- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On the list of the world’s greatest inventions, fantasy baseball should be nestled somewhere between the wheel and running water. But as millions of fans pore over spreadsheets, magazines and Web sites preparing for the new season, one thing is inescapable: It’s a ton of work.

Face it, unlike filling out your NCAA tournament bracket or even playing fantasy football, succeeding in a commissioner-based fantasy baseball league requires an astonishing amount of time and energy. There are daily roster changes, free agent pickups and auctions, plus drafts that can drag on for hours.

Officials at MLB.com know this and are offering several fantasy games geared toward the more casual or time-crunched fan. Baseball’s official Web site is heavily promoting the Beat the Streak game in which fans select a player each day who they believe will get a hit. If they successfully get a hit 57 days in a row, they win $1 million. The site has a similar streak game involving home runs, a knockout survivor game and 2008 Open a head-to-head fantasy game modeled after most fantasy football leagues.

These games are popular with fans who had played fantasy baseball before but had left it, who said, ‘I don’t have 20 minutes a day,’ said Bob Bowman, president of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which runs MLB.com. These games only take a minute or two. They take up a lot less time and are a lot more fun.

Bowman estimates that traditional fantasy baseball has peaked in popularity at about 8 million players. Fantasy football, meanwhile, has 13 million players and is growing, a statistic Bowman attributes to the relative ease of play compared to fantasy baseball. Bowman said MLB.com is seeking to create fantasy games in the mold of fantasy football and March Madness bracket pools that require only a modest time commitment but still keep fans engaged in the respective sports.

It lets you talk smack with your office mates, he said. That’s what March Madness does. That’s what fantasy football does.

Last year 750,000 people played non-traditional fantasy games on MLB.com, and Bowman said he expects that total to top 1 million or even double this year. Many of those will be fans who once played traditional fantasy baseball but no longer have the time, but a good chunk are casual fans who represent a growth opportunity for baseball.

Fantasy fans are better baseball fans, Bowman said. The more people playing fantasy, the better off we are. We’ve tried to come up with games that require a little less effort to play and a lot less time.

For the record, no fan has achieved the 57 consecutive games with a hit since the Beat the Streak contest was introduced in 2001; the closest was 49. Bowman said the odds of winning are about 4 million to 1. But, he said, it’s much better than the March Madness perfect bracket contests, which carry odds of 1 in about 18.5 quintillion.

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