Acknowledge your addiction, fantasy fans, then follow me



September 23, 2005|By CHILDS WALKER

I'm one of you.

I maintain a reasonably normal veneer, going to work, watching movies, doing errands at my wife's behest.

But deep down, in places I only talk about with others who share my affliction, I'm a total degenerate - not for booze or the ponies, but for fantasy sports.

After years of acting as if fantasy sports didn't exist (I found only a few articles explicitly about fantasy football or baseball since 1990), The Sun is acknowledging that make-believe games are a major part of the way we enjoy real games.

So I'll be joining you in this space each week to discuss what's going on in the fantasy world, which includes some 15 million players, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Some weeks, the column will focus on nuts-and-bolts stuff - sleeper picks, trade strategy, etc.

But I'm just as interested in the phenomenon of fantasy sports, how it's become part of work culture and the business of sports. I like stumbling across new games, and I'll tell you about them. And since I get paid to read the magazines and Web sites you have to hide from your bosses, I'll try to guide you to the best ones.

Here's a little background so you know where I'm coming from.

I started my first fantasy baseball league in 1989, while in the seventh grade at Gilman.

I remember a few things from that draft. I spent a ridiculous $118 of my $260 budget on an outfield of Tony Gwynn, Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis. My buddy John bid me up on Will Clark, who was my favorite National Leaguer then. So I snagged Gwynn, his favorite, in a vengeful turnabout. A kid named Josh threw a slice of pepperoni pizza on my bedroom floor.

I won that first year, beating my best friend, Avniel, by a half point, though God knows my hand-written statistics, culled from well-worn copies of the Tuesday edition of USA Today, might have been erroneous. I still have the spiral notebook, so I guess I could go back and check but ... nah.

Anyway, I had gotten the taste and, but for a few angsty teenage years, I've played ever since, spreading out to football, basketball, hockey and even simulated games using retired ballplayers.

Like a lot of you, I remember my best gambits, a $1 Jeff Bagwell when he was a rookie, a $2 Jake Peavy just last year. And some not so good ones, like a second-round pick blown on Steve Young in 1999, when he threw a whopping three touchdowns in his NFL swan song.

I get excited when the first baseball preview guide arrives in December. I carry a knot in my stomach in the days before my big drafts. And after drafting ends, I feel drained, like I just took the SATs or something.

The fact I care so much is crazy, of course, and a sign that even in these harrowing times, we have it way too good.

Fantasy obsession is hard to explain to those who don't play. But it's good for sports. Fantasy games make fans better - more knowledgeable, more engaged.

Critics say they turn you against the home team and convert something that was warm and communal into something cold and materialistic.

Bunk, I say.

So what if an Orioles fan watching the team play the Yankees this week was hoping for a good start from Aaron Small? At least he knows who Small is and was paying attention to a game that's meaningless to the home team.

Entertainment is about engagement, and few species of consumers are more engaged than fantasy players. So let's have some fun talking about our mutual obsession.

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