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Eye on the prize

So much and so little has changed.

It was 10 years and three weeks ago that I discovered, clicked on the contact button and suggested to anyone who was listening that I was the perfect candidate to write some columns for the site. Not that this college dropout had any sort of resume. Besides my willingness to write cheap, I went with the only other thing working in my favor: I was leading an ESPN baseball contest played by about 50,000 people.

It took nearly four weeks to get a reply, but when it finally did come, I was welcomed aboard with open arms and I kicked off my sportswriting career making $25 a week for writing the Strike Zone and the Prospects Report.

Obviously, things got better from there, or I probably wouldn’t have made it the 10 years. In January 2000, Rotoworld essentially became my life, as I took over the baseball, football and basketball news, and with plenty of hard work and some luck along the way, the site got big. I gradually received the chance to scale back my workload as we could hire new people, and I’ve been able to strictly focus on baseball, always my love, for five years now. We even eventually went corporate, as the original site owners chose to sell to NBC in 2006. This year, we started up this blog on and I’ve been allowed to focus as much on actual baseball as fantasy baseball for the first time.

I think that’s part of the reason why, 10 years later, I’m again leading that baseball contest, ESPN’s Baseball Challenge. If I were smarter, I would have switched focuses long ago to a pay game or two and tried to make myself some real money. But BBC gets more attention from me than anything else I’ve ever played. When it first started up in 1997, I got a little obsessed with it, or at least the chat room attached to it. Among the people I met there was Troy Beech, who later joined me at Rotoworld and who became very important in helping the site grow in the early part of the decade.

As for the game itself, I’ve always loved the way it saps luck from the equation. 10 different players, every single day. No worries about injuries or players simply falling off a cliff. It comes down to knowledge and dedication when you have to make 900 picks to win.

And I was really good at it, of course. BBC has always been two contests per year: one pre-All-Star break, one post. In 1997, I finished second in the first half and first for the whole year, though that didn’t count for anything. In 1999, I went on to win the first half, earning myself a big-screen TV. Ever since, I’ve been on the leaderboard more often than not, though I’ve never really been in a position to win coming down the stretch, at least until this year. I think it’s partially because I’m less burned out on fantasy stuff than usual, but I’ve been sitting in first place since the third week of the season.

The lead has fluctuated. It was almost 150 points at one time, but it got down as low as 15 points last week and could have disappeared entirely if not for a poor outing from Chad Billingsley (unlike most, I went with Josh Outman and the A’s staff on Friday, only to cringe when he was forced from the game in the second inning due to a sore elbow). While the nine hitters account for the majority of the team’s points, it’s still the pitcher that makes or breaks most days.622

We’re down to the final three weeks now. There are no more flukes high on the leaderboard, and several of the names below me have won or challenged for the title before. I’m not going to mind losing if that’s how it works out; I play the game because it’s a tradition and it’s still fun for me, even if there are days that I don’t feel like picking my team. Plus, there’s the added bonus now that it keeps me on my toes and gives me a good reason to check over every box score even on those days that my job no longer requires it.

That was convincing, right?

OK, so I want to win. I want to pummel everyone by 200 points. I want to tease Matthew Berry about it afterwards. I want ESPN to not be able to interview their two-time champ because, in doing so, they’d be promoting Rotoworld and

And I like that the old standby hasn’t changed. The rest of the daily routine is different, the house is new and the job is nothing like what I originally signed on for. But six months of the year, I still spend 20 minutes or so every night writing down the matchups, checking tomorrow’s weather and then picking my BBC team.

Now that I’ve gone public, I’ll provide weekly updates through the end of the first half.