Cubs

Fantasy as a Reality

Fantasy as a Reality

Friday, April 30, 2010
4:43 PM

As I am once again consumed by the monster that is my rotisserie baseball team, I sometimes wonder, Am I alone? Do others have this incurable disease? Or, Who on Gods earth unleashed this evil virus on the unsuspecting masses? Well some of those questions were answered for me when I watched the revealing 30 for 30 on the W.W.L. titled, Silly Little Game. The one hour show featured the Founding Fathers of Fantasy Sports, the original members of the Rotisserie Baseball League. I found it to be funny, sad, enlightening and downright scary, all at the same time. Having a sports affliction is never an easy thing. There is always heartbreak waiting for you around every turn. What these visionaries were able to do was to offer things that we never had before, among them, control and choice, while taking a geeks love of numbers to a different level. The numbers part is at the heart of this. For as anyone who has played any game knows, playing is the real joy of it. When, for any reason, we cant play, there is still a connection by understanding what we see in a game as it is played by others. For us observers, the ability to see what happened and truly be able connect the dots on what has transpired becomes a new type of competition. In fact, it becomes the root of just about all bar arguments. Now, in a measurable way, we can test our abilities against other couch-bound warriors in a match of wits. Instead of the old, Those who cant, teach, its, Those who cant, play fantasy games!

In a truly inspired moment, Daniel Okrent was able to take his obsession with baseball and take it to another level. Actually its a little beyond that, I liken it to someone who plays the guitar hearing, or seeing, Hendrix for the first time. You can hear Jimmy, but can you HEAR Jimmy? Fascination with the numbers of baseball was not something new. This was part of its allure. But to be able to use these numbers in a way that was not as a historical reference was what was revolutionary: Using past performance, to predict future results and to quantify them in a way that you could measure your predictions against others. Well, maybe it wasnt revolutionary, bookies have been doing it since the beginning of time, but it sure was different, and fun.

By being able to select your team, is where the control and choice comes in. For fans constantly clamoring about the ability of the G.M. of their favorite team to be able to construct a roster, this was their chance to do so. The fact that you do it against a group of individuals as sick as you are ensures that there is competitive balance and also means that you have to prioritize and make choices on what is important and how you can get more of it. Just like the big boys!

But an interesting thing happened on the way to baseball nirvana and this is the part that hit close to home for me. It also amused my wife, who happened to be in the room pretending not to notice, while I watched. (Her snickers and eye roles belied her indifference!) It was the psychosis that started even before the league had formally begun. The process of selecting league members and their merit was eerily familiar. The intense preparation for the draft and then the impending sense of ineptitude and doom as it occurred would have been funny if it wasnt so true. That most of them called it the greatest and worst day is something I can truly relate to. Then the real fun begins. As I listened to one member refer to her league mates as seemingly normal, I laughed out loud. Because as I know, there is nothing normal for anyone who is involved in any sort of fantasy sport. It takes over. No, you dont understand, I mean it climbs in your head, kicks of its shoes, hops on the sofa, and announces, Im going to be here a while and theres nothing you can do about it. Oh, and by the way, Im in charge! Am I married to fantasy sports?!

My ability to watch any game has been skewed as much as it has been enhanced and when you do what I do for a living, there is no escape. For instance, I walk into the bar on Wednesday for my night shift and the Phillies-Giants game is on. My Phillies! Only they had been dominated by the Freaky Franchise all afternoon and were down in the ninth 4-1. Of course, they proceed to start a rally and San Fran closer Brian Wilson is brought in. My closer! So as I walk into the bar Wilson is pitching to Jayson Werth, still with the three run lead, but the bases are loaded with two outs. What have we here? Not only that, two of my guys are on base and I can use the runs, but I need the save more. Not to mention, the Phils are scuffling right now and are behind the Mets. Theyre out of 1st place in the division for the first time in over a year, and as manager Charlie Manual says, I like being in 1st place. Well Charlie, I do to, with the Phils and Roto, but if Werth gets a hit, my WHIP and ERA are going to take a beating. Talk about conflicted. As Werth fouls of ANOTHER pitch, I actually ask myself, What am I rooting for here? Honestly! So when he bloops a double down the right-field line to clear the bases and tie the game, I think, Cool, maybe one of the relievers I have in the game, can get a win, provided by one of my hitters, since I have a total of 8 players combined from both teams in the game. Am I scaring you yet? I could go on!

