Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When Fantasy and Reality Collide

It's been well documented on this website as well as on Twitter that I am an unabashed Washington Nationals fan. During their current pivotal two week stretch against NL East foes, the Nats recently hosted the New York Mets for a 3 game series - and my loyalties came under severe personal scrutiny.

Not because I was tempted to root for the Mets. Don’t be silly. If there’s been one constant throughout my life of baseball fandom (grew up near Philadelphia rooting for the Braves thanks to TBS, became an Astros fan for a decade, and have lived in DC rooting for the Nats for the past several years) it’s been “Screw the Mets.”

However, I do have David Wright on my fantasy team.

Mr. Wright had himself a pretty fantastic series against the Nats, putting together 3 HR, 6 RBI, and a .538 batting average during the 3 game tilt. But every time he hit the ball, I didn’t know how to react. I had a similar conundrum on the 4th of July when my fantasy ace was going up against my favorite team. Bumgarner got shelled and the Nats won the game on the way to a series sweep. I was simultaneously depressed and elated.

Have you ever watched a football game at a sports bar full of people passionately rooting for the team you’re rooting against? Or watched a college hoops game with a close friend who happens to root for your arch-rival? You can’t properly celebrate big moments without jeopardizing your health, your relationship, or both. That’s how I felt inside of my own head.

It’s something that’s been bothering me for a while: When forced to choose between rooting for your fantasy team and rooting for your favorite team, what do you do?

Let’s flash forward to September 10th. Pretend you’re a diehard San Diego Chargers fan (if they exist), but you’ve got Sebastian Janikowski on your team. It’s the last game of the week and you’re down by 2 points. Coincidentally, the Chargers are holding on to a slim 23-21 lead and the Raiders are driving for a game winning field goal. What are you rooting for? Personally, I would either leave the house or start continue drinking heavily, because a true fan and fantasy addict knows damn well that, in that situation, the Raiders would score a TD to win the game and only close your fantasy margin to a more depressing one point.

Seriously though, what do you do? Some fans are committed enough to say there’s no way they’d ever draft a kicker from a division rival so they’re never put in that situation, but if you play fantasy for long enough, you’re going to eventually be in a quandary like that (unless you’re a Browns fan and the odds of getting a Monday night game are about as good as the odds that they’d be that close to winning it).

So how do you start rationalizing your way to a decision? Mathematically, you should root for your fantasy team, because a Week 1 win in fantasy carries more weight than a week 1 win in the NFL; but what about when Week 16 rolls around, your fantasy team missed the playoffs altogether, your favorite team is a game out of the playoff race, and all you can think about is that time your rooting interests contradicted your lifelong allegiance?

Thanks to a 2 year commitment to an over-priced under-performing cell phone service, I’ve come to the realization that when forced to wait a while for an app to load, I default to the fantasy app instead of the scoreboard app, and I have a feeling that I’m not alone in that decision. Does that mean I care more about my fantasy teams than my favorite teams?

Would that be so bad? After all, for all your time and emotional investment, there’s usually at least the potential for financial gain in fantasy leagues. With your favorite team, there’s about a 97% chance that you’re throwing away hundreds of dollars per season just to be disappointed in the ultimate outcome. And if they win the World Series or the Super Bowl, what do you actually get? Just the opportunity to spend more on merchandise, and an inevitable spike in ticket prices the following season.

As a lifelong fan of the Kansas City Chiefs – a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game in literally two decades – I don’t know what I would do without fantasy football. For being the middle of July, I couldn’t be more excited about this upcoming season, even though I fully expect Matt Cassel to cripple us to a 6-10 record. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what we can do with a healthy Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry after losing them both roughly 11 seconds into last season, but nowhere near as much as I’m looking forward to my fantasy football drafts and the new fantasy league that I’ll be running through SIIJ this season.

So am I a football fan or a fantasy football fan? With the NFL in particular, the fantasy has completely engulfed the sport, and I don’t even know if you can discern between the two options anymore. Certainly, there are people out there somewhere who can eat, sleep, and breathe football without being involved in any fantasy football leagues (does Adam Schefter play fantasy football?), but just look at the landscape of the sport and you’ll see it’s clearly driven with fantasy in mind.

We care less about highlights than we do about individual stat lines. There are 365 self-proclaimed fantasy analysts (myself included) for every legitimate NFL journalist (numbers estimated). If given 10 guesses, you’d most likely be able to name the 5 leading rushers from last season; if given 100 guesses, you might get 2 of the 25 guys who primarily blocked for those rushers. Not because linemen aren’t important, but because they don’t generate fantasy-able statistics.

Offensive linemen are to football what middle relievers are to baseball. As completely overblown of a statistic that a save is, if you pay any attention to the sport, you can probably name 10 people who have recorded a save this year. Can you even name 1 of the 10 guys leading the league in holds? It’s not even a sortable statistic in ESPN’s MLB stats pages, no matter how obviously crucial it is to get through the 7th and 8th innings of a 1 run game unscathed.

For all the flaws on both sides of the fence, sports and fantasy sports have always been conjoined for me. I’ve literally been playing fantasy football and fantasy baseball every year since I was 10 years old. And given the previously mentioned teams that I’ve rooted for in my life, very rarely has a situation arisen where I had to decide between rooting for my fantasy team or a playoff push. But now I’m there with the Washington Nationals. And if the push continues for another month, not only will I have to decide between rooting for my fantasy baseball team and my favorite baseball team, but I’ll have to start mixing the Chiefs and fantasy football into the fold. It’s been 7 years since I was rooting for anything in baseball in September, and I’m already wondering where I’m either going to find the time to properly root for everything I want or where I’m going to find a new job in this economy.

I don't really know what to do with this whole realization. I suppose I envision it as an introduction to a forum where we can lament the times when we've been conflicted over what to root for, to share how you avoid getting into those moral dilemmas, or propose solutions for fixing the problem altogether. I'm always open to new ideas when it comes to fantasy sports.

No comments:

Post a Comment