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Spoon’s Goons

Tim Kaiser | Friday, April 7, 2006

Forget the flowers, forget the birds, forget the vernal equinox. For me, spring starts when baseball starts. Real, Major League Baseball, mind you, not the World Baseball Classic, because, as Ozzie Guillen would have you know, that champion Japanese team would not win 20 games in the Major Leagues. I’m a big supporter of the Classic, but watching tape delayed contests from Puerto Rico is just not the same as seeing your favorite team take the field in magnificent pinstripes in the chilly, early days of April in the Big Apple. After a long winter of watching the Jets’ pathetic rebuilding efforts and the horror that is Isaiah Thomas running the Knicks, it’s great to have a team to follow that always has some newly purchased talent and a shot at a championship.

Hope springs eternal in April, not only for a 27th World Series ring in New York, but for the bragging rights and possible cash payout that come from winning your fantasy league. My hopes are high, as I’ve won four years straight. Four years ago I began my first season of fantasy baseball, armed with nothing but enthusiasm and a sketchy scouting report from some website. I missed the draft, which was probably a good thing, so the first decisions I had to make were regarding which autopicked players I should keep, and which I should replace with free agents whom I knew nothing about. With this as my general strategy, my first pick-up was an Atlanta Braves pitcher named Timothy Floyd Spooneybarger, in part because he had a chance to compete for the closer role, but mostly because his name is Spooneybarger. He soon injured himself and spent most of the season on the disabled list. It was a big joke around the league, that I had this guy on my team. But it worked. I squeaked into the playoffs and managed to pull off upset after upset in the playoffs, and I ended up winning the championship. Somehow, my unlikely success continued, despite my eccentric managerial practices: I never showed up to a draft, cut or traded any Red Sox who ended up on my team, and routinely made trades that seemed nonsensical. The whole time, I had Spooneybarger, always my first pick-up, stashed on the DL. I stuck with him through hard times, through two surgeries and a fight that got him shipped to the Marlins. It was generally accepted around the league that my improbable run was either because of Spooneybarger or voodoo – perhaps both. I even went as far as to name my squad “Spoon’s Goons” in his honor.

But then this baseball season rolled around. With everyone in college, the draft wasn’t held until the day before the season began. I found myself with time to spare on a Saturday afternoon, and I broke tradition and decided to actually draft players this time. But when it came time for my first round pick, which I was totally prepared to use on Spooneybarger, as others had been threatening to take him from me, he was nowhere to be found. Though he has more stints on the DL than career innings pitched, I was shocked to find that Spooneybarger is out of baseball. The cruel reality of a Spoonless squad in 2006 took some time to sink in. I face a season devoid of my good luck charm, my constant compatriot, every summer, his career cut short by arm troubles and just generally being a locker room cancer. Rumblings around the league are that it’s a sign, that a new champion will be crowned this year, but I’m determined to win this one in his honor, to go for the five-peat, because I know that’s what he would have waned.

Timothy Floyd Spooneybarger, we hardly knew ye.