[Fantasy] Football Season is Here!

I love this time of year. Apart from the promise of pumpkin beers and sweaters and boots, fall brings with it the delight of football season.

I was never that girl: super into football. Baseball was my sport of choice, but I’d watch basketball or football if it was on. I’d half-heartedly cheer for the Patriots or Packers (which are my parents’ favorite teams) or the Redskins (because they were the home team), or failing those excuses, I’d pick the team with the prettier uniform colors (i.e. Panthers and Seahawks).

The Wildcards invited me to join their fantasy football league two years ago. It was possibly a rare instance of the boys being nice, or maybe they figured adding a couple girls who didn’t pay attention to football would increase their chances of winning. I don’t think they realized just how consumingly competitive I am.

The first year, I scoured the lists of top players and read a few articles about projections, but mostly I went in fairly blind and ended up with a pretty phenomenal team that brought me to second place. Somehow, I managed to draft Gronk, Odell Beckham Jr, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead, and Drew Brees. If I hadn’t lost Woodhead in a misguided trade and OBJ to his attitude — and suspension — I might have won it all.

Last year, I made it to play-offs, but ended middle of the pack. It was frustrating, since I’d spent far more time and energy last season reading every scrap of information I could get, taking risks tempered with “expert” advice. Still, I learned.

For me, the best result of fantasy football is that it’s encouraged me to pay attention. And not just to the teams I like for wishy-washy reasons, but to every game. Every player. Because of fantasy, I know the names of the top players in the league. And because of fantasy, I’ve found my favorite team in the Oakland Raiders.

My husband argues this is simply because we have family in Oakland. That helps, but even once they go to Vegas, as long as Carr leads them, I’ll follow. Between the past two years, I’ve had almost their entire (possible) offensive line on my team. My brother-in-law offered me the typical challenge when one claims to love a team: name three of their players. Easy: Carr, Crabtree, Cooper, Janikowski, Murray (at the time), Jalen Richard, Walford.

At this point, I could probably name at least three players on every team in the league. That’s not all Oakland has going for it. I just love watching them. They have an obvious cohesion and a fluidity that’s beautiful. They’re good — good enough to keep every game interesting — but not so good that it would be more exciting to watch them lose (ahem: Patriots). I’ve watched every single team play any number of times, but few give me a similar thrill to the one I get when the Raiders are on the field.

And I have fantasy football to thank for giving me a team to cheer for, and interest in a sport that’s as intricate and graceful as it is straight-forward and brutal. Win or lose, I’ll always have that.

But, obviously, I want to win, too.

When it Comes to Baseball, I’m a Home-Team Fan

During my first baseball game in Saint Louis, I realized something about myself: when it comes to baseball, I’m a home-team fan. I’ve been accused of being a fair-weather fan in the past, and it’s something I’ve always been offended by (and, honestly, a little afraid of). But this, I think, is different.

It’s true, I’ll cheer for the Orioles or the Red Sox or the Nationals with equal enthusiasm. And at the Cardinals game, I felt the same stirring of excitement and home-team pride.

That’s when it hit me: I cheered for the Red Sox because my parents are from New England, and especially when I was younger, they were so fun to watch. I loved Big Papi and Jason Varitek and Johnny Damon (until he broke my heart and trust with his unforgivable move to the Yankees) and Jacoby Ellsbury (who is possibly the only man who looks better clean-shaven and therefore his move to the Yankees is understandable and forgivable). I spent a good chunk of my life cheering for a team with a rich history and exceptional rivalry, and even now, I’ll pause to catch part of a game or cheer inside when I see them leading the league.

I was born in Maryland and grew up during Cal Ripken Jr.’s reign, so of course I was an Orioles fan. Even after we moved to Virginia, Baltimore was the closest we had to a home team. Camden Yards is a gorgeous stadium that even now, I love to visit. Similar to the Red Sox, I’ll cheer for the Orioles to do well.

My husband is the Nationals fan in our house. He brought me to Nats Park the first time, and his love for them encouraged me to make a little room to become a fan of a National League team (up to this point, I only really cared about American League, because — see above). By the time we left Virginia, the Nats had a hold on the bulk of my baseball loyalty. They’re fun to watch, and they’re building a legacy to one day rival that of the Red Sox or Yankees or Cardinals — teams with the best-known die-hard fans.

But now, we’re in Saint Louis, home of that other franchise steeped in history and legacy. Coincidentally, this is the 125th year of the Cardinals franchise. They’ve been around a lot longer than the Nationals, and they have a row of World Series pennants to show for it. By the time I went to the first game, I knew at least something about half the team, which made me like them even more. I watched Bader (fresh from the minors) score the winning run after seeing his dad on TV talking about how proud he was of his kid, how he’d try to hit him with the ball when they practiced so Bader wouldn’t be afraid of it.

They’re a fast team, which is fun because my favorite part of baseball is stolen bases. Grichuk and the Rockies’ pitcher went back and forth almost every pitch, with Grichuk leading off first base farther than the pitcher liked. Matt Carpenter teased them with threats of stealing home. DeJong smashed a homerun right down centerfield.

It was easy to see why the Cardinals have such an energetic and loyal following. It was also easy to see my husband and I will have little choice in becoming Cardinals fans. It’s already started.

And while we’ll always love the Nationals, I think it’s okay to root, root, root for the home team. As our definition of “home” grows, the list of teams we associate with home can grow, too.