Evolution of a fan, part 3

March 23, 2009

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Evolution of a fan, part 3
Narrowing the focus

This is the final installment in a three part series.

In the past decade, the majority of my sports focus has been on baseball. I had lost interest in the NBA in the 90s. I am still a fan of the NFL and college football and basketball, but my interest has cooled over the years and is now truly seasonal. On the other hand, baseball has slowly become a year-round sport for me. There really is no off-season. The November – March timeframe is packed with all sorts of activity – winterball, free agency, salary arbitration, and spring training, to name a few.

My first major step in this direction was joining – and winning – my first fantasy baseball league in 1998. I was 23 at the time, so I was a bit of a late starter. The fantasy league opened my eyes to the other 29 teams in the league, and I became a fan of the sport, instead of merely a fan of certain teams and players.

I still play fantasy baseball. However, neither of my leagues has a traditional format. My pride and joy is my own creation – a league in which a team cannot start two players whose last names begin with the same letter of the alphabet (for example Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez). This completely changes the values of players. The other league is a keeper league where we carry forward the entire roster from one year to the next. At the outset, I drafted a team almost entirely of prospects. I had a horrible first year, since none my players had substantial at bats or innings. In year two (last year) I won the regular season title (although I did lose in the playoffs).

In addition to fantasy, I also play in a sim league. A friend of mine described this as a baseball version of Dungeons and Dragons. You draft and develop fake players. The league commish use the Mogul computer game as the main engine for the league, but has added a ton of custom features. There are 32 people spread across the US who manage teams in the league. Everyone has different draft, development, and trade preferences, resulting in a league that is a lot of fun and very unpredictable at times.

I read about baseball a lot, especially during the seasons. I have books related to the economics of baseball, the physics of baseball, and everything in between. A topic of particular interest to me recently is the ability to distinguish between talent and luck. It is possible to dissect a player’s statistics and theorize whether a player had a great year because his skills suddenly took a step forward, or if the performance was due more to good luck. I also read a lot of online content, and of course I subscribe to Sports Weekly.

2007 featured the greatest baseball moment of my fanhood, as my Colorado Rockies won 21 of 22 games and put themselves in their – and my – very first World Series. They game up short, but surely a World Series title is just around the corner.

At this point in my fanhood, I am ankle deep into most sports and neck deep into baseball. I’m not quite over my head – yet.

Update: After writing this, and before it was published, the baseball sim league became a casualty of my attempt to juggle too many things at once. Quite honestly, this blog has begun to drain quite a bit of my spare time, and I was forced to make a tough decision.

Evolution of a fan, part 2

March 16, 2009

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Evolution of a fan, part 2
Finding my way

This is the second installment in a three part series. Catch the final installment next Monday.

Like most dramatic changes, it began as a trickle. Walter Payton retired from the Bears after the 1987 season. My heart simply wasn’t with the Bears any more, and I was looking for a new team. The guy my sister was dating at the time (now my brother-in-law) was a Vikings fan, and I become a convert and have been a Viking fan ever since.

On November 7, 1991, my NBA idol came crashing down. Magic Johnson had HIV. I ceased becoming a Lakers fan and began following Magic’s friend Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons. Eventually, I left the Pistons and followed Alonzo Mourning’s career in Charlotte and Miami. There was something missing, however, and my interest in the NBA began a steep decline when Magic retired, and has continued to decline to the point of nearly zero interest.

In 1992, the great shakeup continued. I was a junior in high school and had to make a decision about which college to attend. The logical assumption was that I would attend the University of Iowa and cheer on my beloved Hawkeyes. My mind was changed when the university representatives visited my high school. I was not impressed by the Iowa representative, and was quite impressed with the Iowa State representative. I decided that I would attend the finest public university the state had to offer – Iowa State University. In fact, I did not bother applying to any other college.

I thus became a Cyclone. Under my fanhood, the men’s basketball team enjoyed a resurgence that culminated in a 1999-2000 team that advanced to the Elite Eight, led by Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley. The women’s team was also winning games. In fact, Iowa State swept the regular season and conference tournaments in mens and womens basketball in 1999-2000. The football team inexplicably began going to bowl games. Wrestler Cael Sanderson became a household name as he went 159-0 in college and later nabbed a gold medal. The men’s cross country team joined the party, winning the national championship in 1994.

The tidal wave of change continued into baseball. The Cubs were unable to retain reigning Cy Young award winner Greg Maddux following the 1992 season and he signed with the Atlanta Braves. I was disgusted with the Cubs, and changed teams. I did not, however, follow Maddux to the Braves. Instead, I chose a new path and became a charter fan of a brand new team, the Colorado Rockies, who would begin play in 1993. The inaugural season of 1993 had rough patches, but there was hope for the future. 1994 brought heartbreak, however. On August 12, the players began a strike that would wipe out the rest of the season. It was a very low point in my fanhood.

In 1995, things were much brighter. My Rockies, in only their third year of existence, finished with a record of 77-67 (some 1995 games were also lost due to the strike) and made the playoffs as a wild card. They lost in the first round to the Braves, but optimism was very high.

Evolution of a fan: Part 1

March 9, 2009

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Evolution of a fan, Part 1
Follow the crowd

This is the first installment in a three part series. Catch the other installments on the next two Mondays.

I’m the youngest of eight children. None of my siblings have any interest in sports. I really didn’t become a sports fan until I was in third grade. My teacher was a sports fan. At some point during the third grade, I decided the sports were cool and became a fan.

At that age, most of the kids followed the same sports teams. Everyone followed the Iowa Hawkeyes, of course. The Cubs and Bears were also very popular. I quickly became a die hard fan of these teams. I also became a fan of the LA Lakers, although the reason for this isn’t particularly clear, since LA is a long way from Iowa.

My timing really could not have been better. I became a sports fan in late 1983 – early 1984. Ryne Sandberg was my favorite player. Ryno led the Cubs on a magical ride to their first playoff appearance since 1945. He was named the National League MVP. The Cubs, alas, fell to the Padres in the National League Championship Series and would not return to the playoffs until 1989 (where they would once again fall in the NLCS).

1985 was a great year for my football teams. My Chicago Bears went 15-1 during the regular season before advancing to the Super Bowl and running roughshod over the New England Patriots 46-10. The lone negative aspect of that year was the fact that Walter Payton did not score a touchdown in that Super Bowl game.

My Iowa Hawkeyes also had a dream season in 1985. In the greatest game in the history of the University of Iowa, the #1 ranked Hawkeyes knocked off #2 ranked Michigan 12-10 on a Rob Houghtlin field goal as time expired. The perfect season was later derailed by a loss to Ohio State, but the Hawks were the Big 10 champs and represented the conference in the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately, they were undone by Ronnie Harmon fumbles and lost the bowl game.

The Iowa basketball team also had some bright moments – notably a Sweet 16 appearance in 1988 – and featured stars such as BJ Armstrong, Roy Marble, and Acie Earl.

The brightest spot in my early sports fanhood were my LA Lakers. Unlike most fans my age, I never became a fan of Michael Jordan. My man was Magic Johnson, the 6’9” point guard for the Lakers. Magic led the Lakers to the NBA title in 1985, 1987, and 1988, as well as appearances in the NBA Finals in 1984, 1989, and 1991. His annual battles with Larry Bird was the stuff of legends.

At this point, I’ll go on a bit of a tangent to discuss the positive aspects of sports on children. At the time when I became a sports fan, I was a lackluster student. My newfound interest in sports compelled me to read any sports related item I came across. When I read the sports section, I even read about the sports that I didn’t follow. Sports also helped me build my math skills. Statistics are a key aspect of sports, and I became adept at calculating the statistics. In a couple of years, I became a very good student, emerging as a strong writer and math student.