Gronk Me

I didn’t have sex last night. But I did have a fantasy football draft.

“How’d it go? said my wife when I got home.
“Good,” I said.
“Tell me about it,” she said.

“I’m not doing it this year.” That’s what I told Scott. I told him this when we were on the golf course. “Why not?” he said. “It’s a waste of time,” I said. Scott was lining up his putt. He does this by crouching behind his ball and holding his putter up like a plumb bob. He thinks this will help him putt. Then he stands behind his ball and thinks. Then he stands over his putt and waggles his ass. Then he takes a practice swing.

After Scott missed his putt and then swore and said, “How the fuck does that not go right? How does it not go right? God dammit. That’s just bullshit!” he said, “If I’m going to be the fucking commissioner of a fucking fantasy football league, you’re doing it.”

I’ve recently had a revelation that has empowered me to make choices in my life. I own a tool pouch because I’m a mechanic. I drive a van around and every service call I go to, I need to fetch my tool pouch from the back of my van. I’ll be kneeling behind the cook’s line in some greasy restaurant, or kneeling on some frozen patch of ice on a rooftop and probably once or twice a day I’ll reach for a 7/16 wrench. There’s one particular section in my tool pouch where I keep all my wrenches. They go from 1/4 inch up to 5/8. Some are combination wrenches, which means they’re open on one end and closed on the other. Some are open on both sides. One time, I was working on a machine made in Europe and there was a 10 millimeter hex nut I needed to break loose, so I went out and bought a metric wrench kit. Now I have a 10 millimeter wrench mixed in with all the standard wrenches in my tool pouch. A 10 millimeter wrench is very close in size to a 7/16 wrench. The size of a wrench is cast into the steel. It’s generally on the side of the handle. So, you can’t see what size it is before the wrench is in your hand. And somehow, when I reached for a 7/16 wrench, 10 out of 10 times, I ended up pulling out the 10 millimeter. It made me very angry. Twice a day, I’d become very angry because I’d have pulled out the damn 10 millimeter wrench a-damn-gain! I felt like the world was in the habit of doing malevolent things to me. Conspiring against me. And this wrench was exhibit A.

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that I could remove the 10 millimeter wrench from my tool pouch permanently. This was a big moment for me. I removed the 10 millimeter wrench and put it in my big tool box where I keep all the assorted tools I might need in extraordinary times. Like when there’s a metric bolt I need to break loose. The moment I did this simple and obvious thing, removing my metric wrench from my tool pouch, I gained authority over parts of my life that had heretofore bossed me around.

“No,” I told Scott. “I’m not doing it.”
“But why not?”
“I don’t feel like it,” I said. “Besides, I don’t even like football anymore. It’s too violent. Did you see Concussion? Fuck the NFL. These players, they risk their lives. It’s exactly like the gladiators.”
“No,” said Scott. “But seriously. In the real world. Why do you not want to do it?”
“I’m tired of losing,” I said. “Plus, it’s too much money. Too much time.”
“Come on,” he said. “I’ll coach you up.”
“No,” I said. “I’m not spending all my days and nights reading injury reports and shit. I’m not doing it.”
“I’ll coach you up before the draft,” he said. “I will. And we’ll play golf the day of the draft. Like we do every year. Deal?” He held out his hand for a shake.

It had been our tradition at one time, when we were co-owners of a fantasy football team. Every year, the day of the draft, we’d play a round of golf. We’d take a cart and a football magazine. And we’d talk about our draft philosophy. Stuff like, “If we get a great tight end, that’s worth more than getting a great receiver because there are lots of great receivers but there are only one or two great tight ends…” Stupid shit like that. But still, I liked it. I liked the golf courses in late summer. That feeling of change. That slowing down. The lower angle of the sun. The cooler temperatures. Those first stray leaves stuttering across the green.

“You’ll coach me up?” I said, shaking his hand.

Day before yesterday, I get a call from Scott. He tells me they already have four. “It’s our usual golf day,” he explains. “We always play on Wednesdays. Sorry dude.”

“What about coaching me up?” I say. “You said you were going to coach me up.”

“Get a magazine,” he says. “And don’t draft a defense or kicker till the thirteenth round or fourteenth round.”

It’s like this: You go to the bar with your little magazine under your arm and two pens just in case one runs out. On one page of the magazine is what they call a cheat sheet. It’s a list of players divided into positions and ranked by how many points they are projected to score for their fantasy owners. Our draft has eighteen rounds. Which means you end up with eighteen players. There are twelve teams. Twelve times eighteen is 216. That’s 216 picks. There’s a time limit for each pick. It’s supposed to take you less then one minute per pick even though many teams take longer. If we go by the book, at one minute per pick, our draft will take over three and a half hours.

Before the draft, guys straggle in. Blue collar guys. White collar guys. Guys wearing St. Louis Cardinals caps. Sons and fathers. Everyone holding either computer printouts or magazines. Each with what they consider a viable strategy. These are my enemies. They might joke around. But they are my enemies. Scott, my arch enemy, shows up and sets up a big cardboard display with a grid. Twelve teams. Twelve team names. Eighteen slots per team. And a bunch of stickers with players names printed on them, each position a different color. Everyone coughs up a hundred and fifty dollars plus five dollars for your sleeper from last year.

We pick numbers from a hat to determine draft order. I draft eighth. My first pick is Rob Gronkowski, the superstar tight end from the Patriots. I write his name on a clean sheet of paper, order a steak. And water. Make my second pick. Eat the steak. Make my third pick. Drink water. I cross off players from my cheat sheet as they are chosen. I joke around. I go for a smoke. For my third running back, which is my seventh pick, I take Dion Lewis, starting running back for New England.

“How did it go?” says Deb. It’s ten o’clock at night. I smell like cigarettes.
“Good,” I say.
“Tell me about it,” she says.

This morning, I’m pulling up to my first job. Before I jump out of my truck to fetch my tool pouch, I check my phone. I notice that I have received an email. It’s from ESPN Fantasy sports. There are a few articles about sleeper picks. One article in particular mentions that the New England backfield is wide open due to the season-ending knee injury to Dion Lewis.

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