Jussel: America’s fantasy pastime

I’m all mocked out.

The fantasy baseball season has descended upon serious nerds and, being one, I have spent the past two weeks preparing by conducting mock drafts with other like-minded wackos.

All-nighters have been common because this is much more serious business than any college midterm or final. Coffee at 2 a.m. takes the edge off Happy Hour Coors and allows me to make unclouded decisions on dilemmas such as: Will I still be able to get Asdrubal Cabrera in the eighth round?

I realize there are people out there who don’t care about fantasy sports; some may be fans of fantasy football, but avoid baseball.

I’m here to tell you that you are missing out if you don’t get into the diamond fantasy.

Baseball has been part of my life as a player and/or fan for more than a half century.

What started out as watching Willie and the Mick on black-and-white TV evolved into playing catch and endlessly bouncing rubber balls off of my grandfather’s two-story farm house. That turned into sandlot play, Little League and high school ball and even morphed at a later stage into slowpitch softball.

Reading the box scores every morning in the Rocky Mountain News turned into reading the same via Internet — and eventually fantasy baseball.

It’s fine to be a Rockies, Dodgers or Yankees fan and catch them at every opportunity. But it’s even better to check out the stats of your fantasy team on a daily basis. Fantasy keeps your nose in the box scores, even if your favorite team is stinking it up.

For the unfamiliar, fantasy sports allows you to become the GM, pick your players and hope those players outperform those on other teams.

National Football League fantasy drafts are incredibly popular, with fantasy teams consisting of hand-picked NFL quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, kickers and in some formats, defensive teams or players. Those who pile up the best stats win.

In baseball, it’s all about choosing pitchers and hitters in a variety of formats. In one form or another, players get points for hits, homers, RBI, wins, saves, strikeouts, and on and on.

There are free leagues galore on a variety of websites. If you are curious, simply use your favorite search engine and pound in “fantasy baseball.”

There are also a variety of perfectly legal pay leagues. You can join up via credit card for as little as $15 in order to win some sort of monetary prize. I am currently in two pay leagues with CBS Sports, the first costing $29 and the second $25. Win a league and pick up $150.

Feeling full of yourself? There are fantasy leagues in which entry fees can range into the thousands, with payouts astoundingly outrageous. I haven’t reached that point yet.

Whatever you decide, my suggestion is not to join more than two leagues. In one season, I was in six or seven leagues. It was too many; I didn’t know who or what to pay attention to.

Fantasy leagues started decades ago and normally involved friends getting together and drafting players. On virtually any fantasy website, you can create your own league and make up your own rules; each to his or her own (Yahoo! is a wonderfully easy site to form your own free league and invite your friends).

Drafting teams comes in a variety of formats.

There are live drafts in which you have to be at your computer at a specified time, or there are automated drafts in which the computer does all the work.

My personal preference is the automated draft. You pre-rank your players, and the computer picks teams according to the prioritized lists. In this case, you spend your time studying and prioritizing players before the draft (the all-nighters mentioned above).

I’m particularly tricky using this format. Because I do not know the draft order, I don’t go with the players that will be gone right at the top. Instead of going with Ryan Braun or Miguel Cabrera as my top pick, I select someone I know I will get whether I am drafting first or 10th. This year, I have my top selection as Stephen Strasburg with Joe Mauer No. 2. Strasburg will be available if I pick first or 10th, and Mauer should be available with my worst-case 20th selection. And he plays catcher and first base, meaning I can use him at two spots in my lineup as needed.

My scheming has proven reliable through numerous mock drafts, and I have been able to build good teams around these two players.

Now, if all that scheming pays off, I will be hundreds of dollars richer — if, of course, Strasburg, Mauer & Friends can stay on the field in the next seven months in the real world.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.

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