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Baseball fans living in a fantasy world

by Archives April 5, 2006

The official start to the Major League Baseball season came on Sunday with the Cleveland Indians playing in Chicago against the World Series Champion White Sox. While this marked the beginning of a 183-day-long marathon during which millions of fans will cheer on their home town team for 162 games, it also marked the beginning of a different, though no less popular season: the fantasy baseball season.

Since the beginning of spring training and the World Baseball Classic in March, people have been keeping track of stats in hopes of gaining some insight into how teams and players will perform during the regular season and to prepare themselves for their fantasy league drafts. While most enter these leagues for fun and friendly competition between friends, many enter them with hopes of winning large cash prizes, which is one of the reasons fantasy sports has become so popular

First, for anyone who is not familiar with the fantasy sports world, here is some insight as to how fantasy baseball works.

Most fantasy baseball leagues are online. They begin with an online draft. This is your chance to build your all-star team. Draft rules differ depending on the league and the amount of teams participating. For most leagues you will pick four to five starting pitchers, several relief pitchers and nine position players. This is where doing your homework pays off since drafting someone who is currently injured and on the disabled list can be somewhat embarrassing. Of course, during the draft, there is plenty of time in between draft picks to message each other and collectively make fun of the other players’ unwise selections.

Following the draft is the regular season. Your team collects points according to how well each individual player on your team performs during their games. Points are generally awarded or taken away for hits, runs, stolen bases, RBIs, walks and outs. For pitchers points are awarded for wins, saves, strikeouts and innings pitched, and taken away for walks, hits, earned runs and losses.

The participating teams may then be pitted against each other on a weekly basis or simply over the length of an entire season, with the victory going to the team with the most overall points. Trades between teams may also take place during the season, while you can also drop a player mid-season if they aren’t performing to your satisfaction.

While some websites offer free teams, fees for fantasy leagues can be anywhere from $10 to hundreds and even thousands. Players can also purchase perks, at additional costs, such as stat tracking systems, draft kits and weekly scouting reports. The fantasy sports industry was last estimated at close to $2 billion and is still growing. As the fantasy sports world continues to grow, so does the online gambling industry. In fact, the number of “betting advice” and online gambling websites practically equal the fantasy sports websites.

These leagues have not only changed the face of sports betting, they also change the way fans approach the game of baseball, as well as other sports. The concept of cheering for your hometown team has been somewhat replaced by fans who are interested only in the performance of individual players. Who cares how the St. Louis Cardinals did as long as Albert Pujols went 3 for 5 with a home run and five RBIs. While this may not be the direction classic sports fans want to be leaning towards, it is clearly becoming more and more popular. Official sports leagues also participate, with MLB’s version being the Ultimate Fantasy Baseball Challenge. They offer more than $80, 000 in prizes for winners including $50 just for winning your division.

So what is the future of fantasy sports? Well, fantasy team owners can now buy insurance for their fantasy players in case of injury. Upset because your star pitcher blew out his arm just two weeks into the season? Don’t worry. Sites like F.P.P. (FantasyPlayerProtection.com) will insure your players for a small fee so that you can be worry-free.

Online Fantasy Baseball isn’t for everyone. You may prefer to stick to your regular office baseball pool. But for those who are interested, here are a few of the quality fantasy league providers.

Major League Baseball. At MLB.com sign up for the “Fantasy Baseball Challenge” and run your team for free, or for a higher team budget, get one team for $19.99.

ESPN.com doesn’t have an option for free teams but nonetheless offers a quality league and interesting prizes such as a meeting with Hall of Famer Joe Morgan and a 43” Plasma TV.

Yahoo! offers several options including free participation. You can also purchase a Fantasy Baseball Plus league which offers wireless access, enhanced customer service, fantasy profiles and league prizes.

Enjoy the season.

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