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THE MOJ: Friday nights at the Marpole Flying Club and the joys of fantasy baseball

Fantasy sports have changed over the years, but there’s nothing like trash talking your buddies
Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Ezequiel Carrera makes a diving catch to rob Minnesota Twins’ Trevor Plouffe of a hit in the fourth inning of a baseball game Friday, May 20, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Ezequiel Carrera makes a diving catch to rob Minnesota Twins’ Trevor Plouffe of a hit in the fourth inning of a baseball game Friday, May 20, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The first rule of fantasy football or baseball is to never talk about your team.

However, no one ever said anything about your league.

This weekend will see baseball fans gather in pubs, restaurants and basements across North America in an attempt to draft or purchase teams through an auction format that will either win them some bragging rights, cash or both.

As much as I love football and fantasy football leagues are all the rage (I once went through an entire eye exam talking with my optometrist about her fantasy football team’s running back situation), I’m not a fan of it.

Given the luck that is involved, it’s the fantasy version of playing a slot machine. As my friend Jeff Erickson of once told me, fantasy football is checkers, fantasy baseball is chess.

Our group has been playing ‘chess’ since 1989.

Take out a shortened season due to COVID, this will mark the 32nd year of the ‘Original Six Fantasy League’ which yours truly acts as the commissioner.

Ironically enough the league name has nothing to do with hockey.

Our very first auction was in 1989 with only six participants. The whole thing was a complete schmozzle with none of us having a clue on auction strategy. In the end, we decided to recruit some new owners for the following year and start all over.

In our 12-team league, there are four people that were there for that first auction in 1990. Three more individuals have been around since 1995 while some of the ‘babies’ of the group have only been around for 15 to 20 years.

We still have a passion for baseball, and for this ‘silly little game’ as Daniel Okrent — the founder of fantasy baseball — calls it, but it’s different now.

In the early years, we would all get together every Friday night at the now-defunct Marpole’s Flying Club at the Coast Hotel in South Vancouver.

Now remember, this was before the internet and smart phones. We paid a company out of New York called North Shore Stats to take care of our league stats. We’d send them the initial rosters, then fax them (yes - fax!) a league transaction sheet every week.

On Fridays, they would fax us the stats to the Coast Hotel. I was working as bartender there and would show up around 4 p.m., go to the front desk, get the fax and then run off about 15 copies. I’d bring them back down to the pub where everyone would come in later that night and pick up their stat sheets.

The method was primitive by today’s standards but there was a great social aspect to it.

There was a constant back-and-forth chatter regarding players and teams. If there was a game on, the trash talk would go to another level if your pitcher was up against your friend’s hitter. And of course, there were always trade talks.

Those gatherings eventually disappeared because of families and the internet but some great memories remain.

A major contributor to many of those memories was our late friend Gene Walsh, who passed away in 2011. At the time of his death ‘Geno’ was second-in-command for the B.C. Sheriff Service. He was also a baseball junkie.

Gene would love to make a trade.

During those Friday night meetings, Gene’s modus operandi was to write his trade offer on a coaster and quietly pass it to the other person involved. Gene never trusted any of us who were nearby as we would always like to counter with a better deal or even more likely just sabotage his deal.

This is the time of year you’d be getting a call from Gene either offering you a trade or trying to figure out if you were willing to pay $50 for Ken Griffey Jr. in the auction.

Needless to say, we miss him.

And most of us miss that interaction.

Those weekly sessions have been replaced by e-mails, texts and the occasional phone call. Sometimes, technology isn’t that great. That’s why our spring gathering for the auction is like a reunion of sorts.

We get together in person and have a great night of throwing shots at one another during our auction. In the end, we have a beer and talk about who the ‘steals’ were and who paid way too much for a player while catching up on ‘real life’ stuff as well.

If you ask anyone who plays fantasy sports, the draft or auction is the best part of the whole fantasy experience because of the interaction.

For us at least, it reminds us of how things used to be on those Friday nights at Marpole’s Flying Club.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.

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