Root, root, root for your fantasy baseball team

Major League Baseball fans can create winning teams using the players of their choice for the season.

With Major League Baseball’s opening day just four days away, it’s time for managers to start setting their lineups – their fantasy lineups.

Though not as popular as fantasy football, the activity has found a niche audience of sports fans at the University, for a variety of reasons.

For materials science, engineering and chemistry senior Jason Wong, fantasy baseball offers a way to reconnect with his childhood hobbies.

“It’s just like when you were a kid collecting sports cards,” he said. “Now I get to collect them on my fantasy team.”

Wong is one of about 3.7 million people who will play fantasy baseball on mainstream sports Web sites this year, according to the Fantasy Sports Association.

Sites like Yahoo!, ESPN and CBS Sportsline offer both free and paid league hosting to accommodate demand.

Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball officials have seen an increase in demand during the past couple of years, both for paid and free leagues, said David Geller, director of fantasy sports for Yahoo!.

“Fantasy baseball has a growing audience year over year,” he said. “We have a really loyal base.”

Officials have even noticed that some fantasy baseball users are so into their fantasy teams, that they’ll cheer for a Yankees star, even being Red Sox fans, Geller said.

Wong, who’s played fantasy baseball for about four seasons, said the activity offers a good way to stay close with friends.

“It also gives us a chance to stay in touch over the summer now that we’re graduating,” Wong said.

While fantasy baseball provides a communication platform for some players, it also breeds competition.

Andy Nelson, an accounting sophomore, said even though he likes fantasy football more, fantasy baseball still has value that stems from “the spirit of competing with friends.”

Nelson said he’s a hardcore Major League Baseball fan who’s played on sites such as Yahoo! with friends for about three or four seasons.

“We’re all pretty big pro baseball fans, so I think we thought we’d give it a try,” he said of first deciding to play.

Despite his interest, Nelson said he isn’t playing this year because the season is so long and rosters continuously change with call ups.

Wong said he sees fantasy baseball as a way to stay excited about the sport throughout the 162-game season.

“It gives me something to follow in the baseball season other than the hometown Twins,” he said. “It makes the season more interesting, considering it’s such a long one.”

As far as the season goes, Wong said he’s not sure how his team will fare, since he hasn’t played in a while. With a lack of recent experience, Wong said he ended up drafting with an old baseball adage in mind.

“(I) just went with the basic strategy from before: Pitching wins championships,” he said.