"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Rotisserie Daze

Bronx Banter Guest Post

By Nick Fleder

I started going to Yankees games with my dad when I was four. I was shepherded to the outside gate to have French fries and Diet Coke before we found our way to our seats on the first base side of the diamond, close enough to the action that an errant throw on a double play could hit us in the head.

We walked past the same toothless usher who always guarded the section 71 seats at the old Yankee Stadium, and I would harass the same first baseman, Tino Martinez, for game balls until he retired and yielded his annoyance to Jason Giambi. Attending so many Yankee games, roughly twenty a year, was why I fell so hard for the sport. But even watching every game, part of the time starry-eyed under the stadium lights and the rest of the time in front of my kitchen TV set, didn’t completely satisfy me. I wanted to play.

* * *

Dad caught on to my baseball passion and coached me through Little League. But I was afraid of the ball and no good as a hitter. I stood at the rear of the batter’s box and rarely took the bat off of my shoulder. I had trouble keeping my eye on the ball and vividly remember one at-bat on a Friday night under the lights at Loshe Park in Sleepy Hollow, NY. It was my third time up and I was facing a flamethrower, my friend Nick. I chopped the ball to shortstop and was out by a good ten feet. No runs scored on the play, but my friends and teammates cheered for me making simple contact, which sums up what kind of ballplayer I was. I still wanted to play.

Dad bought me a metal pole advertised on ESPN, the one that had a ball fixed in a black padding. I worked on hand-eye coordination by batting the ball at torso level over and over again, while it coiled around the pole like a tetherball and returned to its original position. I was decent at hitting a ball when it was stationary, but that didn’t help me when it was moving, in a game, so when I finally gave up playing, Dad wasn’t disappointed, probably because I wasn’t either. But he saw what baseball meant to me.

Later that year, he tested something on me he had never tried on my older brother, Jackson, who was indifferent to the game but appreciated the spectacle of the ballpark—the heckling fans, the salesmanship of the hot dog vendors and the cheering after a home run. He took me to his fantasy draft.

* * *

My father was involved in the first fantasy league ever, and plays in what’s left of that league still today. He brought me into the world of fantasy sports through an expensive ($260 in, up to $1500 out) league of adult men (with a wealth of baseball knowledge) when I was almost ten, roughly six years ago. The league (originally called the Rotisserie league but now aptly named “AARP”) was the focus of one of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries, “Silly Little Game,” and the creator, Dan Okrent, still plays. It almost instantly became an obsession for me.

Draft day was even better than the trips to Yankee Stadium. We developed a ritual of grabbing a Quizno’s sandwich before heading off to scrape together an underwhelming roster using the SI Baseball Preview sheets. Dad guided me with tips for the auction, telling me to speak up and pronounce my bids with confidence, encouraging me to stare my opponents down, look them directly the eye when I bid to try to get them to drop out. He used a ten-year old boy to try to intimidate his opponents.

We didn’t have a useful strategy, despite his twenty plus years of experience. Maybe it was to make it fun for me, but our overall approach was not exactly a recipe for success: he told me to identify a couple of superstars and pay “whatever it takes” for them, and allowed me to keep the expensive superstars left over from our roster the year before.

Our incompetence wasn’t limited to the drafting of the players. We traveled to the ESPN offices on 34th Street in Manhattan for our first draft together, only to hear from the deadpan security guard on the second floor that he “had no idea of any draft at ESPN.” A phone call later, we realized we had returned to the site of the previous draft but that we were across town from this year’s draft location – the commissioner’s apartment. Amid the chaos of drafting by cell phone from a bus for the first thirty to forty minutes, Dad made good on his promise to buy any superstar whose name I would recognize; Todd Helton for $40? Maybe. David Wright for close to the same amount? Surely. Carlos Delgado for $45? Why not? We didn’t have a list of sleepers, or even a list of players we wanted, but it really didn’t matter at the time.

One league led to another. To my friends, my growing obsession, fueled by my interest in sabermetrics and the acquisition of MLB Season Pass and NBA League Pass subscriptions on our TV at home, looked an awful lot like a gambling addiction. My pal Max teased me. “You know it’s a growing problem, how much money you bet on sports?”

