My fellow geeks and I had our annual fantasy baseball draft Saturday.
Some of us have been at this for 27 years, and it's still one of my favorite days of the year. We use an auction format where someone throws a player's name out, we write our bids down and then we reveal them to see who gets the guy. Each team has a mythical $275 salary cap to fill its roster of 24 players.
I love my team, but it's a lot like real baseball. Most teams look great until they start playing and you figure out that your players stink.
Beloved sportscaster Harry Kalas turned "High Hopes" into a Philadelphia Phillies theme song, and nothing could be more appropriate. It's the nature of the sport that fans of even the most traditionally inept teams begin their season with High Hopes.
Think about it. Each season begins with players trooping off to sunny Florida or Arizona at a time of year when most of us are shivering and slipping through February and longing for spring. No phrase ignites a baseball fan's daydreams like "pitchers and catchers."
It's a fresh start for everyone, and optimism tends to run high amid the palm trees and warm breezes. The older players are rested and uninjured. The phenoms are talented and untested. The sports writers, lording it over their freezing colleagues back home, are feeling good, too. It's a time for high apple pie in the sky hopes, as Harry used to sing.
Eventually, of course, balmy optimism gives way to the icy claws of reality. I remember the year I attended Opening Day at Veterans' Stadium, full of excitement about the season — until a pitch hit star outfielder Lenny Dykstra, breaking his wrist. The team finished 70-92.
One of my own favorite blog headlines was "Bring Me the Head of Carlos Zambrano," written years ago in the first week of the season after Cubs — and Media Jackals, my fantasy team — pitcher Zambrano had been bombed on the season's first weekend. I really miscalculated on that one. He was a bum.
But I had high hopes when I drafted him. The problem for Phillies fans this spring is that the team is giving us nothing to work with.
The team's core of stars got old, and instead of easing them out in favor of younger talent, they signed them all to long-term contracts and surrounded them with other aging players and uninspiring youngsters from their lousy farm system. The older players became increasingly susceptible to injury, compounding the way their skills were diminishing.
Even where there were reasonably promising younger replacements coming up through the farm system, some of them found their paths blocked by those veterans and their giant contracts.
The team's frequent miscalculations on free agents — I spent most of last season yelling at the televised image of horrible right fielder Delmon Young — and poor drafts have further limited their options.
This offseason yielded free agent signings of more old players and the re-signing of 35-year-old catcher Carlos Ruiz, further cementing the team's image as a baseball nursing home.
As if all this weren't bad enough, the team has been beset by injuries and awful performances all spring. Sore arms, oblique strains, flu, even MRSA have left their bench and pitching staff short-handed, and the team has struggled to score runs. In fact, it was scoreless the last 27 innings of its preseason.
The team's only All-Star representative last year, outfielder Domonic Brown, had a terrible spring marked by an extended illness and very few hits. Thanks to his epic IronPigs exploits, I'm one of his biggest fans around here — but when I had the opportunity to keep him on my fantasy team this year, I let him go and kept a Washington Nationals pitcher instead.
What I'm saying is that even the most ardent Phillies fans are looking at this fresh new season with more trepidation than excitement, and the combination of an aged team and a weak farm system means we can't even pretend we're rebuilding and on our way up.
Listen to the sports talks shows. They're talking about when general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will be fired or when Ryne Sandberg's stoicism will desert him, not how many homers Ryan Howard will hit or how many bases Jimmy Rollins will steal.
I gather several times every season with a group of fellow rabid Phillies fans to analyze the team and swap obscure trivia questions. Last year, we made a friendly wager about how many games the team would win, and the results proved to be overly optimistic, which is typical of baseball fans.
The teams play 162 games, so 81 is break-even. One guy predicted more than 90 wins and several of us — including me — were in the high 80s. The winner was the person with the lowest number, 83, which still was 10 more wins than the team actually achieved.
A couple of weeks ago, we repeated the exercise for the 2014 season. The high total this time was 77, five games below .500. I came in at 72. The low total was 69, and I have a bad feeling she's going to win.
It's no fun having Low Hopes. Bring me the head of Ruben Amaro.
Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun