First things first – damn you, Alfonso Soriano. It's nothing personal. He seems like a nice guy and, since he's an ex-Yankee, I'll always be a fan. But my chance at beating all the experts and winning the Yahoo! Friends and Family League pretty much ended way back in March, the moment I drafted Soriano instead of Alex Rodriguez. And the final nail in the coffin was this past Sunday, the last day of the regular season.
You see, I caught the beginning of Saturday's Cubs game on TV and I was surprised to see their starting lineup was full of backups and scrubs. No Soriano. I didn't realize they played split-squad games in September. Anyway, Soriano was unfortunately already locked into my lineup. But clever manager that I am, I clicked ahead to my Sunday lineup and removed him, swapping in the speedy Tike Redman.
So the next morning, there I am on my hands and knees, scooping out the litter box, thinking, "You know, the Cubs play an unusual amount of early games. As soon as I'm done here, I should check to make sure Soriano's not in the starting lineup." Then it immediately slipped my mind. Cut to a couple hours later, I go online to check out the box scores to see that not only did Soriano hit a home run, he went 3-for-3.
With Soriano in my lineup, I'd have beaten out Dodson and Evans for sole possession of fourth place. With Soriano on my bench, we ended in a three-way tie. They say a tie is like kissing your sister, so then a three-way tie must be … well, I better stop right there.
Anyway, it's not Soriano's fault. It's mine. And it didn't really all come down to Sunday morning. In fact, it was a long and winding road to the finish line. My team leapt out in front early and I held onto first place for a little while there. Then Pianowski took over. And then Behrens shot ahead like Burt Reynolds in "Stroker Ace" and never looked back. In fact, Behrens piled up so many points that if you split his team in half, his two split-squads would have finished in ninth. Wow.
There's plenty to feel good about, too. I did beat the Grand Poobah himself, Brandon Funston, who finished seventh. The over/under on where I would end up was eighth place, so I beat that, too. Most important of all, though, I finished first in my private league. Fourth year in a row, in fact. I might be inclined to search for a more challenging league if I wasn't making so much money off them – um, I mean, if I didn't find them such a lovely bunch of guys. Just lovely.
The strange thing about playing fantasy baseball is that just as the fantasy season ends, the best part of the real season begins. I'm talking of course about the playoffs. There's nothing better than October baseball. And when I think of October baseball, I think of the bitterest rivalry of them all – the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox.
I've been a baseball fan for as long as I can remember, but it was child's play until 1996. Two fantastic things happened to me that year, actually – the Yankees won the World Series for the first time in my lifetime, and I met a pretty girl named Leah. (Actually, I was alive in 1977 and 1978 when the Yanks also won it all, but I was too young to notice, so … ) I met the pretty girl first, and soon I learned she was a Boston Red Sox fan.
I kept dating her anyway, and as the Yankees went to the playoffs that October, she generously rooted for the enemy by rooting right along with me. When John Wetteland got Mark Lemke to pop up to third for the last out and the World Series victory, I wasn't home in New York celebrating with my buddies. I was in Boston, visiting her.
That season was just the beginning for the Yankees, and for us. The Yanks won it all again in 1998, 1999, and 2000. Meanwhile, Leah and I moved in together, I somehow talked her into marrying me, and we moved cross-country together. By 2003, everyone was getting sick of the Yankees, not just Red Sox fans. With the new Wild Card round, suddenly the Yankees and Red Sox could meet in the playoffs, and meet they did. I remember jumping up and down like a little kid as Aaron Boone's blast sent the Yanks to the World Series and the Sox home for the winter. Leah got angry with me. Really angry. I had to spend the night on the living room couch. She thought by carrying on like that I was rubbing her nose in it. What she didn't realize is I wasn't thinking about her at all. I was thinking something along the lines of what Jack Buck said when he called Kirk Gibson's historic homer off Dennis Eckersley in 1988: "I don't believe what I just saw!"
I've already written about what it was like for me the following season, 2004 – David Ortiz and Curt Schilling carried my fantasy team to a league title, all the while carrying the Sox right back into a grudge match against the Yanks. At the end of the most exciting, exhausting week of baseball I've ever seen, my wife's Red Sox beat my Yankees and went on to the World Series. And just like she did for me in 1996, I rooted for the enemy, and wouldn't you know it, the enemy won it all.
They say spring is the time for hope. But it's fall now and I'm still feeling hopeful. In a league full of fantasy baseball experts, this Average Joe finished fourth. The Yanks and Sox are both headed to the playoffs and possibly another historic clash. As I write this, David Lee Roth and the Van Halen brothers have finally reunited, they're on tour and heading for Los Angeles, where my brother and I will see them for the first time ever, together. And right around New Year's Eve, my life will take yet another surprising turn – Leah and I are expecting our first child. A little girl. Too much cuddling I guess, huh? Soon we'll face a really important decision. I'm not talking about what to name her. I'm not talking about religion. I'm talking about whether we'll raise her to be a fan of the Red Sox, or the Yankees.
Well, in the words of Porky Pig … that's all, folks. A huge thank you to Brandon Funston for taking a chance on some Yahoo! marketing guy named Falzone and giving me this column to write. Thanks to all the other experts for letting me crash their party. And thanks to you for reading this. Enjoy October baseball. When it's over, it'll be only four months until next spring, when this crazy game we call fantasy baseball begins once again.