But it was just a deeper way of connecting to the game, incentive to watch as much baseball as I could, and a little reward for all the hours I devoted to it. I had watched the sport through the prism of the Yankees, which meant the AL East. Soon after I began playing fantasy baseball, though, I found myself flush with knowledge about the NL West. The money was a factor in my love of fantasy leagues—free leagues were much less interesting, after all, with owners regularly dropping out—but what appealed to me most is the chance to match wits and baseball knowledge with grown-ups.

* * *

Dad and I talked fantasy baseball while watching the Yankee games during dinners and my Mom suffered through the discussions. I continued to bounce ideas off him – “How does Ryan Howard for a cheap Aroldis Chapman sound?” – and we kept the Fleder Mice in conversations through our successes and our failures. He taught me the importance of keeping cheap speed (hello, $3 Angel Pagan), and how clean innings from a relief pitcher can pile up to provide more value than a starting pitcher who works every fifth day (meet a $2 Rafael Betancourt, and compare him to a $30 Josh Johnson) and as a result of the anecdotes of Roto wisdom he provided, I grew fascinated with the ins-and-outs of both the fantasy game and baseball itself.

Fantasy baseball appealed to me like nothing else I’d ever done, and playing the silly little game made me realize what my dream job in life would be. But with 30 General Managers in MLB and close to 7 billion people in the world, the odds are stacked against me. Even if I shorten the odds by accounting for only the roughly 300 million people in the U.S., my chances of actually running a big league team when I’m older are slim.

I continue to play the fantasy game for the same reason Dan Okrent invented it and my dad participated in the first place. When you can’t play baseball any more, because of arthritis or fear of the fastball, and when you get bored of watching your Cubs lose every year or your Yankees cruise to the postseason almost without fail, and when you itch for your favorite team to make a blockbuster trade, you can turn to your imagination. Dad may not be heaven-bound for creating a Rotisserie monster, but I love him for showing me how to play. And without jumping to conclusions, it looks like we’re going to finish in first place in our AARP league this year.

Nick Fleder is a high school junior who roots tirelessly for the New York Yankees. Fantasy sports are currently his only form of income.


1 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 22, 2011 9:47 am

Cool story, Nick. Thanks for doing it for the Banter. I only played fantasy baseball once, and it was a half-hearted thing at best. But I found it addicting. That was the summer of 2002. After the season, I started this blog and never went back because the blog was even more addicting!

I need to see that 30 on 30 on the original league. Sounds like fun.

2 Jon DeRosa   ~  Sep 22, 2011 10:24 am

Thank you for sharing, Nick! Diet Coke at four?

This was my first year in over a decade w/o fantasy baseball, and I have to say, I'm not missing it as much as I thought.

But I am amazed at the things I don't know, which used to be routine. I don't know who's having a good year, apart from the MVP and Cy Young candidates, just about anywhere outside the AL East. I don't know the prospects and their ETAs nearly as well as I did even a year ago. That stuff just vanishes when you're not constantly looking for ways to improve your squad.

3 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 22, 2011 10:33 am

3) Are the ways you value a fantasy player the same way you would value them as a normal fan, or even if you were a GM or a manager?

4 RIYank   ~  Sep 22, 2011 10:48 am

[3] Belth asking himself a question again.

Nick, that's good work. Very professional.

5 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 22, 2011 11:32 am

4) No, seriously, I think I know in general, but since I don't have much experience with fantasy baseball, I'm curious. Anyone?

6 RagingTartabull   ~  Sep 22, 2011 11:49 am

this was great, good job Nick.

but damn it made me feel old!

7 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 22, 2011 12:12 pm

Nick's never known life before The Core Four, bless his heart.

8 NF   ~  Sep 22, 2011 12:22 pm

Yo, thanks for the kind words, guys.

