Blessed be the poor in team spirit

by Eric Nelson

A fantasy much closer to reality

There was a time when “rotisserie” only referred to roasting meat on a spit. As with so much of our society, sports dump-trucked the dictionary and took over the word, and from there only picked up speed.

Anyone who’s played rotisserie baseball, or “fantasy baseball” in which real people create imaginary teams and compete each week, knows what the internet did to its popularity. Statistics are ubiquitous, the scoring is done by algorithm rather than pen and paper, and sports have become more mainstream than ever. These days, your weekend fantasy battle in pro football may be more important than the actual game.

Fantasy sports have a peculiar singularity about them — the numbers are all that matter. Compared to a real athletic team, where personalities must mesh and character can determine playing time, rotisserie leagues boil out much of the talent evaluation and soft skills a real general manager must have.

Pietisten will not be creating a new fantasy sports league, but like our annual Waldenström Award, we don’t mind floating hypothetical scenarios for the Pietist interesting in thinking more deeply about his or her hobby.

For instance, a fantasy sports league that includes passing yards as well as how evenly distributed the ball is to a quarterback’s teammates, so that the signal caller who shares the most is rewarded. Or a third baseman who not only earns points for hits and RBI, but whether he speaks in complete sentences in post-game interviews and politely thanks those newspaper beat reporters for their time. Or the basketball player who, no matter how many assists and steals, is also valuable because he finished a college degree in economics and reads to kindergarteners at the local elementary school. Maybe making “fantasy” management a little more like reality is just the challenge needed for the next generation of rotisserie owners — not to mention a good reminder that these athletes should be more than just the little numbers on the stat sheet.

In that vein, the 2014 Waldenström Award committee went looking far and wide for a college football player with a resumé that gets attention from the NFL and MBA programs. We’re partial to Brett Hundley, quarterback of the UCLA Bruins. The threeyear starter for the Baby Bears won the 2013 Sun Bowl MVP and could have been a top professional draft pick. But he returned to Westwood and led UCLA’s 2014 campaign to the top of national rankings. And Hundley’s arm is only part of the story — he helps organize a walk to raise money for epilepsy every year in honor of his sister, cooks meals for his offensive line, and publicly thanked his home church in Phoenix for their prayers of support after earning the starting UCLA job in 2011.

That’s the kind of reality that should be appreciated in athletes, particularly for a young man surrounded by Southern California’s trappings of fame. So to Brett Hundley, the 2014 Waldenstrom Award winner, congrats and best of luck.

Eric Nelson is Pietisten's sports prophet.

See all articles by Eric Nelson