When fantasy meets reality

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

He packed his life and headed cross country. Baseball makes people do crazy things, and dreams spur even crazier decisions, and when the two came together in a neat little package, Anthony Agneta knew he needed to take the journey, consequences tossed to the wind.

Because everyday people – certainly not respiratory therapists, as Agneta was – don’t get the chance to wake up, drive 10 miles up the 101, park their cars at the San Francisco Giants offices and step into the middle of the team’s baseball-operations machine, the heart of every baseball organization. For the last eight months, Agneta, though merely a capillary, has done that every morning – a fantasy job nabbed thanks to his fantasy prowess.

Yes, fantasy baseball fiends, you now have your patron saint not only for excuses but also aspirations: After winning a 12-team fantasy league for Yahoo!’s Fantasy Front Office promotion, Agneta was given the chance to intern for a year in the Giants’ baseball-ops department. Which means that every time a fantasy widow complains, a boilerplate response – “Sweetheart, Anthony Agneta’s fantasy skills got him a job” – is wholly appropriate.

OK, so Agneta’s current job has absolutely nothing to do with fantasy baseball and absolutely everything to do with dedication and work. He gets up early, works late, crunching numbers, filing papers, mailing packages and, above all, listening. Because a year in a baseball-ops department is like hopping inside of a watch and seeing first-hand how the second hand really works.

“It’s just that chance,” Agneta said. “That’s what it’s all about. Fantasy sports are great in that they help you keep in tune with the game, with stats. You know what’s going on. All the different players. It’s a great help. But it doesn’t compare to player evaluation and the things you really need to know to be successful in baseball.

“And I love it. But there’s also a lot of misconceptions what it might be like to work in a front office. People aren’t exaggerating when they talk about the amount of hours you put into it. You’re on the clock 24 hours a day. Especially if you put your mind to it. With me, they didn’t know what they were going to get. I could’ve acted like I was another type of intern and worked 9 to 5 or 9 to 6. I try to treat it like everyone else does.”

Agneta had no baseball background, other than rooting for the Boston Red Sox as a kid. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire with degrees in communications and psychology. He was in tech sales for a few years and dabbled in medical software for another year and a half before he returned to school for respiratory therapy, a field Agneta had no intention of leaving until he saw the advertisement for the contest.

In four hours, he used 149 of the allotted 150 words to answer the essay question on which team in 2005 made the best offseason moves. That, plus a handful of trivia questions, weeded out most of the applicants. Giants general manager Brian Sabean and then-assistant GM Ned Colletti, now running the Los Angeles Dodgers, chose the 12 finalists to compete in a fantasy league last year that started after the All-Star break.

“When I knew it was me or 11 other guys, that’s when I realized I had a chance with this thing,” Agneta said. “I spent a lot of time on it. First, I spent a lot of time with school. After I graduated I spent three weeks cramming for my exams. Then there was my wedding and the honeymoon. And we were remodeling our condo. And then the fantasy league.”

Agneta parked himself in front of the computer before the draft, trying to predict who would break out in the second half. By September, his wife, Katie, surely was tired of hearing how Travis Hafner had hit another home run, yet Agneta kept reminding her that he was in first place, that he actually might win this thing.

When he did, he knew the fine print. The job wasn’t guaranteed. The Giants would fly him to San Francisco and feel out whether his personality would mesh. When executives met with Agneta, what they saw – his eagerness complemented by a humbler-than-pie demeanor – satisfied them.

So out to the Bay Area he went, a lifelong East Coast kid, 29 years old and starting over for … a game?

“To ask me that is to say, ‘Would you move 3,000 miles away to a place where there’s no one you know to see what it’s like, then go back?’ ” Agneta said. “I came out here with the main goal of making something out of this. I’m hoping to turn it into something.”

His first day was in the middle of January. He handled reams of mail. He tracked draft-eligible players for June, when he would spend days helping organize the Giants’ war room. He picked scouts’ brains when they were in the office, trying to glean at least a little bit of knowledge from everyone he could.

“We throw a lot at everybody who comes through here, whether him or a graduate student that’s part of an internship program,” said Jeremy Shelley, the Giants’ director of baseball operations and a former intern. “They need to grasp things quickly, because we don’t spend a lot of time with them. We’re so busy with our tasks, they need to learn on their own.”

Ask Agneta what he’s learned and he hesitates. Though he understands the inner workings of a baseball organization – a traditionally successful one at that – he doesn’t want to intimate that he knows everything. Or anything, for that matter.

He is just an intern, 30 years old now, and the internship is set to finish after a year. His time with the Giants has reaffirmed his love of baseball and intensified the dream. Respiratory therapy will be there for him; baseball is fickle. As much as he would love to hook on with the Giants, he’s not banking on it, by any means, because while Agneta knows how tough it is to crack the business, it might be even tougher to stay.

“I’ll get to read resumés,” Agneta said. “I get to see what people are trying to do to get an internship with a baseball team. And the way I got in was so unconventional.

“But any one of these guys would have taken the same chance.”

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