I recently had the pleasure to “chat” with Ferdinando (Nando) Di Fino of Fantasyland fame – who is also a Yankees fan. And, I thought others may enjoy what we had to say. Our exchange went as follows:
Before we get into your adventures in “Fantasyland,” let’s talk Yankees shop for a minute or two. When and why did you become a Yankees fan? How would you describe your level of Yankees fanaticism?
Nando: Since birth. Seriously, there are pictures of me in my crib with a Yankees hat on and tiny bat. I was born in May of ’78, and, apparently, I was watching games by June. My younger brothers are all over the map–one is a Mets fan, one likes the Blue Jays (their AAA team plays in Syracuse, where we grew up), and another doesn’t even watch baseball–but I was indoctrinated into Yankee fandom from the womb.
My level of fanaticism was pretty high going into college, and then reached new heights when I went to BC, if only to antagonize all the Red Sox fans who surrounded me.
Strangely, it got to the point where the Yankees were so dominant, and I had gone to so many Sox games just by being there and my roommates’ parents giving us their season tickets (really good season tickets, too), I began to warm up a little to the Sox. That was when the Orioles, Indians, and Rangers really threatened the Yankees more than Boston did, anyway.
I couldn’t–and still can’t–stand the Sox fans, but I started to like their teams a little bit. My Yankees love never waned, but I did kind of like guys like Mo Vaughn, Pedro, and John Valentin.
Still, I’ll hang up anything that says “Mattingly” on it in my apartment to this day, and refuse to drink before or during Yankee games at the Stadium (although I have no rules whatsoever for after), just so I can enjoy it without having to get up and pee every half-inning.
How difficult was it watching the Yankees play in Fenway? Did you ever watch a game there in Yankees garb? Any interesting tales from that experience?
Nando: I actually went to a couple Yankees games in Fenway, under a couple different sets of circumstances. The first time was freshman year in college (1996), and I went with a couple guys on the dorm floor who were also Yankees fans. We got the Standing Room Only seats off the street for something like 40 bucks each, and, immediately upon entering the stadium, heard it from every goateed Masshole in the stadium. “Yankees suck!” From everywhere. I used to hear that chant at BC football games, hockey games, and in random bars late at night. It’s like some weird co-dependency thing they have with us.
Anyway, I kept my hat on for the entire game, and the fans–although annoying and with bad accents–didn’t bump into us, or do anything besides their dumb chants and Jeter-bashing. And, this was in ’96, before Jeter really even blew up.
The second time I went, I got to sit with my friend Bruno–a die-hard Sox fan–in the high-roller seats, next to Pedro’s little brother, about six rows behind home plate. I had no Yankees gear on (images of that Seinfeld with the Orioles hat flashed through my head), and sat there in silence as the Yankees eventually won. Bruno called me a wuss for days, but even he knew it was probably the right thing to do. I will say this–Fenway is a park that everyone should probably go see a game in at least once. It just looks right, and isn’t as big and cavernous as Yankee Stadium. Plus, you have to see the Green Monster in person. It’s like seeing Paris Hilton or Tom cruise on the street–maybe not your favorite, but still pretty cool to see with your own two eyes.
This summer, when the Pirates came to Boston for interleague play, my friend Sias–who is a big, somehow, Pirates fan–convinced me to get dressed as a pirate (complete with eye patch, hat, parrot on the shoulder, fake beard, and plastic sword) and go to the game with him in Fenway. I obviously agreed, because I hate the Red Sox, so we hopped on the 2 PM Fung Wah bus ($15 each way from Chinatown to Chinatown) and were in full Pirate garb on Yawkey Way at about 6 PM, drinking Guinness and talking to every girl who walked by. He got the tickets through work, and, once again, we were sitting about FOUR rows behind home plate. We had all kinds of little kids asking for pictures with us, and we actually made some Red Sox season in review DVD. So, in a strange way, I managed to atone for that one game in the good seats where I had to stay quiet. Granted, the Pirates lost, and they weren’t exactly the Yankees, but we still managed to get drunk in Fenway, hit on all kinds of girls because of our fake beards, and have a good time.
Ah, the difference between the Bronx and Boston. Just try to get into Yankee Stadium with a plastic sword! Heck, just try and get into Yankee Stadium with a plastic water bottle. While you were in fake beard, etc., did any of the kids or girls ask if you had a Johnny Damon fetish? Somewhat related, as a Yankees fan, what are you thoughts on the acquisition of Damon?
Nando: My friend actually tried a couple days before to bring it in to Yankee Stadium (yeah, he went for the double dip of Pirates/Yankees and Sox/Yankees). Not only did they take the sword, but they made him take the beard off, too. He put it back on when he got in, and security stopped him inside and told him to take it off again.
No Johnny Damon comments in Fenway. I think the fact that we had gone as far as the eye patch and fake parrot may have thrown them off a little bit.
I hate to say this, and hope I am wrong, but I would have liked to have seen us go after Torii Hunter harder, maybe even going so far as to give up Cano for him, and then grab Nomar or someone to play second.
