My name is Mitch Calvert—and I have a gambling problem.
Please refrain from calling Gamblers Anonymous, however, as I promise I’m not dealing with much real money here.
Unfortunately, the heartache is very much real.
I am a self-admitted fantasy hockey junkie, and March brings with it the culmination of a long winter of wheeling and dealing, cutting dead weight, taking a flyer on some journeyman forward, and setting rosters minutes before deadline.
Sweat-inducing stuff to be sure, but that’s just the hard-knock life of a fantasy sports guru.
Fantasy hockey is a realm where bragging rights outweigh any monetary gain, where success is measured solely in wins and losses, and where a chimpanzee named “Maggie” can make even the wisest of experts feel silly.
I stretched myself pretty thin by entering teams in four Yahoo! hockey pools this past winter (only one for money) because I was invited and felt obligated.
It got to be almost a chore to update my rosters each week, but the fruits of my labour have paid off with a playoff spot in all four, including a first-round bye (top two finishers are rewarded with this) in three of them.
That probably will mean that by this time next week, I’ll be eliminated in all four, but I still will be able to boast about being the regular-season champ.
Then again, I doubt all those months of sitting atop the standings will hold much weight during off-season banter with friends who finished above me during the playoffs, especially since I have a reputation to uphold with sports being part of my job description.
For some people, on the scale of interesting things to do, fantasy sports rates somewhere between banging your head against a wall and getting a colonoscopy.
But for me, there’s nothing quite like the toe-to-toe fight you can achieve through your computer screen on the fantasy hockey battlefield.
If trash talking suits your fancy, Yahoo! now has a “smack talk” option available. Who would’ve thunk it? “Sportygirl” beat me a few weeks back and sent some trash talk my way—and I haven’t yet fully recovered my manhood.
I’ll be sure to gloat about it if I get revenge on her in the playoffs.
Hey, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.
• • •
Baseball always has been the ying to my hockey yang, but my patience is starting to wear thin with my 1B sport.
Football is creeping up quickly, and baseball is going to have to do something drastic to hold onto me.
Baseball’s supposed stars have lied to their fans, lied to the U.S. Congress, and even lied to poor old reporters like me. Who would lie to a reporter, man?!
What have hockey players done to dissuade your trust? Well, to be fair, they sometimes embellish their weight.
Chris Connor of the Dallas Stars, listed at 180 pounds, wouldn’t look out of place in your average Novice league game while Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks looks more like Kate Moss than the 165 pounds he is listed at.
No need for a urine test here.
Baseball, on the other hand, has that little steroid scandal that can’t seem to escape the news.
Mark McGwire has all but disappeared from the public realm, Sammy Sosa sized down in a hurry and suddenly couldn’t hit, and Alex Rodriguez blamed his cousin. Reputations have been ruined and jail terms may soon follow the “Steroids Era.”
How does hockey measure up? The NHL’s biggest drug scandal involved goalie Jose Theodore taking a hair-restoration drug to maintain his shiny, flowing locks. Scandalous!
This year there was that second-hand joke by Sean Avery talking about his former girlfriend, but baseball’s mess has buried that little slip-up at the bottom of the scrap heap—and Avery is back scoring goals and yapping for the N.Y. Rangers.
And, of course, something that has been mentioned countless times before is the average hockey player’s high threshold for pain compared to other professional athletes.
Baseball players miss games getting cut by bra straps (San Francisco Giants’ manager Roger Craig) while hockey players get cut open for 20 stitches and come back for the next period.
And another thing: There’s something called parity the NHL has embraced—meaning almost all teams have a fair shake at hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The Philadelphia Flyers went from dead-last two seasons ago to the conference final last year, and are well on their way to another deep playoff run.
No team can stay bad for too long without nature taking its course in the form of high draft picks and limited salary caps, and there only are a handful of teams right now who are just playing out the string.
It gives die-hard fans everywhere hope for a brighter future in any market, large or small.
By contrast, baseball has the N.Y. Yankees flipping off the rest of the league by spending $423 million on free agents Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, and C.C. Sabathia. Teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, meanwhile, continue to spend near the bottom and play in front of sparse crowds because they are mathematically eliminated midway through the season.
The NHL’s participation in the Olympics has led to big games and even bigger upsets. It draws attention to the game on a world stage, and is one of those unique events that can bring a country together.
Baseball has this brilliant invention called the World Baseball Classic. You’ve got a bunch of teams fielding their ‘B’ squads because no one is willing to risk injury during spring training. Teams aren’t likely to encourage their star pitchers to go risk injury when they have an entire season ahead to worry about.
If the players don’t care, the fans won’t, either.
A paltry 13,000 showed up to watch a medal-round game between the U.S. and Venezuela in Florida (who thought it was a smart idea to stage the game in a place that draws peanuts to Marlins’ games?) while an equal number showed up to a Yankees’ spring training game in nearby Tampa Bay.
Maybe if Canada’s best pitchers showed up and helped get us deep into the tournament, we’d be more intrigued to watch, but with millions of dollars hinging on the arm of Rich Harden (and others), that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.
• • •
Hey, don’t forget to check out the Muskie boys’ OFSAA blog—online at www.fftimes.com—today and throughout the all-Ontario championships in North Bay.
I made the trip with the boys and will be blogging and reporting live, with photos and game updates as they happen immediately available at your fingertips.
Full stories will appear in the Daily Bulletin tomorrow and Friday, and hopefully Monday, as the Muskies pursue their fourth OFSAA title and first since 2001.
My name is Mitch Calvert—and I have a gambling problem.