In a bittersweet ritual, I just bought two fantasy baseball magazines while in New York this week. Without a broadband connection, I can no longer have a fantasy team, but now it seems I am fantasizing about fantasy. How tissue-thin can this get?
Still, I enjoy imagining picking my players and creating the perfect team. As I’ve learned through losing (and sometimes winning!) fantasy contests, my version of perfection isn’t precisely mainstream. I have trouble whipping up sufficient enthusiasm for monochromatic sluggers. I’m just not too interested in Adam Dunn and Matt Holliday launching another long ball. Even Josh Hamilton’s story isn’t remarkable enough to counterbalance the tedium of at-bats that consist of a homer or not. So my fantasy teams have always been, shall we say, a tad unbalanced.
I miss constructing a team and tussling through the draft to make it come true, but it’s possible that life without broadband is shielding me from the dark consequences of fantasy baseball. When I first ventured in, I had trouble initially disconnecting myself from rooting for a team and investing myself exclusively in individuals. Soon enough, though, I was swept up in wanting Brad Radke to pitch one more ill-advised inning in pursuit of the additional points, or hoping Edgardo Alfonzo would get batted in from second. I craved stats and only stats, and often couldn’t tell you which team won or lost, only that Fernando Tatis hit a double.
Without a fantasy team, I have to go back to the real thing—actual teams that invariably have glaring weak spots. The Twins have a goodly number of them this year. The third base sinkhole is distressing, and hope as I might that Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris will somehow congeal into a single useable player, I know our batting order is going to be eerily quiet for long stretches. The Twins have quite a few players that wouldn’t even be reserves on fantasy teams, and the urgent wish for pleasant surprises may be especially futile this season.
Last year, we had several novelty factors. Would Delmon Young reclaim his titanic potential? (Um, nope.) Will Carlos Gomez make up for the Santana trade, as the only item of visible value obtained from the Mets? (Actually, kind of—he was a ton of fun to watch as he slowly acquired various life lessons about how to conduct a big-league at-bat and the all-too-real limits of bunting skills.) And can this new guy, Denard Span, replace the injured Michael Cuddyer? (Well, if you don’t mind little more than decent second baseman contact stats from your right fielder, this is your guy, but he does show nice clutch potential.)
Last season featured a fairly large overhaul of the lineup, but now we’re looking at sophomores and vets at nearly every spot. Curiosity remains, because many players are poised to advance their careers or watch them fizzle. Alexi Casilla, for example, might evolve into an excellent second baseman. Or he might sputter and stall. And the entire starting pitching crew consists of players twitching with some upside but little proof they can harness it. Some will, but to what degree?
So this will be reality baseball: if Mauer is injured, the reserve is the doughty but statistically meaningless Mike Redmond. If Morneau has one of those long RBI-less stretches, I won’t be slotting in Mark Teixeira to replace him. And I’ll be sticking with all the pitchers as they fall and rise and tire and strengthen. There will be inexplicable gusts of bad luck and good, but the team will all wear one uniform and sit in one dugout. I might wish I could have run them and made some trades, but instead I will be their fan and nothing more. I still like saying it: Twins win.