But Ill spare both of us because as Im typing this little scenario, which seems to be played out many, many times, every night. Im reminded of something Okrent said about this: Theres nothing more interesting than your own team, and nothing more boring than stories about someone elses. He said this in relation to the fact that to capitalize on the growth of the game that he and his mates had founded, they organized a convention for Rotisserie Baseball players, where the Founding Fathers would be the featured speakers. The way he described their horror at being stalked by these geeks is hilarious.

So for me, I found the show to be a mirror for myself to gaze in. As I looked at the reflection and wanted to recoil, I could not. As the show depicts how the new game grew to the point that it could not be controlled by its original masters, neither can I. Fantasy sports now are as much of the sports culture and experience as the smell of the hot dogs and the long lines for the restrooms at the game. They enable a connection and understanding that I feel enhances the rooting interest, even for a stuffy purist. That they can make you crazy and obsessive only adds to the fun, and cant be avoided, because to win you have to be in and once youre in, theres no way out! A Silly Little

Game indeed!

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

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USA TODAY

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

This became a three-ring circus on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Joe Maddon screaming at the umpires, the video board showing the replay of Curtis Granderson’s swing and the crowd of 42,195 booing and chanting “BULLS#$!!”

The Los Angeles Dodgers are still in command of this National League Championship Series, but the Cubs won’t go quietly into the offseason, unleashing All-Star closer Wade Davis for the final two innings of a 3-2 thriller that kept them alive for at least another night.

The Cubs can worry about the daunting task of winning three more elimination games in the morning. Once Davis forced Cody Bellinger into the double-play groundball that left Justin Turner stranded in the on-deck circle and this one ended at 11:16 p.m., he pulled at his right sleeve and buttoned the top of his jersey while waiting for the Cubs to start the high-five line. “Go Cubs Go” blasted from the stadium’s sound  system and fireworks erupted beyond the center-field scoreboard and Davis acted as if nothing had happened.

To put the idea of beating the Dodgers three times in a row in perspective, the Cubs blasted three homers and got a classic big-game performance out of Jake Arrieta and still needed Davis for a heart-stopping, high-wire act.

Maddon already ruled out Davis for Thursday night’s Game 5 after the closer fired 48 pitches – or four more than he did during last week’s seven-out save that eliminated the Washington Nationals. But at least the Cubs will have those decisions to make instead of cleaning out their lockers.

“I don’t know,” Davis said. “We’ll definitely come in tomorrow and get some treatment and go out and play catch and see how I feel.”

It looks like Davis doesn’t feel anything on the mound. Davis didn’t react to Turner chucking his bat and yelling into the visiting dugout after crushing a 94-mph fastball for a home run to begin the eighth inning. Davis didn’t seem bothered by Yasiel Puig flipping his bat after drawing a walk. And Davis never lost his composure while Maddon got ejected for the second time in four NLCS games.

Maddon flipped out at home plate umpire Jim Wolf – and really the entire crew – when what was initially called a swinging strike three on Granderson got overturned and ruled a foul tip.

“Wade doesn’t care about any of that,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “That’s the right guy to have on the mound. With the mentality he has, he’s going to strike the guy out on the next pitch. Obviously with the replay, it’s not easy to keep your composure. But he’s just different. He’s a different animal.”

While the fans at Wrigley Field got loud and turned angry, Davis chatted with catcher Willson Contreras: “I was just trying to think of the next pitch I was going to throw if he ended up staying in the box.”

Davis got Granderson (0-for-4, four strikeouts) swinging at strike four, walked Yasmani Grandal and then blew away Chase Utley with a 95.1-mph fastball, needing 34 pitches to finish the eighth inning. Davis wasn’t finished, using a Kris Bryant bat to hit against Dodger lefty Tony Cingrani, fouling off five pitches before striking out looking at a 94.9-mph fastball.

“Yeah, I gave up there after a little bit,” Davis said with a look that sort of resembled a smile. “He was bringing it pretty good, and I hadn’t seen a baseball in a while coming in like that.”

If the Cubs are going to match the 2004 Boston Red Sox – the only other team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS format expanded to seven games in 1985 – they are going to need the offense to generate more runs, a great start from Jose Quintana on Thursday night and someone else to run out of the bullpen. Not that Davis is ruling himself out for Game 5.