Throughout our last dynasty, we did it with a myriad of guys at second–Knoblauch, Sojo, Duncan, Soriano–but we always had a solid Bernie in center.
I like Damon, and I got just as pumped as anyone when he said he’d run through walls for the Yankees, but he has a little injury history, and is older than Hunter, and has a pretty weak arm. It’s great to take a jab at the Sox like that, but I don’t think there’s a CF in the game who compares to Hunter.
Granted, they actually may have tried, and then gone for Rowand or a couple other younger guys. But Damon is legit. He’ll drop Jeter back to where he’s comfortable in the lineup (although he was a great leadoff hitter), and will piss off Sox fans, which is always fun. I would have liked to see someone out there in their 20′s, who they could sign to a long deal, and we could get used to and who won’t be 36 at the end of the contract, but I am fine with Damon running around. I like how he’s already embraced the Pinstripes.
How have your aforementioned Sox fan friends taken to Damon’s move?
Nando: It’s funny you ask…I just got back from a weekend in Boston. They are beyond anger, shock, or disbelief–it’s like they are ignoring it until one of these rumored trades (Gathright, Reed, etc) comes through, and all will be well and good.
I had the pleasure of being there when the Patriots lost, so I got to needle them about their Pats losing, AND then asking how it felt to have Crespo at short, and no centerfielder. Usually they get all fired up about it, but it’s more regsignation now than anything else. The most they could muster was, “Our bullpen is going to be awesome…we just got Tavarez,” and then tried to change the subject to Kyle Farnsworth or Miguel Cairo. Or, the $209 million number again. They also showed me some bookmarked page of a guy burning and burying his Damon jersey in his backyard… It’s definitely a good time to be a Yankees fan in Boston right now.
I’ve seen that website. It’s pretty funny. OK, here’s something that I’m curious about – say that it’s November 2004, and you’re in an elevator and an old friend just enters. It’s someone who you have not seen since the year before. And, they say to you “So, how was your summer?” How would you answer in the time that you had left before reaching your floor?
Nando: Have you ever noticed that we Yankee fans don’t really get burned like that? Pettitte was probably the only one to pull that in recent memory, but there weren’t too many people burning his jersey and burying it in his backyard…
Explaining 2004′s summer? I’ve been working on a book project with this guy from the Wall Street Journal, about fantasy baseball. No, not where you play against old Yankees…it’s Rotisserie, like where you pick teams with your friends. Yeah, he played in the hardest league in the world, and used all his contacts and inside information to try and win. I did get to meet Garth Brooks, actually. He was in Spring Training with the Royals.
Oh yeah, it was crazy. I pretty much worked 16 hour days and stayed up until the last out of the last west coast game was made every night. No, I don’t remember what my family looks like…why? Have you seen them? Can you give them this note for me? Oh, this is your floor? It was good talking to you, too… Next year? Definitely the White Sox. I’d say against the Astros…
Hey, I still have my Pettitte jersey! Sixteen hour days? But, did it really seem like work?
Nando: Hahaha…yeah, I guess I could empathize with Pettitte, too… he just wanted to go close to home and get out of New York… it was pretty much an open secret that he was going to Houston, kind of like Damon coming to New York.
But Boston lost Damon and Joe Thornton in something like a two-week period? How funny is that? Could you imagine if the Celtics did something like trade Scalabrine and Paul Pierce for Iverson? They’d burn down the city.
Are you a Boston-hater, too?
The 2004 season was definitely not hard work. I flew to Vegas for the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, went to Arizona for three days to watch games and interview players, and was sent to a Yankees/Red Sox game to stuff the All Star ballot boxes with the players on our team. However, once that last out was made, we switched to edit/factcheck mode… that was probably the yin to the season’s yang. I remember sending Sam an e-mail at 6 AM with a file I had fact-checked, just as I was about to go to bed, and he called me two minutes later, saying he had about four more hours of writing to go until he was going to sleep. I slept for about four hours, woke up, and there were two new files waiting for me. Still, I was fact-checking things like the correct plural usage of “Poland Spring,” and the state in which Shaeffer beer is made.
There were long hours and a lot of work, but it was all pretty fun, and I rolled through every Roto and fantasy league the next year because of it…
I’ve got nothing against the city and residents of Boston. Now, the Red Sox organization, well, I think there are some things there not to like – in my opinion.
What’s the one story, from your relationship with Sam Walker during the “Fantasyland” experience, that you will never forget as long as you live?
Nando: That’s actually pretty funny. I started to like what they were doing with Theo in there, but just couldn’t stand the fans…I am your doppelganger.
I don’t think I will ever forget being in the Kansas City locker room during spring training. Sam wanted to follow Jason Grey–one of the main characters–around the locker room, just to see how he goes about interviewing players, and what questions he’d ask. But he didn’t really go over what he wanted me to do. So, we get in the locker room, and Sam immediately deserts me to follow Grey around. I go to Joe Randa and Tony Graffanino, and they tell me to come back after the game.
