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April 20, 2010

My Secret Fantasy

Hi, my name is Dan, and I play fantasy baseball.

Before you laugh, understand that I'm not alone. Fantasy geeks are no longer banished to the great mother's basement of society. It is estimated that more than 30 million people play fantasy sports worldwide. While major American sports like baseball and football are the most prevalent varieties, there are fantasy leagues for virtually every professional sport on the planet, from bowling and fishing to cricket and golf. The fantasy sports industry — that's right, industry — nets somewhere in the neighborhood $4 billion annually. In terms of fetish industries, that's not quite porn territory — although fantasy sports may well be responsible for an equal number of failed relationships. While playing fantasy sports may be an incredibly dorky hobby — OK, it is definitely incredibly dorky — it has become a legitimate and, for some, a lucrative pastime. If only the folks who invented it had thought to cash in.

Tonight, ESPN will air the premiere of "Silly Little Game," the next installment in the sports entertainment network's critically acclaimed documentary series 30 for 30, which explores some of the most overlooked and underappreciated sports stories of the last 30 years. Directed by Brooklyn filmmakers Adam Kurland and Lucas Jansen, the film tells the largely unknown tale of the very first "Rotisserie" baseball league, invented by a group of New York City writers, scholars and intellectuals in 1979. That league, named for La Rotisserie Francais, the NYC restaurant in which the idea was conceived, was the progenitor of what we know as modern fantasy sports. And yes, you read that correctly. Highly educated intellectuals invented fantasy sports. Although, since none of them made a dime following its eventual explosion in popularity, maybe they weren't so smart after all. Moving on …

By now, you may be wondering what the local tie-in could be, this being a locally focused blog and all — not to mention me moonlighting outside my typical domain as "music guy." Here it is. The film uses re-enactments to recount that first Rotisserie season, spliced with interviews with the actual members of the league and other notable dorks, er, people relevant to the topic. Playing Dan Okrent, the league's driving force and the man regarded as the godfather of Rotisserie baseball — and by extension, all of fantasy sports — is Vermont native Ben Rameaka. Nifty, right?

Full disclosure: Ben is one of my nearest and dearest friends. So yes, my writing about him here violates all sorts of journalistic ethics code thingies. To which I say: so what? The next time your best friend is featured in a documentary about one of your hobbies, airing on one of the most widely watched networks on the planet, in a series created by your favorite columnist (in this case ESPN's Bill Simmons), the floor is all yours.

On a more serious note, each of the preceding films in the 30 for 30 series have been fascinating, even if sports aren't really your thing. Like, for example, the last 30 for 30 with a local angle, "The Legend of Jimmy the Greek," directed by VT filmmaker Fritz Mitchell, which I also wrote about. Obvious personal bias aside and judging by the clips available, "Silly Little Game" should be no exception.

And on that note, here's a clip from "Silly Little Game," which airs on ESPN tonight at 8 p.m.

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