March about more than just madness

In the world of sports, the third month of the year is simply referred to as March Madness. Every sports fan is familiar with that phrase. It represents the time of year when a mad scramble ensues between 65 college basketball teams for the coveted title of national champion.

But March is music to sports fans’ ears for another reason: It is the month when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. There is no surer sign that spring and summer are right around the corner, with the return of America’s favorite pastime, the game of baseball.

Over the past 30 years, March has also rung the bell for all fantasy baseball owners to dig up last year’s stat sheets, as they get set to assemble the next baseball dynasty. Fantasy baseball was created about three decades ago, rather innocently enough, and has blossomed into a billion-dollar business.

Who would have thought it would breed that kind of success in this sports-crazy, fanatical world we live in? Ask the millions of wives across this country who turn into summertime widows, when their husbands revert to childhood to run their very own baseball teams.

The allure among these adolescent men is just too great to pass up. Fantasy sports have caught on like a California wildfire, consuming most of the calendar with fantasy football, basketball, hockey, NASCAR, golf and just about anything you can play that is a far stretch from reality.

I have caught the fantasy bug, with baseball being my favorite passion. My wife doesn’t seem to mind and has accepted her lot in life, being married to a sportswriter and all. It’s just part of the territory, she figures.

The game is quite simple. You draft a team from a pool of major league players then manage your club, setting the lineup, assembling your pitching staff and going headlong into a baseball season like no other.

But these days I get a little confused trying to separate fantasy from reality. When a full-grown man is paid 20 million dollars to play a kid’s game, I am left wondering, “Is this fantasy or am I just dreaming this stuff?”

I mark St. Patrick’s Day on my calendar as draft day because I’m all for the luck of the Irish. And believe you me, you are going to need a little bit of luck along the way, regardless of how well you draft. It’s a long, six-month season—the longest in professional sports—and injuries can send the best of them crashing through the guard rails and over the cliff on the road to a championship.

So if you’re a fantasy player looking to win your league this season, take some advice from a 20-year fantasy veteran: Make your list early and gather all the cheat sheets and information you can get your hands on. Don’t take a pitcher in the first five rounds; they break down (see Brendan Webb, Chris Carpenter and the seemingly endless list of these crash-and-burn guys).

Get a big-time home run hitter; it will add up to RBIs, runs and, usually, a solid average. Get a catcher; there are only about five good ones out there. Look for speed in your leadoff guy; that will add up to a ton of runs. Middle infielders are always in the minority; get a good one for team balance. Last but not least, practice crossing your fingers; you will need that type of mojo to stay clear of the dreaded disabled list.