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Ryan Waning Ryan Waning
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The Sports Edge Reality > Fantasy

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I don't know how to pose this to people, so I'm just going to lay it out there - I'm pretty sure that playing fantasy sports have been ruining my experience as a sports fan.

Coming to that realization is pretty odd for me, as I was one of the earliest people onboard with rotisserie baseball in the late eighties; this after discovering the Pete Golenbock books at my local bookstore by chance and falling in love with the concept.

At the time, it was a daily morning ritual for me to swim through the box scores from the games the night before and try to see the game story that wasn't in the Associated Press write-up. It gave me a tie between listening to the games on the radio and flipping by the players on their baseball cards. I even used to get the USA Today on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to get the weekly up-to-date MLB statistics so I could keep score for a league I had made up to play by myself.

As the years have passed, the proliferation of fantasy sports has gone widespread - it really has become the milfoil of sports fandom. Magazines have given way to a million websites with a million experts giving a million tips in a multimillion-dollar industry.

I jumped in with both feet.

For years, I was part of multiple fantasy leagues each season, with at least a few teams going all the time. And at that point, I argued with anyone who asked why watching the Red Sox wasn't enough that having to follow every player in the league gave me an immersive experience that watching just one team couldn't give you.

And I was right.

I obsessed about every player, paid attention to every team, and even began following minor league players and collegiate athletes to get a jump on knowing about them when they got to the show.

Eventually, I found myself in a baseball league that was as difficult as any league I'd ever been in. I'm not talking about a tight-knit group of friends who play fantasy sports to have a reason to keep in touch; this league was more like a loosely-affiliated group of cutthroat pirates that functioned on equal parts spite, rage and guile. It was the best experience ever and overtook my need to be in many leagues at once. Having the highest level of competition available was the end point for me.

Or so I thought.

This past fall marks the first time in years that I haven't been involved in a fantasy football league and I find that as I watch the league this year, I'm enjoying the games even without watching them the way every fantasy player is now programmed to watch them. My wife stopped watching sports with me during the peak of my fantasy playing, because she said it made her uneasy about cheering when good things happened. Just because Ortiz belted a three-run home run (which is good) doesn't mean he didn't hit it off of one of my relievers, right?

Perhaps I'll come around again after the glow of this nostalgic trip through being a kid again is over. But for now, I'll watch and enjoy and look for box scores, but I won't be wondering about anyone's WHIP.

At least, not until February.

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