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Thursday 22nd Feb 2018

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.

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)/tennis player/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-80's--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.

For it is shortly after Uncle Lester's "Time Out" that Matthew takes a chance, chucks making a living a traditional way, and essentially by embracing much of the avuncular wisdom Lester imparts, carves a path to Sunday prime time.

In the process we hear about leagues with crazy rules, and trades that border on solicitation. We see trophies that are explicit enough to be censored in the book  along with players--and more important the leagues in which they compete--joined in a brother/sisterhood of play that transcends virtually all of the social stigmas that often separate us as Americans.

For in fantasy, no one cares what you look like or who you sleep with. My league-mates are oblivious as to  who I vote for, or whether I spend time working for Habitat for Humanity or the Tea Party for that matter. But, they do care if I got a steal in picking Chris Davis in the fifth round, just as they relate to biting it by taking Ryan Braun in the first round this year. More important, if they can swap Braun to me for Davis at the break, that is even better. And, cutting such a deal, and then bragging about it endlessly is the cream of the league crop.

Irrespective we see people bound to one another as mates, making their drafts despite motor cycle accidents and car repossessions and cancer surgeries and weddings and funerals and the gamut of the human experience filtered through the game creator/mentor/high priest of all things fantasy (and some things more) Dan Okrent, called "The Greatest Game for Baseball Fans Since Baseball."

If you have seen the Talented Mr. Roto on NFL Sunday, or tweeted him, or heard his podcasts, you probably have a pretty set opinion--in the form of love/hate--about him.

Like it or not, when you are arguably the most visible member of a given industry and in the public eye, as Matthew is, scrutiny and related criticism just go with the territory.

As for "Fantasy Life," it is indeed a fun and compelling read for anyone who loves the games--in your head and on the field--as well as anyone who wants to simply understand those of us who do play.

By the way Matttthhhhheeeewwwwwww: Uncle Lester would be proud.


0 #1 Perry Van Hook 2013-06-30 19:14
Great review Lawr, Thanks

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