Fantasy draft — a rite of spring and a milestone of Boomer aging

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 Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber throws to a Kansas City Royals batter during the first inning of a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber throws to a Kansas City Royals batter during the first inning of a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

So here’s a question: If you’ve been doing something for 30 years straight, but that something is somewhat ridiculous, is the anniversary cause for celebration — or for lament?

Next Sunday, I’ll hop into my car and drive to a spacious ranch house in glamorous Freehold, N.J.

It is the abode of my friend Jim Lee, who also happens to be the owner and skipper of the Freeholders, a fantasy baseball juggernaut that has ruled the Dirty Laundry Rotisserie Baseball League for the last decade the way Michael Jordan’s Bulls used to rule the NBA.

This will mark the 30th consecutive year that I’ve made this springtime trek to that sacred ritual, the annual player auction of the Dirty Laundry League.

If anyone were keeping track (but why would they?), they might confirm my suspicion that our fantasy baseball league is one of the oldest in America, one of a precious few with a 30-year run of holding our annual drafts together in the flesh.

What in the world am I talking about, you ask? Rotisserie Baseball is the original, pure, analog version of the fantasy sports craze. Now, the concept has spread to multiple sports, and spawned a $4 billion  industry.

As befitting guys with gray hair, paunches and married children, the franchise owners of the Dirty Laundry League rock it old school.

We still play by the original Rotisserie Baseball rulebook. We still pick our teams the hard, fun way – through a boisterous, in-person player auction. You have a budget of 260 bucks to obtain 23 real major-league players, 14 hitters and nine pitchers.  Your fantasy team does only as well as the players you draft do in real baseball. 

The way the supply-demand economics of an auction draft work out, a superstar usually goes for about 40 bucks, a serviceable second baseman for 5.

When the league started in 1985, most of us worked in newspapers, had all our hair and actually left the floor when we took a “jump” shot playing hoops.

The rolling tide of years has wrought some changes. This is the third house that has hosted draft days; over the years, divorces claimed the first two. And those newspaper jobs … mostly gone with the summer wind.

But the league – and our goofy passion for it – has lasted long enough to spawns generation. Two sons of original owners, kids who used to crawl around at our feet during draft day, now run teams. So does my son-in-law.

One thing never changes: Freaking Jim Lee always does the best job on draft day. He’s won three of the four last pennants. That used to be me, the guy whose team was a perennial contender. Lately, though my boys, the Hard Knocks (say the words after my last name, fast, and you’ll glimpse the pun), have hit hard times.

But this year my keeper list from last year’s team has got lots of great young pitching: Kluber, Ventura, Duffy, bless ’em all.

If I can add a bopper or two on draft day, this could be the year. It really could. I can just feel it. Let’s play ball.

 

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