by Todd Habiger
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Father Andrew Strobl lives in a fantasy world. In this world he is master and overseer of all things . . . baseball?
Now don’t go questioning Father Strobl’s sanity. He’s very sane, but very much into fantasy baseball.
For those unfamiliar with the game, fantasy baseball gained popularity in the 1980s after a group of friends met at La Rotisserie Française restaurant in New York and hashed out the general rules and scoring system.
Fantasy baseball owners draft real Major League baseball players and compile their statistics. The team with the most points at the end of the baseball season wins.
“Fantasy baseball is a unique way to appreciate the baseball season because it’s 162 games long,” said Father Strobl. “It can really be a rich experience.”
Father Strobl has been playing fantasy baseball for more than 15 years. It started with a group of high school friends.
“We all loved baseball,” said Father Strobl. “We started when the Royals were really bad, so this gave us a reason to follow the game beyond what the Royals box score was.”
Father Strobl’s league has changed over the years from something local to something more national, with new owners coming from all over the country.
“It’s nice to have a mix of people from around the country,” he said.
Father Strobl said his league is like a small, close-knit community. They talk baseball, but also about each others’ families and lives.
“The guys in my league know I’m a priest, although the majority of them are not Catholic,” he said. “It’s cool because the guys will clean up their language or compliment something about the church or Pope Francis.”
Father Strobl said that playing fantasy baseball has increased his knowledge of players from all over the country, not just Kansas City. It’s also given him a greater appreciation for the game of baseball itself.
“It’s given me a deeper motivation to learn the game and appreciate it,” he said. “Baseball is so intricate and there are so many situations and conditions that affect the game.
“In fantasy baseball, you are trying to predict, but there is no way you can predict every circumstance that a player is going to go through in 162 games.”
Father Strobl also likes the fact that he learns so much more about the players by playing fantasy baseball. He cites the case of Ryan Madson, who pitched for the Royals last year.
Madson was a former closer for the Philadelphia Phillies who saved 32 games back in 2011. The following year he had Tommy John elbow surgery and didn’t pitch in the majors again until last year for the Royals.
“If I hadn’t played fantasy baseball, I wouldn’t have appreciated his story,” said Father Strobl. “I would have just heard we picked up another pitcher.”
As for this season, Father Strobl and his team — the Roman Collars — are geared up for the long haul.
“Fantasy baseball is a commitment,” he said. “Drafting is a lot of fun, but you’ve got to stay on top of things or you can lose ground fast. It’s a community that you’re doing this with. You kind of have the responsibility to stay involved.”
In his recent draft, he picked seventh overall and grabbed Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, who has shortstop eligibility in Father Strobl’s league. He then turned around and surprised the other members in his league by nabbing Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant in the second round. By taking two of the top third basemen, Father Strobl thinned out an already thin position and left the other “owners” scrambling to fill third base with less-talented options. His pitching staff is anchored by David Price of Boston and Cole Hammels of Texas.
“Overall, I’m excited,” said Father Strobl. “I’ve got a good balance of strong starting pitching and an awesome infield that I’m excited about. I think I’m going to do really well.”
As of press time, Father Strobl was sitting in third place. But a long season is ahead of him.