Friday, August 14, 2009

Why I Hate Fantasy Baseball or What's a Fan's Real Job by Jon Vafiadis

Root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame. It is a shame. The most exciting time in sports is when two fierce rivals are about to go head to head and the love of your team is equal to that of your hate of the opponents. Analyzing every bit of minutia, figuring out match ups, and vehemently booing their stars; the level of electricity in the air is unparalleled in any other facet of life. Unfortunately, it’s dying off. The strong willed, maniacal fanaticism of hating the opponents, regardless of rivalry is definitely waning. The culprit is none other than fantasy baseball.

All team sports are very tribal in the sense that your devotion is formed at a young age and determined by those around you. Your team is the best and rest either stink or suck depending on acceptable slang of your generation. Tribes left home and traveled to neighboring villages in an effort to pillage and return home victorious. As a member of the tribe you should be supporting and cheering on your tribe regardless of the likelihood of victory.

The beauty of being a fan is that you are a fan for life. The years of missing the playoffs become instantly worthwhile in that solitary championship moment. All the heartbreak gets washed away with an irremovable smile that lasts through the offseason. It’s the collectivism of it all that makes it so potent, and yet fans are happy to sacrifice all of that in an effort to waste time every day at the office.

Fantasy baseball takes away the potency of a home late inning loss when the opposing hitter hits a three run shot and happens to be on your fantasy team. Instead of a profanity laced rant about how the manager doesn’t know what he’s doing and that he should have pulled the closer two batters ago because he didn’t have it tonight, you respond with, “oh well, but at least that’s going to put me over the top for RBI and home runs this week.” The game isn’t the only thing lost, the sense of team and community is lost. Baseball is a team sport and by rooting for individuals over the team we lose the fundamental crux of the game. You root for the uniform, not the name on the back.

Inevitably at some point in your fantasy baseball career, due to the drafting process, you will end up with a star player from your most bitter of rivals. As a result you get emotionally invested in that player’s performance and the fervor you have against his team wanes ever so slightly. As the fantasy season progresses and he comes up bigger and bigger for you in weeks that you thought were lost, it wanes some more. The next thing you know it’s the end of the season and you are now you find yourself cheerfully ambivalent to your former rival thanks to the spectacular fantasy play of their stars.

At the end of the day I have to acknowledge that fantasy baseball has some beneficial side effects such as that it makes us better fans because we follow the games that we ordinarily wouldn’t or that we track stats with a Billy Beaneesque fervor. By becoming more knowledgeable fans, who are better informed, and more insightful with our sports talk radio calls we can spread that enthusiasm to kids and even convert casual fans to die hard fans. These are all great side effects but when it comes to competition it’s the passion or the heart that puts teams over the top. Similarly it’s what makes being a fan great, the irrationality of it all. There’s no need for complex analysis or detailed argument for who you root for, it’s simple really, root for your team and against all the rest. Fantasy baseball is slowly but surely destroying that and soon enough we’ll be forced to change the lyrics to “root, root, root for whoever is on my fantasy team, if they strike out it’s a shame.”

Jon Vafiadis has yet to fulfill either of his life long dreams of playing for the 1986 Mets or punching Tim McCarver in the face during a live broadcast.

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