“Go get some sleep and then come in tomorrow and start getting ready,” Davis said.

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

It’s not Jake Arrieta getting greedy and the Cubs being cheap when he holds up another jersey in a different city this winter, smiling for the cameras while super-agent Scott Boras watches the press conference unfold, marketing an ace to a new audience.

Even Arrieta admits that if he had Theo Epstein’s job, he would do the exact same thing, letting it play out until a 30-something pitcher hits the free-agent market. And Epstein wouldn’t have left the Boston Red Sox and taken over baseball operations at Clark and Addison if he didn’t believe in the need for change, to get outside the comfort zone and test yourself.

It’s just business, but this still felt very personal on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Arrieta probably making his last start in a Cubs uniform while the defending World Series champs survived an elimination game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Three straight trips to the National League Championship Series might have spoiled Cubs fans to the point where standing-room-only Game 4 tickets were selling for $60 on StubHub less than an hour before the 8:01 p.m. first pitch.

By 10:13 p.m., the crowd of 42,195 started booing when manager Joe Maddon popped out of the dugout in the seventh inning to take the ball from Arrieta after 111 pitches. It turned into a standing ovation as Arrieta walked off the mound and tipped his cap, his shaved head set against a mountain-man beard.

“Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye,” Arrieta said after a dramatic 3-2 win, surrounded by reporters at his locker. “It’s a thank you, obviously. I still intend to have another start in this ballpark.

“If that’s where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there. But we’ve won four in a row plenty of times this year. And there’s no reason we can’t do it again.”

So many times, Arrieta has been worth the price of admission, must-see TV through two no-hitters and those two World Series games he won on the road last year against the Cleveland Indians. None of this would have been possible without the Cubs finding a winning lottery ticket in that Scott Feldman flip deal with the Baltimore Orioles on July 2, 2013.

“I took a little bit of extra time in between pitches,” Arrieta said, “just to look around, foul pole to foul pole, behind home plate, just to relish it and take it in. You got the fans on their feet, pulling on the same side of the rope. It breeds some added energy.

“I had that mindset of I’m going to do everything in my power to get it to tomorrow.”

Arrieta’s pitches dart and dive in directions that even he can’t always control, but he has guts, swing-and-miss stuff (nine strikeouts) and the ability to work through traffic. He gave up five walks, hit Chase Utley with a pitch and watched as Cody Bellinger hammered a ball off the video-board ribbon in right field for a third-inning homer.

But lefty reliever Brian Duensing backed Arrieta up with two outs and two runners on in the seventh inning, forcing Bellinger to lift a flyball into shallow left field, keeping it a 3-1 game and setting the stage for a two-inning Wade Davis save.

“Jake was amazing,” Davis said. “He was throwing Wiffle balls, it looked like. Guys were just swinging at balls that started in on the zone and finished a foot off the plate. He’s just got some amazing stuff.”

For perspective on how far this franchise has come, just look at the lineup from Arrieta’s first spot start as a Cub, the second game of a July 30, 2013 doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field:

David DeJesus, CF
Junior Lake, LF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Dioner Navarro, C
Luis Valbuena, 2B
Starlin Castro, SS
Cody Ransom, 3B
Cole Gillespie, RF

The Cubs actually sent Arrieta back to Triple-A Iowa for two more starts that summer, part of a mental/mechanical reset and the service-time calculus that would delay his free-agency clock by a year.

By 2015, Arrieta’s raw talent and natural confidence converged with a young, inexperienced team that caught fire in the second half, his Cy Young Award campaign fueling 97 wins and the momentum for chairman Tom Ricketts to authorize a spending spree on free agents that almost totaled $290 million.

"That was pretty special,” Maddon said. “I've never witnessed on the field that kind of consistent performance from a pitcher. It was other-worldly, right down to the wild-card game.

“My God, you pretty much knew if you scored one or two runs, you're going to win that night somehow. I don't know how this is going to look moving forward. But I know one thing, man, that one year of watching him play was different. It was a throwback to the ‘60s kind of pitching (I watched) as a kid.

“He's special – his work ethic and who he is and how he goes about his business. He's a very special young man.”

But Arrieta really isn’t in the mood to wonder if this is the end scene to this chapter of his life.

“There’s a little thought of that, yeah, because you never know,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, now that the game’s over, it’s out of sight, out of mind. The thought process for me now is to be ready if I’m needed.”