A handful of years ago I entered a baseball competition run through CDM sports called the Diamond Challenge. At the time I was looking for the chance to enter a legitimate fantasy baseball competition in which I could win a large grand prize without putting forth too much capital. Well, the Diamond Challenge fit that criteria as for a $39.95 entry fee (along with transaction costs throughout the season), I would have my chance at a 25k grand prize.
Although the chance at a large overall prize is what initially attracted me to the DC, much to my surprise it came to embody the greatness of fantasy baseball for me. For those not familiar with the Diamond Challenge, it is a rotisserie style (5 x 5) salary cap fantasy baseball game in which each team can select any 28 players they want (18 hitters, 10 pitchers, 12 man bench) as long as the total salary of the starters does not exceed the 30 million dollar maximum. Each team can make weekly changes and has 12 purchases in which they can add any player they want as long as they drop a player from their current roster. There a couple of other ways to acquire players – 4 free agent moves and a taxi squad expansion towards the end of the season.
Initially, the idea that there will be no draft and other teams can own the same players as you may seem to be a turnoff. However, the Diamond Challenge actually gives you a much more exciting overall experience despite this and, to some extent, because of this. Sure, there’s no live draft, but from the day the salaries first come out (usually January) up until Opening Day, it’s like having a draft for three months straight as you are constantly tweaking your roster until it is perfect – or at least it’s perfect for that brief window from when rosters lock until the first pitch is thrown.
As far as owning the same players as someone else, you quickly learn it’s not a big deal. The Diamond Challenge is about composing the best team, and with so many different possible combinations, your team is sure to be unique. On top of that, making every player available to every owner does something for the Diamond Challenge that other leagues cannot offer – equality. Everyone starts on the same ground. Everyone has the same access to the same players and is playing by the same rules. This makes this the fairest game setup around and as a result, each individual owner has much more control over his or her squad’s fate than in a standard fantasy league. You don’t have to worry about getting a bad spot to pick in the draft. You don’t have to worry about the teams in league 11 having a better chance at the overall prize than you because their draftees were half new players. In a sense, it’s this feeling of control that has made the Diamond Challenge an obsession for many players.
There’s the constant tweaking of the preseason roster. There are the pressing weekly decisions – do I start Pitcher X with a great matchup or Pitcher Y who has two starts this week? Do I stop losing ground in RBI’s by picking up a highly owned masher so I can at least tread water in that category – or do I try and make up ground by adding a low percentage (on few other teams’ rosters) rookie with some pop? Sure, there are decisions to be made in every fantasy format, but the control each owner has in the DC magnifies the implications of these decisions. If you missed out on a stud rookie – you can’t blame the jerk who loads up on every single rookie every year.
Also, the DC really exemplifies the grind of the baseball season and the need to be level headed. Last year, I spent 3 months analyzing every single player only to find myself 2,000th out of around 4,000 competitors a month into the season. I was fortunate enough to end up 30th overall, my best showing since first participating in the DC in 2006. That brings up another issue that is less prevalent in other leagues. How quickly do I use one of my purchases? I only have 12. Do I jump on a rookie hot out of the gate or save that buy in case of an injury later? Those decisions are crucial, but it’s nice to know you are in control of them, not needing to worry about “that guy” who picks up the hot free agent week in and week out.
Unfortunately, Fanball, the site that has hosted the Diamond Challenge game has decided to not run the game this year. I hoped, at this point in the post, to start scribing something poetic and eloquent about the Diamond Challenge and its possible future. However, all I can say is that this is a great game. It is one of the purest fantasy baseball games around, and the players of the game are some of the most passionate in the world. Let’s hear what a couple of them have to say:
Tom Henderson got hooked on the Diamond Challenge back in 1997 after reading an interview with the previous year’s champion. As Tom states, that champion “…took some smart risks. He started an Expos rookie, Mark Grudzielanek at 2nd base. That was the year Mark came out of the gate hitting .400 for a month or two. He took a chance on a young pitcher for the Yanks named Pettite who came out of the gate with a bunch of wins. He also started a budding closer named Hoffman. He was quick to move on Mariners rookie shortstop Alex Rodriguez for 500k. He also picked up Ellis Burks from the Rockies at the break.” Just reading those words from Tom, you can’t help but get a little bit nostalgic and almost feel in awe of the possibility of putting together a perfect roster. It is the “challenge” (You guys knew that pun was coming sooner or later, right?) that makes this game great.
Jeff Koch echoed something that many DC players seem to feel and that I failed to mention earlier: not only did the passion of this game’s members manifest itself in each individual owner’s quest for a perfect roster, but it led to a camaraderie among competitors that is rarely felt between mere strangers in any aspect of society now a days. In his words, “I think it’s odd to say I’ve made friends with over 50 people on the DC BBS. To date, I’ve only met a few face-to-face. Many of these guys have made trips together. Trips include Spring Training, regular season games and an annual pilgrimage to Vegas. Guys simply known as ClosterKnickerbockers, Reed, Quack, Petro, Studs, Oak, DT, DodgerBlues, Second Chance, StewCat, Funk, Willy, Vlad, 490, Get, Down, Godfather, Sax, Piggy and countless others. If any needed a hand, I’d be there to help. The bonds that were made run deep. Maybe it’s akin to having numerous penpals? I don’t know how else to describe it to somebody who wasn’t part of the group.”
I think the truest testament to the Diamond Challenge is that its customers, faced with the prospect that they may be without their favorite game to play, are going out swinging. Former Diamond Challenge players are jumping from forum to forum, trying to gather information on where/how a Diamond Challenge contest can be held this season. Grassroots movements have sprung up to save the game. So, while I was initially devastated at the news of Fanball dropping the DC this season, my despair has turned to confidence. In fact, while conversing with Anthony Perri here at Fantistics, he's confident an outlet will be in place for current DC'ers. Furthermore he added, "if a legitimate outfit did not emerge soon", he'd consider creating a similar game in time for the 2011 season.
The game will go on because the competitors who fell in love with this contest will not let it die. There are too many core customers in place with too much passion. The game setup is too good. With those thoughts in mind, I’m encouraged that all the former DC players out there will be able to play again this season, and hopefully those of you who have never played before will get a chance to test out this game first hand. You will not be disappointed.