Tony Gwynn Jr. got hooked watching his Hall of Fame father play fantasy football.
“It's addicting,” said Gwynn, a 30-year-old outfielder with the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate. “With Direct TV you have access to all the games. On Sundays you end up watching games all day long. It's a lot of fun.”
Fantasy football is a staple in nearly every professional baseball locker room from rookie leagues up to the majors.
The Isotopes recently held a fantasy draft in their Oklahoma City hotel after a Sunday night game at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. The Nashville Sounds, currently in OKC for a four-game series, conducted their draft after Wednesday night's game.
The hometown RedHawks held their draft after Thursday's game. RedHawks outfielder Trevor Crowe, who has played in 239 major league games with the Indians and Astros, said fantasy football has been a baseball tradition since he turned pro nine years ago.
“I remember doing my first draft in Double-A in 2006,” Crowe said. “When I was with the Indians we had a huge fantasy draft. The week or two before the draft rolls around there's a buzz. Everyone is so pumped.”
Veteran catcher Cody Clark, who was in the Kansas City Royals system last year, is commissioner of the RedHawks' 2013 league.
“It's a great way to keep in touch in the offseason,” Clark said. “Football is such a great sport. When you're in a fantasy league you have interest in nearly every game because of players you have or players on the guy's roster you're going against.”
Because fantasy leagues fit a baseball player's schedule, some are involved in two or three leagues, including long-standing leagues in their offseason hometown. Most leagues use websites such as ESPN, Yahoo or CBSSportsline to calculate weekly results and the overall standings.
“ESPN now has a smack-talking board ... It gets used a lot,” said Josh Prince, commissioner of the Sounds' league.
Nashville first baseman Hunter Morris' two-year-old son, Tripp, drew the Sounds draft order out of a hat.
Twelve is the ideal number of teams. A sign-up sheet usually is posted on locker room bulletin boards in early August next to starting lineups for that night's game. The 12 spots fill up quickly.
“Last year in Omaha we had 19 guys that wanted to play. It was almost the entire roster,” Clark said. “This year we have a lot of guys from countries that aren't as much into football, but we still had enough.”
Fantasy football has extended to charity. St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright invited 44 fans to play fantasy football. The event, which required a $2,500 entry fee, raised $110,000 that will be split evenly between two charities.
Wainwright, who came up through Atlanta's farm system, has played in a league for years with former minor league teammates, including Braves catcher Brian McCann. That's where he hatched the idea.
Cardinal teammates David Freese, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig were separated among the four 12-team charity leagues.
“It took a long time to start executing, but once the execution began, the generosity of all our partners carried us,” Trey Wainwright, Adam's brother, told MLB.com. “Adam was more passionate about this event than he's been about anything in a long time.”
When choosing a team nickname many owners play off the name of a player they acquire in the draft. Some play off their surname or a team they support.
Morris' team is Team War Damn Eagles (no surprise, he attended Auburn). Two years ago, Clark named his team after quarterback Michael Vick, who threw for 21 TDs and ran for nine more that season despite playing in only 12 games.
“I was the Ron Mexicos, one of Michael Vick's aliases,” Clark said. “He was good that year. That was a fun season.”
Since the 31-year-old veteran made his major league debut last weekend, Clark happily made picks from Houston where the Astros were playing Seattle.
But in the computer age, everyone doesn't have to be present. Three Albuquerque players were no longer with the team on draft night. But no way were they giving up their spot in the Isotopes' fantasy league.
“Those guys were on the phone face-timing to make picks,” Gwynn said. “We still got it done in three hours, which is pretty quick.”
Most fantasy leagues feature a cash prize. Gwynn and his partner, Chris Denorfia, split $3,000 — $1,500 each — when they won the San Diego Padres fantasy league three years ago.
“It's mainly bragging rights,” Prince said. “It's a friendly competition, a way to stay in touch throughout the offseason, something we can talk about besides baseball.”
Reality TV shows and playing cards are staples in baseball locker rooms. But in recent weeks fantasy magazines were popular items.
“We're all very competitive,” said RedHawks center fielder George Springer. “It's a lot of fun. It's a nice change of pace, keeps your mind off baseball. And if you win you get bragging rights.”