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April 17, 2012

The game that colored my entire fantasy season to date was on April 17 at Yankee Stadium, a Tuesday. I was there for a ho-hum matchup between the Yankees and Twins, which is a strange coincidence because I'm not a fan of either team. My girlfriend, Lindsay, and I got $6 nosebleeds -- a terrific bargain -- because we hadn't been to a game in a while and were seeking to break up midweek monotony.

The dusk air felt like warm bathwater, imperceptible if not for the ocassional kickup of a breeze. We basked in it during the outdoor stretches of the commute from my downtown office to the stadium, and we joked that we were tempted to walk the whole way. We'd chosen the right evening to see a ballgame, and we were jovial about that, and I was excited that I'd be seeing some of my fantasy players.

At first, the ballgame was a terrific one for me from a fantasy perspective. The red-hot Josh Willingham homered while we were finding our seats. I thought he might have a good game, as he was facing a left-handed pitcher in CC Sabathia. Another of my players, Nick Swisher, had two hits and a walk. And little Brett Gardner, my team's primary base-stealing threat along with Elvis Andrus and Jemile Weeks, had a terrific game. In four plate appearances, he had two hits, two walks, three runs scored, a rib-eye steak and a stolen base. Not bad at all.

In the third inning, though, there was an awkward moment when Gardner made a sliding catch of a sinking line drive in left field (off J-Will's bat, no less). It looked painful, and Gardner was slow shaking it off. I was concerned -- probably more concerned than anyone had a right to be over a second-tier player in an uncritical April game.

I tried to rationalize. It couldn't have been a terrible injury, right? I mean, he looked OK, and he stayed in the game.

But Gardner was placed on the DL the next day with what was supposed to be a relatively minor elbow injury. Roughly six weeks and a couple setbacks later, and Gardner is only now beginning to show signs of coming back. My team, meanwhile, is tied for seventh place in the MLBTR League -- with only two points in the steals category. That night in mid-April may as well have been a lifetime ago.

***

April 27 was a sunny Friday in the New York area. That was the day the Nationals called up Bryce Harper. I plucked him off my league's waiver wire that afternoon, as my work day was winding down. As I later left the office to kick off the weekend, I was pleased with myself for having stolen him out from under my leaguemates. In fact, I didn't especially want Harper -- I was worried that the Nats had rushed him -- but I figured I could at least flip him based on his name value, if nothing else.

The player I really wanted -- the one I'd come thisclose to scooping off the waiver wire just a day or two earlier -- was Mike Trout. I was still seeking a replacement for Gardner's steals, you see. But benches are short in the MLBTR League; there are three spots, and with a 1500-inning cap, I lean toward carrying two or three extra pitchers so as to stay on pace to meet the minimum and keep up in wins and strikeouts. So, I couldn't justify stashing Trout when he was still on the farm with no hint of being recalled.

As I rode the train out to Long Island for dinner with the missus and her dad, I opened my computer to kill some time and tweak my fantasy lineups. Sure enough, Trout had been called up shortly after Harper -- and I missed the frenzy while in transit.

Mystery Team had gotten him. Damn you, Mystery Team.

That night, after a dinner in which I may or may not have had a few pops, I made what I thought was a bold trade offer: Harper for Trout, straight up. Stud A for Stud B. Do you want power or do you want speed? Do you want DiMaggio or do you want Williams? I was sure he'd accept, if only for the sheer novelty of it, the excitement, the buzz.

Mystery Team declined it, though. He included a note, something to the effect of, "This would certainly turn heads in the league, but I think I'll pass."

Like any shrewd owner should do, however, Mystery Team circled back to me a couple weeks later, offering Trout -- whose stock was by now through the roof after lighting up the league -- Jhonny Peralta, Carlos Pena and Alex Gordon for Dustin Pedroia, Swisher and Santiago Casilla. I let the offer languish without a reponse for a week. I don't typically do that -- I almost never do it, actually, because I think it's rude -- but I was crippled by indecision. I couldn't accept that offer, since I had no use for Peralta or Pena, and because I couldn't afford to part with Pedroia, but I desperately wanted to counter.

So, over the holiday weekend, I finally whittled it down to something that I thought would work for both sides. I pitched Will Middlebrooks, old friend Willingham and Casilla in exchange for Trout and Gordon. And, somewhat to my surprise, Mystery Team accepted. I finally had Trout -- he and B-Harp in the same outfield! Trout stole two bases in his first game with Breaking Abad, and he homered the next night.

I haven't yet decided how I'll handle Gardner when he returns from the DL (my outfield is pretty crowded), although I could certainly use his speed. It may not matter at this point because my team has had a rash of injuries: Evan Longoria, Roy Halladay, and now perhaps Pedroia. But it was all set in motion on April 17, and I'm OK with that if it means I get to root for Trout and Harper all year.


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