Regulars know I don’t cover the baseball side of baseball. If I write about baseball, it’s about the bidness of baseball: owners, stadium extortions, and making the game safe for rich people. I haven’t followed the sport of baseball since I was 12.
I did figure that was my problem, not baseball’s. So, before 2003 spring training I wrote a column asking readers to tell me what it is about three hours of athletic tedium they find interesting and requested a path of instruction so I could enjoy the tedium, too. I know how the game is played; I wanted to learn how the game is enjoyed.
Readers were generous, many wrote in, and in the way of these things, on another track altogether, within days of that column’s publication, I became a member of Valhalla & Great Western Fantasy Baseball League. My participation in said fantasy-baseball league began as an effort for self-improvement. That, alone, should have warned me off.
The Valhalla & Great Western Fantasy Baseball League, that year, was made up of eight men, at least one of whom had been participating in said fantasy-baseball league since its creation in 1984.
As I wrote at the time, “Consider, for a moment, the enormity of the following statement: eight men staring across the same table, making trades, drafting players, misrepresenting their strategies, for 21 years. Wives come and go. Jobs come and go. Children are born, toilet trained, sent off on big yellow buses to their first day of school, flunk English, manage a first date, wreck the family car, breed, graduate from high school, even, by god, graduate from college, and all the while, in the background, eight men huddle around a big, plank farm table drinking hard liquor, drafting players, and talking baseball.” Of course, it wasn’t always the same eight people, but you get the idea.
I can tell you my first draft day was an odious experience. Draft day, for me, was sitting at a table with eight idiot savants who only spoke baseball. Eight hours. Each man drafted five starting pitchers, three relievers, infielders, a catcher, three outfielders, a designated hitter, backups, and more. So, it’s 20 selections per man times eight men equals 160 rounds of bidding. I recognize no baseball names other than Mickey Mantle. It was fucking endless.
Eight hours of listening to what at first sounds like English, except none of the sentences make sense. I was harangued by people who would only talk on one topic. This horde of baseball thugs made incomprehensible baseball observations over and over and over again, which continued, it seemed at the time, every day, all day, all night, all through spring, summer, and fall by way of a ceaseless avalanche of baseball emails. Finally, it ended, at the gates of November, after the World Series was devoured.
I did not return to the league for eight years. Can report that I have just finished the 2012 draft and things have changed.
Not my relationship to the game. I still know nothing about baseball. Still don’t follow it. Never watch it on TV. Never listen to it on the radio. Don’t read about it in the morning paper. What’s changed over the past nine years is getting to know all the participants in the league, which, by the way, is now in its 29th year. I don’t dislike anyone, like most of them, am friends with some. Friends as in Christmas-present-giving, Thanksgiving-dinner-eating, bike-riding, poker — in other words, friends-friends, life-beyond-baseball friends.
At the draft table this year I was as ignorant as ever, but filling that breach is my resolute iPad, and, residing within it, a dandy program that tells me when to draft players I’ve never heard of. This allows me to fit in, at least a little bit, and more importantly, not to impede the flow of the draft, not draft players who don’t play the position one is drafting for, but to draft players who are actually on a roster, who have not died, and who remain, at least for the moment, at liberty.
New, too, is realizing I enjoy the enthusiasm of my fellow league members. Although I wouldn’t want to do this more than once a year, it is a pleasure to spend a day with people who are sincere fans. They like baseball, they know the game, and they have fun with it. I like being around people who have great enthusiasms — it usually doesn’t matter what activity that enthusiasm is attached to. In this case, it’s baseball. Fine by me, and baseball has the added bonus of guaranteeing league members reliable fun that’s good for the next six months.
Pitch well, Koji Uehara.