I think the defense, the hustle, the small ball is lost in the fantasy world for the offensive dudes. For the hitters, it's all about the sexy counting stats. Matt Kemp was a pretty good fantasy player in 2010 (albeit disappointing) when he hit ~30 HR, stole ~20 bases, drove in ~90 runs, scored ~80 times, even though he hit .250. What's totally lost in the fantasy world is how terrible he was on defense (http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2010&month=0&season1=2010&ind=0.... worst player in the league defensively), how he got caught 15 times to his 19 SB, how he was barely above replacement level (.3 wins added above replacement, per fangraphs). So basically, this seems like the typical case of the fantasy world valuing a (once) average player as a superstar because he's really, really good at RBI, HR, SB.

Then again, a normal Dodgers fan could spot how bad and lost Matt Kemp was in 2010, and that too is the case sometimes. It's an interesting question that Carson Cistulli tries to answer in a sense at FanGraphs through WAR vs. FANTS value. The problem there is that a typical fan may not value a certain player based on WAR and rather how fun they are to watch (something Cistulli also tries to answer)


Pitchers are more of the same; it's all about which metrics you prefer. I think an average fan would be familiar with and use K's, Wins, ERA to paint a value of a pitcher first, and then you'd agree with fantasy values. If you're more of a follower of sabermetrics, you'll value a guy like Sabathia based on FIP or War. Pick your side, I guess.

Does that make any sense?

9 Jon DeRosa   ~  Sep 22, 2011 1:06 pm

[3] Yes and no. Statistically, it's about the same. And you get attachments to guys that succeed for you. But you could never have any warmth for a Cervelli type player like we do here because he'd just crush your stats.

One year, two guys were fighting it out for the title. The player in first, by half a point, was vulnerable in saves, but the guy behind him in saves hadn't logged in a month, so he chucked all his closers to sure up other areas. The other contender called up #2 in saves and convinced him to log in and pick up the discarded closers. On the final day of the season, Mike DeJean picked up a save that swung the standings half a point and the front runner lost.

To this day, the winner still calls up the loser at work and tells the receptionist that Mike DeJean is on the line.

10 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 22, 2011 1:38 pm

8) So OBP doesn't count in fantasy?

11 RagingTartabull   ~  Sep 22, 2011 1:52 pm

in my league this year we replaced BA with OPS and ERA with WHIP

and I still finished 8th.

12 NF   ~  Sep 22, 2011 1:57 pm

[10] I'd love to play in a progressive league. The two I play in, though, are 4x4 and 5x5 respectively: HR, RBI, SB, BA, ERA, WHIP, SV, W (K / R, too, in the 5x5).

13 Shaun P.   ~  Sep 22, 2011 1:58 pm

[10] It can, it depends on the way the league is set up. Most "standard 5x5" leagues don't use OBP - its AVG, R, HR, RBI, and SB for the hitters, W, K, SV, ERA, WHIP for the pitchers (hence the name).

Some folks customize their leagues differently. The league I've played in the longest started using OBP in 2003, for example, and we added SLG in 2005 I think.

[8] Nick, great job on the writing. I watched "Silly Little Game" the night it premiered on ESPN and I remember it fondly now. I've been playing rotisserie/fantasy baseball in some form since 1990 and remember as a kid hearing the stories about how it all started and wanting to know more. It was great to finally get some of those old questions answered.

[7] Kids today - don't know how lucky they have it. ;)

14 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 22, 2011 2:15 pm

Oh, I didn't know that so many leagues are different. Seems like you could really have different kinds of games then. Cool.

15 RagingTartabull   ~  Sep 22, 2011 3:36 pm

[14] oh sure, Yahoo lets you customize it however you want. A few years ago we replaced Saves with Holds just for the hell of it...it was weeeeeird. Hideki Okajima was basically the MVP.

16 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 22, 2011 3:40 pm

15) I'd include foul balls. Who had the most foul balls, and assorted stupid shit like who walked out of the batter's box the most, who spit the most, etc.

17 ejeancarroll   ~  Sep 22, 2011 6:04 pm

Nick, you write about fantasy baseball like Hemingway writes about bulls. And I LURVED the photos! Your dad comes through as he is in real life----a frickin GOD!

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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