King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Do fantasy sports make real-life sports more fun? A lifelong fantasy avoider considers the frightening possibility.

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Does this happen to you? As each new season of each sport that I follow dawns, I find that my interest level varies widely from year to year.

Because of what I do for a living, I can’t ignore any of the big sports, so there’s a kind of baseline, and I’m always on board pretty heavily by the time the postseason rolls around. But some years baseball or college basketball or hockey begins and I really can’t be bothered. Other years, same sport, and I’m riveted.

I don’t remember this happening when I was younger. As soon as it started to feel like spring — I grew up in Los Angeles, where you have to really be perceptive to note seasonal changes — baseball was all I could think about. Every year.

As soon as the days started to get shorter, even though baseball’s pennant races were heating up and I was fascinated by them, I was also excited about the prospect of a new season of football. I couldn’t wait to play, couldn’t wait to watch. College and pro.

And then here would come basketball and hockey, and I couldn’t get enough of season forecasts and early games.

I say this because I find myself obsessing over this first week of baseball, which a year ago at this time left me kind of cold.

I’m spending my afternoons switching between random ballgames, looking in on the Red Sox and Rangers, switching over to the Phillies and Cardinals, and then hey, look what’s up in that Tigers-Royals game.

Let me say that again. I’ve been watching the Tigers play the Royals. And it isn’t 1984.

This is the time of year when professional responsibility dictates that I obsess not over the first of baseball’s 26 weeks but on the dogfight for the last playoff spots in the NBA and NHL. Can the Sixers recover? Can the Hornets catch the Kings?

Look at that scrum in the NHL’s Western Conference! What do you think for the seventh and eighth seeds, Oilers and Sharks? Canucks and Kings?

Sorry, what were you saying? I was watching the Orioles play the Devil Rays.

As I’ve told you, I’m making my first foray into fantasy baseball this year, having been invited to participate in an “experts” league by Baseball Prospectus. Regular readers know what I think of the expertise of sports “experts” — a convenient attitude for me to have at the moment, given that at least two public forecasts of the league’s outcome have my team in last place.

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Whenever I’ve dismissed fantasy sports over the years, many readers and friends have told me that fantasy sports have increased their enjoyment of real-life sports. You have to learn about the players to draft intelligently, and wanting to follow your guys leads fantasy players who don’t live in, say, Detroit or Kansas City to tune in to, say, a Tigers-Royals game they’d otherwise happily ignore.

I’m not sure if my new hobby, which for all I know is going to be a one-year variation from an otherwise fantasy-sports-free life, is behind this year’s upswing in my interest in baseball.

I’ve experienced something similar with the NFL the last few years, a league I have largely ignored for long stretches of my life. But I haven’t played fantasy football. I’ve also entered various NBA, NHL and college football, basketball and baseball seasons with higher-than-usual interest over my adult years without benefit of fantasy leagues.

Still, grudgingly, I can’t dismiss the possibility. I didn’t tune in to those Tigers-Royals games to check on my guys — you wouldn’t either if you saw who they were — and I’ve been just as interested in the National League as the American even though the league I’m in only has A.L. players. But I did spend March poring over baseball ephemera in preparation for the draft, and that may have energized my fandom.

Then again, the World Baseball Classic, another unusual March event, may have done just as much to get the old hardball juices flowing.

Hard to say. My team, bound for last place anyway, the experts say, has been beset by injuries already. The simulated games, based on weekly real-world results, that make up this league don’t start till next week, but the way my healthy guys are performing so far, a mass trip to the disabled list might actually count as a hot streak.

What I mean is there’s a good chance that in about three weeks my team will be hopelessly out of it, which will be a good test of how much my fantasy participation is guiding my nonfantasy fandom.

In the meantime: Have you been following that Brewers-Pirates series? Wow!

Previous column: Barry Bonds reality show

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