While most avid baseball fans were glued to the TV yesterday for Major League Baseball's opening day, many followers could also be found checking their teams online. For some fans, opening day signals not only the beginning of the baseball season but, sometimes more important, the fantasy baseball season.
The idea for fantasy baseball, according to ESPN, was first established in 1980 and was originally referred to as "Rotisserie Baseball" after the French restaurant where the creators met. It is now an empire that allows approximately six to seven million people to call the shots in their own leagues, drafting teams and making trades to compete for prizes ranging from bragging rights to cash.
While the MLB draft is long past, fantasy drafts took place last week, although preparations for select players have been in progress for quite some time.
Sophomore Oliver Van Zant is an enthusiastic fantasy baseball participant—when he is not busy with real baseball.
A star pitcher for the Polar Bears, Van Zant was named both NESCAC Rookie of the Year and the only first year in league history to be named NESCAC Pitcher of the Year—but he takes fantasy baseball seriously as well.
Van Zant began research for the draft over a month in advance and has a color coordinated multi-page spreadsheet for the two leagues he plays in with friend and league commissioner Connor Shannon '13. Both Shannon and Van Zant have been playing for quite some time, successfully completing the transition from high school to college fantasy leagues. Shannon says experience has made a world of difference in his proficiency for building successful teams.
"I was in way over my head in 2003, but I've really grown and developed as a fantasy player over the last eight years," Shannon said. "By the time I came to Bowdoin, I'd become such a consistent fantasy player that I decided to start our own league."
Van Zant had a rockier transition, largely due to the fact that there are several different ways to play fantasy baseball. Participants can choose either head-to-head or rotisserie style, among others. Both categories have a standard scoring set of 10 categories.
"For batters, it's RBIs [runs batted in], runs, homeruns, average and stolen bases. For pitchers, it's strikeouts, ERA [earned run average], WHIP [walks and hits per innings pitched], wins and saves," Van Zant said.
In a head-to-head league, each team is matched up with one opponent for the week and points are given for each of the categories. However, rotisserie style pits each team's stats against everyone else's in the league.
"It just totals your stats for the entire year and it compares you to every other player in the league," Van Zant said. "It does that with every category and whoever has the best overall point totals from their stats wins." For Van Zant, a former head-to-head player, changing to rotisserie in college required learning a new set of rules for playing.
Their current league at Bowdoin consists of 10 players, is rife with traditions and serves a secondary role as a forum for friendship and camaraderie. Their league also plays fantasy football in the fall, a tradition Shannon likens to "spring training for fantasy baseball," as well as conducting special ceremonies for the draft as well as an end-of-the-year banquet. Both the draft and the banquet they described as "very formal" events.
It's not always fun and games, however; Van Zant was appointed to the position of assistant to the commissioner, which Shannon describes as an intern-like position, after a previous assistant was fired for lack of effort. Additionally, the workload for a team manager can be hefty. Shannon and Van Zant agree that, if fantasy baseball were a course at the College, it would be a two credit course.
Since their previous successes, Van Zant has joined Shannon's league from high school as well. While this meant meeting new people for him, fantasy can also serve as a way to maintain friendships for others.
For Adam Marquit '11, also a member of the baseball team, he believes fantasy will serve as a way to stay in touch with friends after graduation.
"We will definitely keep our league together after we graduate," Marquit said in an email to the Orient. A fantasy baseball player since high school, Marquit participates in a league with friends from home in addition to his Bowdoin league. His current Bowdoin league also includes one alum.
One way to ensure that a league can stay together is to create a league with 'keepers,' or players that fantasy participants can keep on their team for multiple seasons without having to redraft them. While it also requires a great deal of strategy, it is also helpful in constructing competitive leagues that last longer than leagues that don't have keepers.
"We are in our second year of a keepers league, which is an awesome way to keep people involved," Marquit said. "I think we decided to start the keepers league to make sure it stays intact even though we won't all be together."
As for Van Zant and Shannon's plans to keep playing fantasy baseball? Van Zant plays for pride, and says he will absolutely keep playing after graduation.
Shannon says he'll quit "only if fantasy baseball quits on me."