If you want an exercise in futility, try explaining fantasy sports to someone who has never played them.
Fantasy…what?! Someone once asked me if fantasy baseball was like Dungeons & Dragons. It’s not.
Until 2005, I was just a casual baseball fan. I grew up loving the game and had own my baseball card collection. I loved cheering for players like Darryl Strawberry, Pete Rose and Kirk Gibson. As a Michigan kid, I loved the Detroit Tigers. But I also liked the Cubs, the Twins, the Dodgers, and this once-upon-a-time team called the Expos. (I grew up to be a die-hard Red Sox fan. Go figure.)
When Dennis and I were dating, we discovered our mutual love of the game and started visiting ballparks together. Get to them all became our bucket list. Not on our bucket list. Our entire bucket list. (16 years later, we’ve hit 25 of them.) Each ballpark and game is unique. But some things are consistent: we always get a souvenir ball and I always kept score. Keeping score keeps me in the game. It keeps me engaged.
But aside from the one or two ballgames we would catch in a summer, I was never up on league standings, who was who, or the finer points of the game. It was a three-hour break from life and then it was done.
Then I was introduced to fantasy baseball and never looked back. A few years into my 13 year (and counting) fantasy baseball career, I read Sam Walker’s book Fantasyland. The guy took a year off life to scout his fantasy team in real life. He followed those 21 guys around from off-season to pre-season to in-season to post-season, assured it improved his chances of winning. Some people.
Last night was our draft for the 2017 season. The first step toward my “Designated Sixers” winning the coveted Vonette Cup.
But fantasy baseball didn’t start last night. It started over a month ago. Back when we scheduled the four-hour block of time all 14 of us could show up. Back when we bought our research magazines, created our Excel spreadsheets and our formulas, downloaded our draft software, selected an expert whose stat predictions we would believe. Back when we started trash talking each other and became glued to things like injury reports and closer reports and depth charts and this thing called Spring Training.
And now comes the season itself.
It’s March Madness bloated, stretched and upgraded.
Instead of being invested in a single team for two hours and then lamenting they busted my bracket, I’m invested in 21 individual players – AND their teams – for 162 games and lamenting they’re slumping, boasting they’re on fire, lamenting they’re slumping, boasting they’re on fire, lamenting…well, you get the point.
It’s a roller coaster that lasts six months. I don’t just care – I’ve bought in. Every game, every at-bat, every pitch matters. I don’t wait ’til August to check the standings. I’m engaged every step of the way.
What is engagement?
Like a marriage engagement? Preparing. Looking forward.
Like a prior engagement? A prearranged meeting occupying your time and focus.
Like a battle? All in. Positioned and purposed.
Like participation? Bingo.
In fantasy baseball, engagement means I’m paying attention. I’m caring about what happens. I’m in tune.
Life is full of opportunities to engage: relationships, jobs, hobbies, entertainment, spirituality, nature, emotions, art, learning. But, engaging isn’t easy. And it’s not automatic.
Engagement looks like showing up. Being present. Observing. Connecting. Questioning. Thinking critically. Having a role.
Engagement does not look like ear buds in at all times. It doesn’t look like asking a question, getting an answer, and then not asking follow-up questions. It doesn’t look like a phone screen when I’m hanging with friends. It doesn’t look like formulating a response when someone else is talking. It doesn’t look like multitasking. It doesn’t look like the “boss button” during March Madness 😉 It doesn’t look like dominating the conversation. It doesn’t look like making assumptions.
Engagement is awareness and connection.
Life with ear buds, disinterest, a phone screen, a formulated response, multitasking, dominating and making assumptions are attempts at disconnection and un-affection; they are attempts to be in control.
Showing up, being present, observing, connecting, questioning, thinking critically and having a role don’t come with much control, but they come with opportunities to affect and connect.
Life is full of buy-in and it’s short on control. Grasping for control means disengagement. Disengagement ends up a pretty lonely road to travel. Unaffected, disconnected and a mirage of control.
A little bit of fantasy baseball engagement gives me buy-in with opportunity to affect (albeit just my make-believe baseball team) and connect (to a pastime I enjoy) but without much control.
In the more “reality-based” side of life, engagement gives me buy-in without control. With opportunity to affect and connect with people, meaning, purpose and soul in a way that lasts. In some cases, forever.
Engagements go hand-in-hand with diamonds. And you know what they say about diamonds.