By Jeff Saukaitis, TSN Contributor - Archive - Email
If only it were just a fantasy
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I hate baseball.

Well, OK. I don't really hate baseball. It's probably my favorite sport, actually.

I love the daily drama that unfolds over a 162-game schedule.

I love watching the individual matchups between the slugger and the lights-out closer with the outcome of the game on the line.

I love watching a rookie emerge from the minor leagues to take the sport by storm, and I love hearing all the trade rumors as teams try to upgrade their rosters for a playoff push.

I guess what I really hate is that I can't completely enjoy what has been a fascinating 2012 season because my favorite team is struggling mightily.

No, I'm not a Minnesota Twins fan. Not particularly a San Diego Padres supporter, either, although I root hard for a few of their players.

No, it's my team - my fantasy team in a 10-team, NL-only, rotisserie-style league - that's letting me down and making it more obvious by the day that this is going to be a cruel summer.

A couple of weeks ago, my squad's 14 hitters were a collective 3-for-49 at the plate with 23 strikeouts one night. That's when I sunk into ninth place and I've been there since.

The season's just over one-third gone. I begin each night with the crazy notion that this will be the beginning of a big turnaround. Usually, I'm immediately hit with a dose of reality to convince me that the getting "into the money" - in our league's case, a top-four finish - simply isn't going to happen.

I still check the standings daily on our league's stat site when I get up in the morning, counting how many points my still ninth-place team is out of fourth place. Then - illogically, I realize - I again start to think about how everything's going to begin to change for the better later that night.

Hey, just imagine how much my batting average and RBIs will improve now that Pablo Sandoval is off the disabled list. If Dee Gordon, Cameron Maybin and Will Venable would start getting on base just a little more frequently, imagine how much I could soar in the stolen base category. John Buck eventually has to hit his weight, doesn't he?

It never turns around. For every baby step forward, it seems there are two giant steps backward. As a Tim Lincecum owner, for instance, I keep trying to convince myself that he's eventually going to turn back into The Freak again. Instead, all that happens is I start to freak out when I watch the usually light-hitting Padres hit the ball hard against him all over the usually pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

My baseball fan experience wasn't always like this, mind you. I grew up as a Philadelphia Phillies fan, following them for the first full season in 1974 and watching them grow into the world champions they became in 1980. Seeing my Phillies win the 1980 World Series remains unchallenged as the greatest thrill I've ever experienced in sports.

I was a huge Phillies fan as a kid. I remember staying up until 1:30 a.m. on school nights as a fifth- and sixth-grader, listening to the Phillies' West Coast games on the radio because only about half the team's games were televised back then.

I remember being upset whenever I was forced to go on a family vacation; after all, we'd never be able to watch (or even listen to, for that matter) the Phillies if we were in New England, or Ocean City, Md., for example.

I started playing rotisserie baseball in 1987, and I've owned or co-owned a team every year since then, except for 1996 and 1997. At first, it was just a fun hobby, and I was almost as fanatical about the Phillies as I was as a kid.

Eventually, things started to change, at least gradually at first. One day, I found myself rooting for my rotisserie team's pitching ace, Mike Scott, then of the Houston Astros, in a game against the Phillies. I guess that was the beginning of the end.

The Phillies won their second world title in 2008. While that World Series was ongoing, I tried to force myself to become a big fan again. I asked my wife to tape the deciding game on a DVD because I had to work both nights that the rain-suspended Game 6 against Tampa Bay was played. She did, but I have yet to watch the video.

Non-fantasy baseball players would never understand this, but my interest and enthusiasm for baseball had remained the same as ever. It's just that I simply cared more - a lot more, I regret - about my rotisserie team than I did about the Phillies. I wish I could have appreciated their first title in 28 years a bit more than I did. They're still my second favorite baseball team, I guess. It's just that they're a distant No. 2 behind the on-paper team that only I follow.

Major League Baseball remains the highlight of my summers. I subscribe to the MLB Extra Innings package. As soon as my daughter falls asleep, it gives me the green light to turn off "Sesame Street" and tune into Extra Innings to watch my favorite team. The only thing is, my favorite team could be playing in as many as eight different NL stadiums on a given night. Heck, during interleague play, my team could be playing at 15 different venues.

So it's a pretty non-traditional way to watch baseball. If, say, I watch Lucas Duda walk to load the bases in New York, I'm probably going to change the channel to instead view Giancarlo Stanton bat with the bases empty in Miami because I own both of those players. Since runs scored isn't a category in my league and I own no other Mets besides Duda, not much that could happen in the next few minutes of that Mets game would have a profound effect on my team.

However, I probably watch considerably more baseball than I would if I didn't own a rotisserie team. I certainly know more about the game than I otherwise would. If you play in an NL-only fantasy league, for instance, you'd better have a handle on who the Colorado Rockies' top minor-league hitting prospects are if you want to keep a leg up on your opponents.

Still, I know that it goes against the tradition of root, root, rooting for the home team. That, I know, is a shame. I sometimes wish I could be a more traditional baseball fan again. Those kinds of fans seem to be less miserable than I've been this season.

Then again, my team hit three homers and drove in 13 runs tonight. When I check the standings in the morning, maybe I'll move up to eighth place - perhaps even seventh - and I'll start to love baseball again.

That is, at least until Lincecum's next start.

Jeff Saukaitis is a former Sports Network writer/editor who has been a professional sportswriter since 1985.

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