A single telephone call 30 years ago marked the start of a hobby that may now border on an obsession for me.
That telephone call came on a Friday evening during the spring of my junior year in college. I was invited to participate in a fantasy baseball league the next day. In 1991, fantasy baseball was just coming into popularity and I honestly knew nothing about the game or how it was played.
My friend explained that you draft actual Major League Baseball Players to create a 23 player roster and earn points based on their performance. The teams in the league would be ranked based on their total production in five offensive categories and five pitching categories. So, every time a hitter you picked clubbed a home run or stole a base you increased your total. Pitchers earn points for statistics like wins, strikeouts and saves.
At the end of the year the team with the most points in the 10 categories is declared the winner. The idea sounded exciting and I quickly agreed to join. Falsely thinking I was pretty knowledgeable about baseball players, I spent the rest of the night writing down a list of 50 players that I thought would be good to select the next day.
Well, when the draft started, reality hit me square in the face. Those 50 players I had jotted down the night before were drafted within a half hour and I had no idea what to do to round out my team. I noticed some of the other owners attending the draft had magazines and books filled with team rosters and statistics. I knew my first year would be bad, but I was also determined to do better in the future.
That first season I finished second to last, but I learned my lesson. I was much more prepared and had a plan of attack for the second season. I bounced back to finish second overall and by that time I was hooked on the idea of fantasy sports.
During my senior year of college, a friend asked me if I wanted to help him with a fantasy basketball league. Though I am not a fan of the NBA, I agreed to partner with him on the team.
The best decision I made that season was to go to a friend of ours that was on the college basketball team and have him help us select some players to bolster our lineup. We managed to qualify for the playoffs and we considered the season to be a success.
I remained in my college baseball league for one more year before being invited to join the Clarinda Baseball League. I joined the league in 1994, one year after moving to Clarinda, and am still involved in the league. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Clarinda Baseball League managed to complete its 36th season in 2020 and preparations for the 2021 season will be starting in February.
After I was in the Clarinda Baseball League a few years, a fellow owner suggested I try my hand at fantasy football. At that time baseball was still the dominate fantasy sport, but football was quickly growing in popularity. I took his advice and signed up for a league on ESPN.
There are a couple of key differences between fantasy football and fantasy football. The most obvious is the football season consists of only 16 games compared to 162 games for baseball. The other key difference is you play a head to head game against another team in your league and compile a win-loss record instead of being ranked in the statistical categories in baseball.
In 2003, a friend and I established the Page County Football league. As interest in the game increased, we created two more leagues. The three leagues each have slight rules differences and player selection methods that create unique their own unique challenges.
Ultimately, I was invited to join two other football leagues that I have now participated in for several years. Along the way I have enjoyed various levels of success, which is what draws me back year after year.
For all the chaos associated with sports in 2020 due to the threat of COVID-19, this has undoubtedly been my most successful season of fantasy football. I made the playoffs in all five of my primary leagues. I won one league championship and was playing in the finals of two others Sunday.
Fantasy sports exploded with the rise of the Internet. It is now a major industry unto itself with countless magazines, websites, television shows, podcasts and an entire radio station dedicated to giving fantasy sports advice. Besides being a fun diversion, by studying the players and preparing for the annual drafts, I believe I have become a far more knowledgeable fan. I am familiar with the up and coming players on all the teams instead of just on my favorite team.