Sunday doesn't just herald the start of the new MLB season. Thousands of Fantasy leagues will kick off in earnest as well.
Fantasy Baseball is taken ridiculously seriously in the States. Over the past month or so, many baseball websites and blogs have been full of details about fantasy drafts. Who you should pick. Who you should avoid. How much you should spend on certain players. What sort of tactics you should employ. I've read articles about player injuries written solely from the perspective of Fantasy Owners, which seems strange to say the least. It reaches the point where you wonder if some of the players would actually enjoy baseball if they didn't have a fantasy team to keep them interested.
Consequently, I have always viewed fantasy baseball with some scepticism. Fortunately, Fantasy Baseball UK has been able to change my mind. They run a fantastic competition which can appeal to all British baseball fans. It is complex enough for people who really want to get their teeth into it. But at the same time, it is still completely accessible (and most importantly, enjoyable) to casual participants.
I first became aware of the Fantasy Baseball UK competition through the team on Five. The site's connection with Five is yet another reflection on the wonderful community of British Baseball fans. Managers of the week/month are regularly highlighted during their coverage, and the ultimate winner is invited to appear as a guest on the show. Jonny and the gang regularly discuss the competition because they have teams in it themselves, and it's yet another source of the banter between the presenters and us fans that makes the coverage so enjoyable.
This time last year, I finally decided to give it a go. I convinced myself that I wouldn't become too obsessive about it, and then promptly spent half an hour trying to decide what my team should be called! I eventually settled for Norfolk Oak, combining my county with my MLB team (so there was some logic behind it at least).
There are two main opposing schools of thought about fantasy baseball. The “For” camp claim that playing fantasy baseball increases your knowledge of the players and helps you to take a greater interest in MLB as a whole. When I first attempted to pick my team I was struck by how many players there were who I knew very little about! Sure, I knew the big name players and the ones who played for the major teams, but on the whole my knowledge was fairly limited. That changed greatly over the course of last season thanks to playing fantasy baseball.
Those who are against fantasy baseball claim that the game creates a conflict of interests. Anything that gets in the way of supporting your team is a bad thing in their eyes. I can understand the concerns, but they were unfounded in my case. I'm an A's supporter first and foremost and at no point did I find myself thinking; “I'm glad Mark Teixeira just hit a three run bomb off Zito, that'll get me a load of points”! Just as importantly, I didn't have any problem ignoring players (or entire teams in truth) due to simply not liking them. The real sport comes first, and where would sport be without petty grudges and irrational dislike!
I guess the main point is that when it comes to fantasy baseball, you can play the game you want to play. Whether your team's fortunes are extremely important, or it's all just a bit of fun, it's up to you. There's no right or wrong to it really, just what gives you the most enjoyment.
So, how did my first year go? To be honest, I shocked myself by doing well. I finished top of the A's sub-division (by a “massive” 5 point margin), and I somehow managed to hold on to a top ten spot overall, finishing ninth (out of 3415 participants, which is a tremendous figure for a British baseball league). I didn't always know what I was doing! Some times I made an effort to check how my players had done every day, and then laboured over who I would axe and who I would add to my line-up. I also went through phases during the season when my enthusiasm waned a little, resulting in me keeping hold of a few players for several weeks whilst they were injured. Not that these lost points bothered me much. I really enjoyed my first ever fantasy season and my team's performance was secondary to that, and will continue to be so. If you want to be competitive about your team then go ahead (and good luck in the upcoming season). Fantasy Baseball is not the be all and end all for me, it's just an added way to enjoy the sport.
I've signed up again this year and I will be writing progress reports on my fortunes throughout the season. If you are reading this blog and you haven't visited the site, http://www.fantasybaseballuk.com/ , go and take a look. The competition is free (unless you want to enter more than one team, and even then it's only £4-99 for each extra team) and the format for selecting your team is very user friendly. The full competition doesn't start until May 1st. This allows more people to join up (especially thanks to early season plugs on Five) without being disadvantaged in the standings. The site links to an excellent Forum where you can find out tips and ask questions.
I'm not really the best person to ask for advice, as I don't really have any theories or suchlike. I guess the one obvious bit of advice would be to take a good look at the rules so that you have an understanding of the points scoring process (which has changed this year). Other than that, just give it a go. Good luck to you all.