As some of you might know, I’m a Fantasy sports writer. You can tell because I capitalize Fantasy — who else does that?
Well, this past weekend, I took a trip to New York City for the Tout Wars, which happens to be a famous Fantasy Baseball league. To say it’s famous though, is like saying that Sonny Shroyer is famous (only Dukes of Hazzard-ites would know that he played Enos). The Tout Wars was relatively famous within the Fantasy community since its inception in 1998. But when the top-selling book FantasyLand came out a couple years ago, chronicling a Fantasy rookie’s season in one of the toughest leagues in the land, the Tout Wars tripled in fame. Now, tens upon tens of people have heard of it.
For those that are unclear on what Fantasy Baseball is, imagine a group of sportsfans/dorks/used-to-be-athletes/never-were-athletes-because-they-were-allergic-to-dirt that get together to draft baseball players to build a team that statistically is measured up against other teams. It’s like Dungeons and Dragons, with baseball players instead of half-elves. It’s just one more way for men to not grow up … It’s AWESOME!
Nando, one of the main characters in the FantasyLand book, has become a pretty good friend of mine throughout the past few seasons, so my trip to NYC is based around the drafts and going out on the town with him and his friends. His real name is Ferdinando Difino, but it’s hard to say that without wanting to tell him he looks Mahhhhvelous, or asking where Tattoo is.
So I call him Nando. And if you are like me, you call him, NANdo, which is the incorrect pronunciation (or as Emack ironically says, “ProNOUNciation.” It should be NONdo. But since he calls me GOnos (like Stop and GO-nose) and my name is closer to GON(-or-off)-iss, we’ll call it a draw. Either way, you don’t care.
I left for Manhattan early Friday morning from Fort Lauderdale, just one night after doing an auction draft for Tresky with a bunch of guys from SportsLine. (Yeah, I said it. SportsLine. From what the execs tell me, every time someone says “SportsLine” instead of “CBSSports,” a puppy dies. Sorry, Mr. Floppington.)
I didn’t get to sleep Friday night until about 2am, after going to Hooters with Emack, Dwyne and Fazal, getting caught in traffic from a late-night wreck on 95, doing laundry, packing my stuff and finally conking out. So I had to get up at 5am for my 7:30am flight, which gave me three solid snoozing hours.
The flight up there wasn’t too bad. I’m a big dude. I’m the guy that you are praying isn’t sitting next to you as you see people coming down the airplane aisle. In my defense, I stick to my side of the armrest, I don’t stink, and I’m not chatty. My farts smell pleasant like Cool Ranch Doritos and, upon impact, I make for a nice side-airbag.
The first hour of the flight was fine — awesome sunrise — but I regularly get headaches on flights, probably because of the changing air pressure. I’ve learned to keep Tylenol with me now, but the late night and the early flight caused my oversight. So when I got a really bad headache this time, I was limited to just rubbing my temples, chewing gum and listening to the incessant Spanish chatter of a Rosie Perez-impressionist behind me. Death by Latino whining — Stephen King should take notes.
I asked my seat neighbor if he had any Tylenol and he didn’t. But when he got up to use the restroom for the 182nd time, I asked the Indian woman that was sitting next to him. She shook her head no. After seeing me rub my temples, say a prayer and get ready to put a fingernail-clipper file to my wrist (don’t tell Homeland Security), she asked me, in broken English, “Do you have pen?”
At this point, I wish I had a pen — to stab her with for asking me a dumb question. I said no, and she looked at me weird. After another couple minutes, she saw me begin to tie a noose, and she asked me again. “You have pen?” Finally, through my throbbing thoughts and puzzle-solving skills, I realized she was asking if I was in pain. “Yes,” I finally whispered. “Very much … pen.” Then she reached into her purse, pulled out a prescription bottle, and said, “I have Ibooproffinn if you wont. But it very strong. Just take one.”
