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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hey, Get Your Hate On

One of the primary reasons why fantasy sports has become so popular is undoubtedly the increase in the number of games you have some reason to pay attention to on any given game day. Prior to the emergence of fantasy sports, you either had to be into gambling or one of those people (what do you mean, those people?) whose love of the game is so great that the success or lack of success of the teams they root for do not seem to impact the degree to which they follow the sport. These are fans of teams like the Lions as well as the fans that wear those leather jackets that display the logo for each NBA team or sport a hat with the logos of the original six NHL teams. I was given this hat as a gift years back, and it's a pretty cool hat, but I have never worn it. Ask someone wearing the hat why they are doing so and I suspect that you will get a good answer, such as "Well, the ___ are my team, but I love the collective tradition and history of these franchises. It just doesn't feel right to me that there is a team from Anaheim that just won the cup." Fair enough. As a Red Wings fan I wouldn't feel right wearing the logo of the Leafs or the Black Hawks on my person, but it is conceivable that someone might.

Watching the nightly scoreboards to track the performance of players you have selected on your fantasy team feels very similar to tracking a group of games you have money on -- it may be less intense, but it's in the same ballpark. It's probably of the same proportion that snorting cocaine is to mainlining it. As pleasant as the high is that you get from fantasy sports or gambling on it, it is artificial. You could be just as intrigued from the complement to each of your bets. If you drop a player on your fantasy team that you cheered wildly for when he hit a three-run home run a month ago, you no longer give a damn about what he does if you have traded or dropped him from your team. While gambling and fantasy sports give you an artificial interest in teams that you normally care little about, playoff qualification races are the natural alternative.

Pennant races are fun because it requires more to keep track of in order to have a clear picture of the current state of things with respect to the team you care about. If the Tigers had defeated the Yankees 16-0, as they did last night, in mid-June, it would have been enjoyable, but the only follow-up work to do would be to check how the other top teams in the Central Division of the American League had done. After last night, however, a Tiger fan not only gets to check on the Indians score and how many games back they are of them, but also the results of the games involving the teams in the wild card hunt, as well as the upcoming schedule of all of these teams. It's the kind of work sports fans love.

While the Tigers gained no ground on the Indians last night, they picked up a game on both the Yankees and the Mariners, both ahead of the Tigers in the wild card standings currently. So that's good. Even better for the Tigers is how the upcoming schedule looks for all of these teams. The Tigers head to Kansas City for three while the Indians, Mariners, and Yankees next three are all against above .500 teams. If the Tigers can win two or three against the lowly Royals, they will likely pick up a game on at least one of these three teams.

The best part about a race like this is how as the end of the season approaches, every game with the teams involved becomes just as important to you as the games involving your team. This is the kind of action I would dream about in the mid-nineties while Tigers like Kimara Bartee and Nate Cornejo would get the throw-shit-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks call-up in September. Earlier this season I went to a game at Comerica Park between the Tigers and the Red Sox. A guy several rows below me was wearing a Yankees jersey and appeared to be as into the game as any Tigers or Sox fan in attendance. It was early July, but this guy was already getting his hate on. While I am not at all a Yankee fan, I liked seeing that. When I see a Buckeye fan at a Michigan/Michigan State game, I have the same kind of respect for the hate job that the fan is doing. That's why it's fun to have rivalries, and pennant races are where rivalries in baseball are born.

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