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Sam Walker’s Fantasyland illustrates game’s allure perfectly.

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Making something as nerdy as fantasy baseball appear the least bit cool is incredibly hard.

The mere mention of the game conjures up an image of an unshowered teenager with bloodshot and glazed eyes hovering over a computer, goo-gooing over an imaginative roster of players he has absolutely no control over. It’s an assumption that’s not completely correct, but sadly, one I can identify with.

"Gliven!"

When I first met my girlfriend, she didn’t know about my participation in “Rotisserie” baseball. Or maybe it’s more appropriate to say that she didn’t know my level of participation. She didn’t know about the hour or so of Rotoworld browsing every night (and the hours during the day), the four or five ridiculously overpriced magazines I would buy every April, the online forums, the never-ending and usually fruitless trade banter at parties. Needless to say, she was less than impressed by my dedication. But by then, thankfully, she was too far in to turn around.

Just when I thought I couldn’t find enough fantasy baseball crap, Sam Walker came out with Fantasyland in 2006. As far as I know, it’s the only book in existence based solely on fantasy baseball.

In Fantasyland, Walker does an incredible job capturing the game’s enchantment while both cementing the stereotypes about fantasy baseball and destroying them.

Buyyyyyyyyyy me.

After becoming jaded with the direction the game was taking (read: ‘roids, agents, and assholes), Walker decided to step down from his post as a sports columnist at the Wall Street Journal for a season. Envious of fantasy players for their boorish allegiance to a flawed game, Walker decided to take the plunge into fantasyland by joining an “expert” league comprised solely of fantasy baseball’s 3-4-5 hitters-the founders, statisticians, and Rotisserie site-runners themselves.

Highly unqualified for the venture he’d just undertaken, Walker formed a hodgepodge “front office,” comprised by a NASA data compiler and a former Sports Ticker worker, to cover every segment of the game. Sig, the NASA guy, is the numbers cruncher; Fernando, or Nando as he goes by in the book, collects all the tidbits, the unseen pieces of biographical information that could possibly effect a player’s season.

What follows is perhaps one of the most entertaining, all-encompassing, and at times, self-indulgent, pieces of work ever printed about America’s pastime’s bastard child.

Walker, with his press credentials firmly strapped around his neck, enters clubhouses asking players about their fantasy baseball experiences, their opinions on new Sabermetric statistics, and the projections fantasy experts have for them. Reactions range from sadness (Jacque Jones) to anger (Dmitri Young) to happiness (David Ortiz). Forays into Spring Training and the Winter Meetings follow as Walker scouts his ideal fantasy team in a way most of us can only dream of.

Drafting the ultimate team slowly but surely brings Walker closer to becoming one of “us.” His ability to recall the smallest bit of information or an obscure statistic foreshadows his demise from casual fan and sportswriter to die-hard addict.

He brings the reader into a world with more than just teenagers behind computers, but to a realm where fantasy players are one very real step away from being general managers, special advisors, and front office personnel. To some, fantasy baseball is a hobby, but to most its a small taste of what it’s like to micromanage a team, to come closer to the dream of creating a live team.

Walker’s Fantasyland is a must-read for most baseball fans. Obviously the book will engross those who play the game more than those who don’t, but it’s still a great read that takes you into the inner-workings of baseball and its current state. It’s funny, educational (not in the PBS kind of way), and quick. The book is accessible to more than just Rotisserie players; it’s an exercise in understanding “new” baseball statistics and the personal lives of players. It’s also fun to remember when Sidney Ponson wasn’t as fat as a beluga whale.

Consider it beach reading material.

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