My face slacked, my stress level dropped considerably, and finally, I quietly said, “OHMYGODYESPLEASETHANKYOUILOVEYOUMARRYME!!!” She then handed me a pill. I say pill only because that’s the technical term, but it was more like a small bar of soap. She said it was 800 mg (200 mg is in a normal pill of Advil). I’ve seen smaller cell phones. Since the ounce of Sprite the flight attendant gave me had already evaporated, I had to dry swallow it. Imagine having a brutal headache and trying to swallow a couch cushion. I requested 10 minutes of turbulence for help, but no dice. Except the one lodged in my throat. I had to think about wings at Bru’s Room to gather up enough saliva to finally wash it down.
Obviously, knowing your headache is about to go away removes a lot of stress and that lends a big hand toward the reduction of said headache. So I almost immediately felt better. I thanked her for saving my life and asked what her name was. My firstborn daughter will be called, “Khushnaseebabemmatan” — or “Khushnaseebabemma” for short.
As we were about to get off the plane, I thanked her again, thinking about how dangerous it was to take prescription drugs from a stranger. But my headache was bad enough that I was hoping for a mountain to spring up out of the ocean for us to fly into, so I didn’t really care about strange drugs. Anyway, when I went to thank her, she had already turned into a paper butterfly and flown away into some marshmallow clouds. Drugs from strangers are good.
I’ve flown into New York City several times now, but each time, it’s still amazing. The history, the buildings, the landmarks. I’ve always found it mesmerizing. I saw Yankee Stadium next to the nearly built new Yankee Stadium. Someone forgot to put the seat down on the toilet that is Shea Stadium, however. Its new stadium neighbor is also nearly complete.
After a cab ride to my hotel, The Time, on 49th and Broadway next to the theater where Chicago is playing, just a couple blocks down from Rockefeller Plaza, I grabbed some pizza and went to my room to get a couple of hours of sleep before going to the AL baseball draft.
A film crew was at the hotel, about eight blocks from my hotel, to shoot a documentary movie based on FantasyLand. So the conference room was packed with people (cameramen, producers, the drafters, and even several fans that wanted to watch the auction), so it was about 190 degrees in there, especially with the production lights on.
Now, Fantasy sportswriters and fans that would come out to watch them draft are a special breed. Sunshine is often their enemy it seems. It’s an odd occupation, Fantasy sportswriting. No one grows up saying, “I want to be a Fantasy sportswriter.” There is no Fantasy Sportswriting 101 class to take in college. Most just made themselves, like me, by offering free articles to a website, building contacts and then their own site. The men in these drafts come from a number of different backgrounds. Some members are lawyers, computer engineers, forecasting analysts, athletic trainers, educational strategists, and even a stand-up comedian.
While these characters are of an odd social nature, many of them are extremely nice, friendly and fun. Then again, some of them are douches too — even the famous ones. Just like almost any social group.
Once the draft ended and the film crew was done with interviews, we all headed out to a bar. There were about 30 of us in total, and a few of Nando’s female friends had agreed to meet up. We were going on a pub crawl, but with that many it was going to be difficult, so Nando, Alex Cushing of MLB.com and myself, made the decision to go with the pretty women — over the other 27 guys that are talking about the strand rates of third-year NL starting pitchers … Call us crazy.
Grace is a character out of a N.Y. sitcom. She’s adorable, hilarious and intelligent, with a great knack for witty observation. Think Carrie from Sex and the City, and then add the fact that men don’t hate her and you have a perfect girl. She works for Proctor and Gamble too … I wonder if they sell 800 mg Ibuprofen.
Paige is a walking reality show. She also works for MLB.com, has dated some dumb baseball players, and she’s the cute blonde chick you want to be around because you know fun will follow.
Then there’s Meg, who we met up with at the next bar. She likes to go by, “Effervescent Meg.” If Grace is a sitcom and Paige is a reality show, then Meg is a soap opera. She’s a Harvard graduate that works as a buyer for Saks. She’s also cute, funny and loaded with energy, but if she’s pissed about something, you can visualize the storm clouds brewing behind her. Luckily, I was always on her good side and that’s all that mattered to me.
Nando is like Superman. Men think he’s awesome, women always follow him, he’s nicer than a monk, and since it was Good Friday, he refused to drink until the stroke of midnight. I call him, Super-Nando.
