Before the 2004
season Sam Walker was a happily married sports columnist for The Wall Street
Journal. He wore a tie to work, maintained a social life and showered on a
frequent basis. But by the time that season was over, Walker had spent tens of
thousands of dollars of his own money, traveled more than 20,000 miles,
interrogated hundreds of major league ballplayers, scouts, managers and
executives, skipped weddings and funerals, and severely tested the patience of
his family and friends. � How did this happen? � Though he'd never played
Rotisserie baseball, Walker had accepted an invitation to compete in Tout Wars,
an elite, 12-team fantasy league that featured some of the nation's most
seasoned statistical analysts and baseball savants. Along the way he hired a
team of advisers ranging from a NASA mathematician to a baseball astrologer and
set what is probably a world record for asking baseball players inappropriate
questions. By the final month of the season he had become a disheveled,
caffeine-addled insomniac who was willing to do anything to help his fantasy
team, including, in some cases, actually trying to "manage" the major
leaguers on his roster. The following is an excerpt from Walker's new book,
Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringe (Viking, $25.95).
In the middle of
May, with my team safely ensconced in second place, I reloaded my beat-up
wheelie bag for a trip to Toronto. With the Minnesota Twins due to arrive there
for three games with the Blue Jays, I'll have nine of my players in the two
dugouts, the highest concentration at any ballpark so far this season. This
will be my first chance to try my hand at "managing" my team.
In addition to
bringing along a pile of provocative statistics to discuss with my guys, I'm
also beginning a campaign to build team morale. Last month, armed with color
markers, my assistant, Nando Di Fino, had sketched up an official team logo. In
it, my team's name, the STREETWALKERS BASEBALL CLUB, appears in navy script
above the silhouette of a pimp in a leisure suit with a cane, a fedora and a
garish robe with fur trim. I had the logo printed on 40 gray T-shirts, nine of
which are bundled in my suitcase for distribution. They look sharp.
ballplayers at spring training was one thing. But since the season began, I've
learned that talking to the players on my fantasy roster is an entirely
different kettle of fish. My conversations with a few that I'd caught up with
at Yankee Stadium had taught me that saying, "Dude, you're on my Rotisserie
team," wasn't much of an icebreaker. When I met one of my pitchers, Aaron
Sele of the Anaheim Angels, all I could think to do was ask him for a
"Can you take
it easy on [David] Ortiz and [Bill] Mueller?"
"Those are your
boys?" he asked.
"No, those are
thing," he said, laughing.
If I really wanted
to have an influence on these guys, I knew I'd have to be more than a groupie.
To understand them, to really get inside their heads, I'd have to come to the
ballpark prepared to ask intelligent questions.
I arrive at the
SkyDome just before batting practice and make my way to the visitors'
clubhouse, where the mood is loose and upbeat. Players slouch around on stools
and worn leather sofas while Outkast thumps from the stereo. The Twins have
been knocking the cover off the baseball lately and have opened up a
comfortable lead in the AL Central.