It is a day that lives perpetually in infamy in the hearts of American sports fans. After Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game has crowned a champion—and determined home field advantage for the World Series—sports suddenly slumbers. It is the only day of the calendar year where none of the teams comprising the four professional sports leagues (the Monday preceding the All-Star Game at least has the dreadful Home Run Derby) are not competing. No wonder then—no solace taken for this viewer—that ESPN televises the self-congratulatory ESPYs on this day every year.
All is not lost, however. For four-and-a-half years ago—as The Fantasy Man—I penned this article for Wisconsin Sports Weekly about the mystical Man Behind the Curtain:
Take a step back from your favorite player, team, and sport for a moment. Did you ever stop to consider that with only the Super Bowl and the farce that is the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl remaining before the National Football League season officially draws to a close, it is no coincidence that pitchers and catchers report a mere three weeks from today? And that such spacing is not just there for these two sports—it is consistently precise. So exact, in fact, that it almost appears as if one supracommissioner actually runs all of sports, at all levels. Let me explain.
At the year’s onset, college football bowls and professional playoff positioning dominate the sports scene, with conference play just getting under way in college hoops and the Winter Meetings heating up Major League Baseball’s Hot Stove in some reclusive warm clime. Throughout, the NBA and NHL continue to trudge along, making slow but distinct progress through their laborious regular season schedules.
The groundhog ushers in Spring Training and witnesses the first glimpse of intra-squad games. Yet it is not until March that the more inclusive inter-variety appears and—of course—the Madness in college basketball builds to a maniacally crazy crescendo.
In April, champions are determined in both college hoops and hockey while the postseason is just getting underway in the NBA. While NFL execs are poring over computerized printouts of body fat, 40-yard dash times, Wonderlic scores (not to mention desperately trying to get the voice of self-proclaimed draft guru Mel Kiper out of their heads), the NHL embarks on the ultimate quest—the two month long all-out-war for the Holy Grail of sports: Lord Stanley’s Cup. Nonetheless, nothing epitomizes this month better than the blooming of springtime that is baseball’s Opening Day, which pointedly always falls on la même jour as the NCAA men’s basketball title game.
While May’s highlights are limited to the first inter-league games of the year and leg one of horse racing’s Triple Crown, June ushers in tennis on clay and crowns two new professional champions. With the pennant races starting to take shape, July sees tennis’ venue shift across the Channel to greener pastures, host’s baseball’s Midsummer Classic (with much at stake) and—for all of those crazy football fans—sees training camps open. Augustus’ month brings similar tidings but also offers up one irreplaceable thing: your fantasy football draft. Few days of the year bring more excitement than that day your principle—preferably keeper—league gavels into session.
September rivals March as the greatest of all sports months, especially when it comes to the fantasy realm. With the pennant races in full swing, fantasy baseball enters its own playoff or—for the most adept of managers—the final weeks of the marathon that is rotisserie baseball. Of course, with the first week of the ninth month of the year, the NFL kicks off as well. Seeing your handpicked team first take the field is always a proud moment.
From a fantasy perspective, October is a bit of a letdown as baseball has ended. Yet to alleviate said pain, fantasy hockey and basketball both begin, cushioning your fall. The underrated college hockey season, too, begins now. For the sports fan, all is well again.
With the cold chill of November, the jostling for playoff position nears as the trade deadline in most fantasy league’s approach. December, though, is where it is at. They say the NFL season never ends. The same can be said of fantasy sports. And, come the final month of the calendar year, the ultimate test—the moment you have spent your entire fantasy career playing for—is now at hand. With the properly assembled team, the right matchups, and Fortune at your side, you’ll be celebrating your pigskin championship . . . until baseball starts anew.
With the first pitch of the first game tomorrow (hurled by ageless knuckleballer Tim Wakefield against the upstart Rangers), all will be well for another 364 days.
Second Half Predictions
The Toronto Maple Leafs can’t catch a break.
Though they finally have a sound organizational structure in place, one trade they and general manager Brian Burke will very likely always regret came back to rear its ugly head again at last month’s NHL Entry Draft.
Before the 2009-10 campaign began, the Leafs sent the Bruins their first and second-round picks in the 2010 draft, plus a first-round selection in next year’s draft.
And because of their anemic 74 point (30-38-14) showing, that 2010 first round pick turned out to be second overall—in a draft that featured two young dynamos in Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. Boston nabbed Seguin, the skillful centerman, at No. 2 and then landed another pivot in Jared Knight from the London Knights (!) of the Ontario Hockey League, where he tallied 36 goals, 21 assists, and 57 points in 63 games. And they still have the Leafs’ first round pick next year to utilize.
And what did a center-starved Toronto get in return? A soft winger who has never won anything. Ever. In fact, he was a key cog in the University of Minnesota hockey machine . . . that crashed and burned in the biggest upset in college hockey history, falling to lowly Holy Cross, 4-3 in overtime, in the 2006 West Regional semifinal. (Relive the glory with the Crusaders’ announcers!)
No one is arguing Phil Kessel can’t put the biscuit in the basket (although 96 goals in 292 career games is nothing to write home about for an alleged sniper), but from his severe defensive limitations—two-way hockey is not a course offered at Minnesota—to his lack of leadership, it is no wonder that a team that had just reached the Eastern Conference finals was very happy to rid itself of a talented young scorer. Flash and panache rarely acquit themselves well as traits needed to hoist the Stanley Cup. Just ask the Washington Capitals.
Oh, and thanks to the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Cup, the Toronto Maple Leafs are now mired in the longest championship drought (they last held the chalice 43 years ago in 1967) in the National Hockey League.
Wood Wonders Why . . .
. . . with 82 regular season games at their disposal, the NHL cannot figure out how to have each team play every other squad at least once in their own barn and away in theirs. I’m a huge Wings fan living in Washington, D.C. and now I am not going to be able to see the boys play live this season. Very frustrating.
CTU As Sideways World? (Redux)
And just when you think that the producers cannot cram any more Lost regulars into Day 2, they introduce Vice President Jim Prescott . . . played by Charles Widmore’s Alan Dale.
Chronologically it makes sense: Season 2 of 24 aired in the 2002-2003 television campaign, just when casting began on ABC’s groundbreaking Lost. A high profile show—even, nay especially, on a competing network—is fortuitous fodder for rival execs.
A Nouveau Tradition
I’ve found the ideal remedy to this most tedious of athletic days: the potential of future glory. So today—and in the future—the Wednesday after the All-Star break will be reserved for setting up all my fantasy football leagues. And the legendary Suicide Pool. After all, the NFL season kicks off in just 57 days. . . .