"Fantasy Life" Book Review: Climbing the Fantasy Mountain

by Lawr Michaels, MastersBall.com on July 1, 2013 @ 11:17:55 PDT


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When I first met Matthew Berry, the night before Tout Wars 2003 in the restaurant of the Radisson in Schaumburg, Illinois, he had just cracked wise during the annual pre-draft soiree, and I made some kind of remark. Matthew looked at me, smiled, and said "I can see we are going to get along."

At that time Matthew was toiling for Rotoworld, but within a few years he initiated his site, The Talented Mr. Roto (TMR), that eventually became part of ESPN, with TMR himself easily becoming the most recognizable face in the fantasy industry.

Fantasy Life

In his new book, "Fantasy Life," Berry goes back before that fateful day in suburban Chicago, to growing up in Texas as a somewhat nerdy Jewish kid (as one, I relate) slash tennis player slash fantasy geek, seeming much like Valentine Michael Smith of Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land."

Although tennis gave Matthew some sense of belonging, it was fantasy baseball -- still a new and bizarre concept to most in the mid-80s -- that gave him not just a passion, but a community, and as TMR's tale unfolds, he cleverly parallels his own evolution with that of the fantasy industry, tying in the strange, outrageous and wonderful about the game that binds us as human beings.

Through the journey, however, there is no more poignant or important moment than when we are introduced to Matthew's Uncle Lester.

It is within that brief "time-out" on Uncle Lester -- each chapter of "Fantasy Life" has such a departure nestled within -- that we see the heart and soul of the book, and more important, the guiding forces that led Mr. Berry to the top of the fantasy heap.

Invoking such gems as "Never chase a woman, a streetcar, or a deal," or "Don't risk what you cannot afford to lose," Lester's simple aphorisms may well seem to allude to life, but as Matttttheeeeeew -- for that is how Uncle Lester enunciated his nephew's name -- points out, the common sense of life and business make a perfect metaphor for both the fantasy game and community.

Furthermore, very few things these days build that community like fantasy, be it a work football league, a group of college buddies reuniting for years for their baseball league and draft, or a handful of distraught housewives meeting and bidding on the rights to Bob Mackie and Natalie Portman in a fantasy fashion set-up.

So, as we track Matthew from College Station, Texas (and the Fat Dog Rotisserie League, which still functions with Berry as a member) to Syracuse and college, then off to Hollywood and a screenwriting career, and finally into the throes of a burgeoning industry that was haunting him all the time anyway, we see heredity and environment converge with pop culture, dangling the fantasy gold ring that Matthew grabs.

More on his story....

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About Lawr Michaels, MastersBall.com

Lawr Michaels has been a player in the fantasy baseball industry since he began writing for John Benson in 1993. He has written for STATS, Inc, was the first fantasy columnist for CBS Sportsline, and has appeared in numerous journals and on websites. In 1996, he founded CREATiVESPORTS, a staple for serious fantasy players, which he merged into Mastersball in 2010.

Over the years, Lawr has participated in a wide variety of playing formats and won numerous titles, including AL Tout Wars crowns in 2001 and 2009. Along with his Mastersball duties, Lawr works for MLB.com as a statistician.

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