50's while he tried to tune in our AM Radio to Ernie Harwell broadcasting the Detroit Tigers game. I remember our family going to old Comiskey Park when the Tigers were in town. I love taking my son to the new Comiskey Park; the trip is a hike for us (over an hour each way). So we just go on special occasions, like his birthday (or when the Twins are in town). I buy the expensive seats on so that we can get closer to the game. When I visit my mom in Arkansas, one of the highlights of our day is watching the Cubs game (she's a huge Cubs fan) on WGN.

I remember running into my boss's office in 1968 to let him know that the Tigers had won the World Series (by beating Bob Gibson in the 7th game), only to have to slink out when I realized that he had clients with him. I remember watching Carlton Fisk, in the 1975 World Series against the Reds, hit the most dramatic home run I've ever seen in a World Series game. I remember sitting in a bar in 1977 with my buddy (and the bartender) Dutch, watching Reggie Jackson hitting 3 home runs in a single World Series game. I remember being in Saudi Arabia in 1984 and following the Detroit Tigers 35-5 start in route to winning the World Series. I remember watching Kirk Gibson, so hurt he could barely walk, hit a walk-off home run agains the A's in the 1988 World Series. I remember Frank Thomas's game-winning home run against the Twins in the 12th inning last year and Ken Harrelson's call; "High and Deep ... Way Back ... They look up ... You can put it on the Board ........ YES!!" I collected baseball cards. Among my prize possesions is an Al Kaline (old number 6) bobble-head doll, a gift from a good friend and a signed Al Kaline baseball card, a gift from another good friend. I love Baseball movies, even corny ones like "Angels in the Outfield". In "Field of Dreams", when James Earl Jones gave his soliloquy on the magic of baseball, I felt as though he was speaking directly to me. I much prefer a 2-1 outcome over a 15-11 one. And I feel sorry for people who say that baseball is "too slow" or "too boring". They truly don't have a clue as to what's going on.

So, happy spring (training) everyone. May all my pitchers perform like Curt Schilling and may all my hitters perform like Carlos Beltran. And may the Hackers be victorious this year...

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