Like “Dr. Archibald ‘Moonlight’ Graham,” the character Burt Lancaster memorably played in Field of Dreams, I have always wanted to get a turn at bat in the major leagues. Even when I was playing Little League baseball, I dreamed about being called up to The Show. “To stare down a big league pitcher, to stare him down, and just as he goes into his windup, wink. Make him think you know something he doesn’t. That’s what I wish for,” says Moonlight Graham.
Regrettably, my Little League days are long behind me, and they weren’t especially memorable. Sure, I possessed an All-Star knowledge of how to play the game, but my execution was somewhat lacking. Fact is, I was what they call a benchwarmer. To paraphrase Billy Cook, I rode the pine so much there were splinters on my rear end.
Over the years, I resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to be a boy of summer. However, given my skill set, I convinced myself that I’d probably make an excellent Little League coach or manager. Just wait until our daughter is old enough to start playing baseball and softball, I told my wife. I’ll be able to help coach her and the other youngsters on her team.
Thing is, our daughter isn’t even old enough to be playing tee ball yet. Until then, my wife has encouraged me to use my supposed baseball smarts for the benefit of our bank account. “See if you’re as good as you think you are,” she exhorted. “Start playing fantasy baseball.”
Some 10.8 million Americans currently participate in some kind of fantasy baseball league competition, according to Forbes. Depending on the league you join, fantasy baseball can pay big dividends: the winner of NBC Sports’ national competition last year, Robert Jurney, reportedly took home $100,000.
As the Boss – – that’s Bruce Springsteen, not George Steinbrenner — says, “you can’t start a fire without a spark.” So, fresh off the $140 first-place prize my wife collected for winning her NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament office pool, which saw me put my encyclopedic knowledge of the finer points of bracketology to the test, I prepared to enter my first ever fantasy baseball drafts.
Carlton Fisk, the Hall of Fame catcher, is known for encouraging young people to “dream, and dream with your eyes open.” Inspiring stuff, to be sure, but my Walter Mitty-like persona would have none of it. As visions of Snoopy, from the Peanuts comic strip, danced through my head (“Here’s the world famous baseball manager writing out his lineup card”), I poured over player projections, rankings, and statistical analyses with a vengeance, confident in the belief that each and every one of my 10 fantasy teams were going to win their respective divisional championships.
The way I saw it, with 10 division champs playing in the post-season, I’d be assured of collecting my league’s grand prize of $10,000. Just enough to hire a contractor to build me the ultimate man cave in our basement, I reasoned.
That was the game plan, anyway.
Granted, I didn’t expect every head-to-head match-up to be a walk in the (ball) park for my clubs. But I was confident that I had selected the most talented players at each position. Of course, as ESPN’s Chris Berman regularly reminds viewers, that’s why they play the game.
Instead of vanquishing their opponents like Sherman marching through the Confederacy, most of my teams are so many games behind the division leaders that, as of this writing, I’d be happy if they each finished the season at .500.
It hasn’t helped that so many of the players I drafted this Spring have wound up injured for long periods of time. A roll call of some of the players I had to put on the disabled list reads like a patient headcount in the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Joe Maurer? He missed the first 22 games due to an inflammation of the right sacroiliac joint in his back. Carlos Delgado? Doctors removed a bone spur and repaired a labrum tear in his right hip. Ichiro Suzuki? Bleeding ulcers.
And don’t even get me started on Manny Ramirez. I’ve lost him through July because he violated Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention & Treatment Program. By the time he finishes serving his 50 game suspension, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell might be ready to reinstate Michael Vick.
What have I learned? For starters, I’ve got newfound respect for the likes of Theo Epstein, Omar Minaya, Kenny Williams, Brian Cashman, and other baseball general managers. You folks must keep plenty of bottles of Nexium handy.
Perhaps most importantly, like Dorothy Gale, if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. See, my backyard may not be Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, but it’s got grass and dirt just the same. Besides, when I see my wife and daughter there, that backyard becomes my own field of dreams.
Image credit: Churl Han, Flickr
Douglas Gladstone is a journalist by training who now works as a public information officer for a governmental agency. He and his wife, Karen, reside in New York and are the proud parents of a daughter, Jovie, who was born on the anniversary of the day they met.