Can a fantasy sports team wreck your love of baseball?

Late in tonight’s ballgame between the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays, slugging Carlos Pena came up with two men on and a chance to break a scoreless tie and give the Rays the victory. I was listening to the game on the car radio on  my way home from work, and I faced a deep philosophical choice.

Carlos Pena
Carlos Pena

Do I pull for Pena, one of the stalwarts on one of my fantasy baseball teams? Or do I root for the A’s, a team I’ve followed as my “home team” for most of the past two decades?

I stuck with the A’s, who – amazingly – retired Pena, pushed the game into extra innings and won it in the 11th with a rare outburst of four runs.

I’m a casual fantasy player, and oddly I seem to fare worst in baseball, the sport I played the most and know the best. Maybe that somehow underscores the tussle in my psyche between pulling for a real team versus a fake one. Or maybe I just suck at fantasy baseball.

I do wonder how the ballplayers react when a fan at a road game comes up and says: “Dude, I’ve got you on my fantasy team. You gotta start hitting.”

What cheek.

When I was a kid – and I’m just old enough to remember the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators as expansion teams – I could recite the starting lineups of the American League teams. I had a fair knowledge of the National League lineups, too. With 30 teams in the leagues today, and with players changing uniforms multiple times over a career, it’s awfully tough to keep track. (Fernando Tatis is still playing, and he’s a Met???)

But trolling the fantasy baseball stats helps me know who’s where in real time, better than the stacks of Topps baseball cards I used to sort meticulously team by team. Managing fantasy hockey teams has certainly deepened my knowledge of the stars and muckers of that great sport, and for that I’m grateful. In fact, it was the EA Sports NHL video games that really helped me get a handle on the players and teams when my interest in hockey surged back full-tilt.

Is fantasy baseball pure and true? No, not even close. But how can anything that brings you a deeper understanding and appreciation for a sport be bad?

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