Don’t get too comfortable at a bar with these girls because in the blink of an eye, they were loading us into cabs for the next one. I swear we went to a bunch of bars, each of them named something like, “One and One,” “The R Bar,” “The Red-Headed Step-Child,” “Lucy’s House of Porn,” and “Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear.” OK, so maybe those weren’t all real names, but after two bars, names escaped me.
“Bar None” was our final stop, and apparently, it’s right next to the best place to get a Philly cheese-steak in Manhattan, according to Brian Flood, a former co-worker I met up with on Sunday. We knew this bar was going to be great because it had a dude passed out in his own puke just outside the door. That spells fun for all.
After not eating much all day (two slices of pizza around 2pm), then drinking a lot all night, I quickly spiraled into a heavy buzz. Meg and I eventually found our way back to a dance floor, schmoozed the DJ into playing every 80s rapper we could think of so we could dance. She’s like 28, but she knew her old school. After an hour of exhausting our memories and feet, we came back to the group at the bar.
It was around 4am when I finally pulled the plug because I had a draft the next morning at 9am. Nando, Meg and the girls played the devil role on my right shoulder for a bit, trying to convince me to stay out — Cushing bolted a little earlier — but I finally got into a cab and somehow got to the right hotel. I was bright enough to tell Nando where I was staying early on in the night, knowing I’d completely forget. He texted the address to me, and I got back OK.
Somehow, someway, I ACTUALLY SET MY ALARM!!! I still don’t know how I did it. I sort of remember doing it, and then I woke up at 8:20am, which meant the buzzer was going off for 20 minutes straight without me waking up.
I showered, put clothes on, grabbed my laptop and a bottle of Tylenol and headed to the draft. I walked in just before it started — meaning they waited a few minutes for me — and I had already bought A-Rod for $43 before I even set up my laptop. Girls, that’s like filling your grocery cart before you even get into the store.
Once again, as a large group, we went to Virgil’s BBQ for lunch. I was still hung over of course, and now, over the past two days, I had a total of about nine hours of sleep. On my way back to my hotel room, I nearly walked into a live taping of something on Comedy Central, then thought better of it. “South Park” probably isn’t as funny live anyway. I collapsed on the hotel bed, with March Madness on the TV, and I slept almost all the way through until Sunday morning.
Brian Flood used to work for SportsLine a couple years ago. He’s, without question, one of the more interesting characters I’ve ever worked with. He lives in a different world sometimes. He’s about 25 years old with a smoker’s voice you have to hear to appreciate. If you go to his MySpace, there’s a 10-minute video of him eating pizza after watching the Patriots win their first Super Bowl. That’s it. Just him watching TV, eating pizza. He told me to meet him at a sports bar called, “Tonic” on 7th Ave. so we could eat lunch, drink and watch the college basketball tournament.
I got there first and got us a table. There were about five HUGE big-screens — and each had the Chelsea-Arsenal soccer game on.
It was a soccer bar. Not a sports bar.
We were both too hungry (and thirsty for beer) to care too much, so we decided to stay. Once the soccer game finally ended — Chelsea beat Arsenal in a 2-1 blowout — they turned all the channels to the basketball games.
He explained to me his new job with the NFL. His REAL title is “Assistant to the Director of Officiating,” but when he tells people, he does like Dwight Schrute and he drops the “to the” part. He has a new girlfriend, “but I don’t call her that, my friends do.”
We parted ways, I got to the airport and off into the air without any problems (or headaches). I saw the HUGE full moon above the clouds over Jacksonville and I was furious I left my camera in my bag in the overhead. It blew away any sunset I’ve ever seen.
The trip was a great one. Not because of the amazing city I visited or the unreal food I got to eat, but once again, it was the great people that I got to spend some time with. Whether they were new friends, like Grace who could keep a bottle of beer in her pocket or Meg who knew the importance of 80s LL Cool J, or old friends like Super-Nando and Flood, they made it a great weekend.
David Gonos spent 5 years as a CBSSports.com Senior Fantasy Writer and three more years writing with SI.com. Over the past 17 years, his work has been published on NFL.com, MLB.com, FanDuel, FoxSports.com and USA Today. Since 2001, he has been tracking down the Top 50-plus Free Fantasy Football Draft Tools online. You can contact David Gonos here.