My name is Michael Brendan Dougherty and I have a problem. You see, spring training is over. The old songs and poems about baseball are dutifully repeated over AM sports radio stations. The grass is cut and smells fresh.
At this time of year I join thousands of others and welcome in the new season by sitting in front of my computer during lunch breaks, and staying up late surrounded by complicated math formulae. When I hear the word "rotisserie," I don't think of a chicken turning over a spit. Late night commercials that promise a retreat into "fantasy" are not an occasion of sin for me. They make me think of a pitcher's WHIP -- that is, walks and hits per inning pitched. I'm a fantasy baseball addict.
My interest began as a curiosity. When I had an internship in a publishing industry, the person in the neighboring cube could often be heard shouting into the phone one word, which sounded like four words: "DOM-IN-ATE-ING." He was acting like a jerk. He was blowing off the work he should have been doing. He was lording his intelligence over his friends for something that other people had done. I wanted to do the same.
For the uninitiated, fantasy baseball is no longer the domain of math-nerds with expensive Texas instrument calculators and lots of time on their hands. The game can be played by anyone for free. You pick a team of players (from all major league teams) to "play" against other teams that your friends (or co-workers or strangers) manage.
When one of your players hits a home run in a real game, he has hit one in your fantasy league and your team gets credit for it. The team with the best stats wins. ESPN.com and other sites are still allowing people to form or join leagues.
At first, I rejected invitations to play. I told myself, I would be a pure fan. Fantasy baseball threatened to corrupt this. For the good of my fake-franchise I would have to choose Phillies and Yankees. If I chose a closing pitcher in the National League East I would find myself slightly consoled when my team, the Mets, failed to make a comeback in the ninth inning against them. I knew I would start to sound like a crazy person.
Watching games that never would have interested me in the past I would shout at bartenders, "No! Leave the Blue-Jays game on! Don't you understand? I OWN Alex Rios!"
THE GROWTH OF fantasy baseball has exploded. ESPN has an entire staff of writers dedicated to writing about it. There are television shows about it. Each year BusinessWeek or TIME publishes studies that say millions of hours of work productivity are lost to NCAA brackets and fantasy baseball drafts.
If my own experience is representative, it is more like billions of hours. During Cincinnati Reds day games, I find myself trying to calculate whether Adam Dunn is in a slump. I print out 120 page "Draft Guides" on company paper using company ink. These inform me on every injury each highly rated second baseman has sustained in his career.
After I check out my e-mail at night, I flip on Baseball Tonight and keep tabs on west coast games that don't end until 1:30 in the morning. Then I spend the night dreaming that my relief pitchers will score a "hold"; that they'll come into the game in the 7th inning and maintain their team's lead. It's an obscure stat -- but we're counting them in my league this year.
The League of Ordinary Gentlemen held our draft just 7 hours before the Red Sox and Athletics opened the baseball season in Tokyo. It was a multi-hour affair complete with trash-talking. I hadn't slept in three nights.
I winced as others selected players like Nats third basemen, Ryan Zimmerman, just seconds before I could. I laughed triumphantly as I nabbed Baltimore Orioles closer George Sherrill in the third to last round.
My team is called the Dublin Downers, after my love of Bushmills Irish whiskey. And there are only four words I can think of to describe them: DOM-IN-ATE-ING!
I have a problem.