Now, this is my first MLB locker room experience. I had been backstage for a ton of concerts with all kinds of musicians and singers (although on the production and booking side, not having anything to do with journalism), thanks to a job I had before this, but nothing really prepares you for going in there with a pad and tape recorder, with very little guidance or ammunition.
So, I start copying down the quotes they had framed on the walls. Eventually, I run out. Just at that moment, DJ Carrasco comes over, pulls a water out of the fridge, points to his shirt, and reads it off to me, “Together, we can!” I walked with him back to his locker, and asked him a ton of questions, ranging from why he wasn’t in MLB 2004 (he was a Rule V draftee and not on the 40-man at the time) to how his sidearm pitch was developing. I had seen him a few times on TV, when I was scoring games for SportsTicker in grad school, so I knew a little bit about him. He instantly became my favorite MLB player.
Two minutes later, Garth Brooks walks by, and just starts up a conversation. My roommate in college was from New Orleans, and used to blast “Callin Baton Rouge” every Saturday morning to wake us up for football game tailgates, so I told him that story, and we got on to talking about everything. Before I knew it, Jason Grimsley and Curtis Leskanic had gotten in on the conversation, and we went on for a good fifteen minutes about touring, Leskanic’s dollar value in an AL-only auction, and Grimsley’s tattoos.
Eventually, we had to exit the locker room, as the game was starting, but I found out that Sam was waiting for me to finish up, I met up with him, he asked me what I had, and it was a notebook full of notes on video games, racing cars, and then a listing of every player Brian Anderson had on his fantasy football team. And, Carrasco was a member of out Tout Wars team that season, and again in 2005. I’m not sure it was the crowning achievement of my time in the book process, but I will definitely remember the KC locker room for a long time, and will probably follow Carrasco’s stats in Japan as long as he plays there.
In the “Fantasyland” saga, you were in charge of collecting the non-quantifiable information on players – like you did in K.C. Is this something that you still find yourself doing today?
Nando: Oh, definitely. I have gotten in the habit of reading more biographical stuff about players than getting lost in the statistics. If I end up with Chris Snelling on my team, for instance, it will be more because he signs his autograph with “Yoda” underneath it than because of his OPS in the minors. Granted, he hit .370 in AAA last year, which I don’t ignore, but I think a lot of the extracurriculars kind of reflect an approach to the game that could be beneficial. A guy like Snelling plays hard, has a wide-open approach to everything, and uses Jedi wisdom to push himself.
If everything else is pretty much even–or close to being even–I’d take that any day over a lot of the Trot Nixon “Jesus Christ hit that homerun” kind of guys. It just makes your team a little easier to root for and follow throughout the season.
Are you still keeping a database on this type of information?
Nando: No…Hunchmaster 2021 [database] was the last version, and that pretty much ended right after the draft.
There were way too many elements in there that we would have needed a press pass for…like “clubhouse chemistry” or “personality”…it would probably be unwise to guess on a lot of this stuff, because we aren’t going to locker rooms anymore.
There is a pitcher for the Tigers (now), Jason Grilli, who Sam met in the locker room when he was pitching with the White Sox in Spring Training, and he was just the nicest guy, and got a Hunchmaster bump because of that. Or Bill Mueller. Or Sidney Ponson. There are just things like that you can’t really quantify without being there.
But I still keep up with some of it. I mean, you look at stuff like Leo Mazzone going to the Orioles, and then they trade for LaTroy Hawkins, while letting B.J. Ryan go. So you start to think there may be something behind that. Or the Yankees, real quietly, throw Joe Kerrigan in there as bullpen coach, so you’d expect a new approach from a lot of the guys this year. He was regarded as a genius in Boston before he took over as manager.
See, this is the trip around my head. I don’t have the actual Hunchmaster spreadsheet working anymore, but I think in that manner, and know which players I like, and which players are just kind of bland and unexciting.
So, what are you up to these days – with that information in your head?
Nando: Well, about halfway through the book, Matt Berry asked me to write for him, so I joined the staff at Talented Mr. Roto and have been there for about a year.
I finished second in Tout Wars Mixed last year as a last-minute replacement. I unwittingly became the personal oracle for one of my old roommates for his fantasy baseball teams–I get about five e-mails a day from him, asking who he should pick up, or if he should accept proposed trades; and I am now just waiting for the book to come out, to see if more people feel that Hunchmaster or the “SigScale” is the way to go.
I still talk to Sig on a regular basis, and Sam pretty much every day. I helped him run the Street Walkers last year, and will probably end up doing the same this season, too.
My life is ruled by fantasy baseball, Steve. If you haven’t noticed.
Girls just nod and look for an exit route when I start explaining how I spent 18 months of my life working on a book “about fantasy baseball,” and I remember sitting in an office in New Orleans last summer, scrolling through Rotoworld for our FAAB moves, while all my friends were at Pat O’Brien’s getting drunk.
Still, it was 18 months on fantasy baseball, and I’d probably do it again, given the chance…
That’s the end of it. A huge “WasWatching.com” thanks goes out to Nando for his time and allowing me to share our discourse. And, make sure to pick up Fantasyland when it comes out next month – it’s a great book.