On Sunday I along with nine men, who were complete strangers to me, gathered in Slattery’s pub in Dublin, for a unique experience for Irish sports fans.
Fantasy Football has been a huge promotional tool for the English Premiership over the past 17 or so years. Fantasy American Football has done likewise Stateside. Both have given more reason for fans to care about more games and players. Both provide a tough but enjoyable challenge fans’ ability to make the right call on a week to week basis.
Neither compares to the complexity of Fantasy Baseball. The types of league vary far more as do the scoring systems. All games share one thing in common; you will never be saved by a superstar. Scoring systems are designed to maximise the tactical challenge for players, known as team owners, requiring consistency across a broad field of categories to secure victory. This becomes even more of a challenge when the average squad requires in and around 28 players.
With the opening day of the 2010 Major League season just over a week away the 10 members of the Fantasy Baseball League of Ireland held their draft in the Dublin pub over four hours of intense head scratching. Given Baseball’s popularity in the US live drafts are commonplace amongst fans of the game but it’s not quite so easy to do so in Ireland where the sport enjoys a much smaller fan-base. The organiser, Andrew, found me via Foot.ie. He said it was the first time he was ever able to secure a draft in Dublin where all 10 team owners were able to appear in person.
At 3pm the action got underway with picks in the early rounds coming in thick and fast. My decision to spend an early pick on Boston catcher Victor Martinez surprised most of the room as catchers tend to not contribute that much in scoring. This however was a rookie league and I wanted to lock down quality in a position where contributors were few and far between.
The early rounds wore on and for a while nobody made the critical error of drafting a player that had already been drafted; an act punishable by being forced to redo that pick only after the 28 round process was complete. Etiquette was simple enough; once a player made a pick comments were far game. Most of the early calls were minor surprise or the odd slagging then it came. With one of the last picks of the 14th round an owner drafted an already drafted player, losing a valuable mid-round pick.
As a Fantasy Baseball rookie I was happy enough with how matters were progressing and my mood was lifted further when in the 15th round I shocked the room with two words: Kurt Suzuki. The cries of disgust and pain meant I made the call at the right time, taking one of the few remaining solid catchers to shore up that position early and giving me room to take risks elsewhere.
And oh how I took some risks. Like I said, fantasy games help those playing to learn more about the real-life players. Despite being an avid fan, I lacked the encyclopaedic knowledge of my counterparts. The 57 A4 sheets in front of me couldn’t save me from the odd strange call and the other owners let me know it. K-Rod early? Brad Lidge at all? And of all the Yankees pitchers AJ Burnett?
It was in these middle rounds where the action really got under way. Players took longer thinking on their picks. A few that didn’t made errors and were forced to re-pick at the end of the draft. More made the more common error of waiting too long to draft a player they want. Waiting on Scott Kazmir and JD Drew cost me but I was far from the only one rueing lost opportunities
Well we won’t know if the smart calls are dumb or the dumb ones inspired until the games actually get under way. We’ll have occasional updates throughout the season to let you know how the Belfield Hole in Sox perform.