What if I told you that fantasy baseball wasn’t a fantasy? That the roster decisions you make and statistical outcomes you receive are very much real?
What if I told you that frustration can be derived from something that is supposed to be fun? That anger would be transmitted to others via All Caps in a direct message?
Would you believe me? Or would you need proof?
They say that proof is in the pudding, but on this day, the proof is in the ice cream.
Somewhere in Connecticut is where we find Becky – a full-time bullpen cart enthusiast and part-time ice cream scooper. But don’t be distracted by your brain freeze, beneath all the sprinkles is a fantasy baseball player.
Welcome to: A Fantasy League of Her Own.
In the Spring of 2018, a new fantasy baseball league entered the market amidst mass confusion from a handful of fans.
That league is the Intercontinental Baseball League (IBL).
Where would they play? Who would watch? Can the players even spell, “Intercontinental”? These were just some of the questions being thrown around at Bingo halls around the world.
Despite the questions that never got answered, the league was launched for its inaugural campaign. Becky was one of the owners. She named her team, #FlowBros.
Some called it a team name that came out of left field, while others argued it came out of left-centre. Either way, people were asking questions about this team that, clearly, wanted to embrace the fun side of baseball.
Why is there a number sign in the name? What’s the pound symbol doing there? Are they playing tic-tac-toe?
The questions didn’t phase Becky, who had Panic! At The Disco levels of optimism – which is to say, she had high, high hopes.
Unfortunately, panic(!) set in early on and continued the rest of the way as the #FlowBros finished in 7th place, out of nine teams. It was a result that had Becky looking for answers.
BECKY: I’ll be honest: what happened last season was on me since I’m wearing multiple hats as Owner, President, GM, and Manager. My draft strategy wasn’t as strong as it could have been, and I hadn’t been in charge of a team in a few seasons, so things have changed since my last team.
It was sure to be an off-season of adjustments for Becky, who promised at her end of season press conference – held in the smallest media room this journalist has ever been in – to brush up on the latest statistics and approach this season as a complete rebuild.
BECKY: My strategy last year obviously didn’t end up giving us the results we wanted, and with the way this league is set up, I have the opportunity to draft a new team every year. I took it upon myself to do research early and not wait until the night before like last year. If I wanted to be successful this season, I knew I’d have to be prepared and ready to manage this team.
She did more than prepare. Just one year into the team’s existence, Becky would put it through a total rebrand.
The #FlowBros were no more. Goodbye, free flowing hair. And goodbye, jokes about playing tic-tac-toe.
Like a phoenix, the team rose from its ashes and was reborn. This time, as the “Hate Us Cuz Yoenis”. A nod to outfielder, Yoenis Cespedes. It’s a team name that drew local newspaper headlines like, “Hate Us? We Already Do!”
Nevertheless, the one woman show felt this was the best direction to go in.
BECKY: I thought the brand and team name going into last season was going to help us succeed; I mean, who doesn’t like a good hashtag? However, a few weeks into the season, the two namesakes of our team name — Brock Holt and Andrew Benintendi — both cut their flows. They were no longer the #FlowBros, and that caused us to have a loss of identity early on.
So, why not sooner? Why couldn’t this team pivot half through last season?
BECKY: Since we had already bought all of the uniforms and merchandise for the team store, we couldn’t rebrand mid-season, so we had to do the best with what we had, and we’re grateful for our fans who stuck it out with us. Now they have some great throwback items.
Ah yes, doomed by inventory that no one was buying. The fatal downfall of so many teams.
BECKY: During the off-season, I knew we needed to shed our old identity and rebrand if we wanted to be successful. I’m not going to lie, Google was a lot of help in finding possible team names. I decided to go with a pun because it creates a fun atmosphere from the start. I focus-grouped the top five and ultimately chose, “Hate Us Cuz Yoenis.”
Many executives in the sports industry have often doubted the use of Google for assistance. Some call it cheating, while others are too busy connecting to their dial-up internet to comment on such a technological matter.
However, Hate Us Cuz Yoenis have come out of the gates flying, like a thoroughbred at its first Kentucky Derby. Their whiff of success has been making its way down wind.
BECKY: I guess it ended up being fitting during our early run this season, as it’s a play on “hate us ’cause you ain’t us.” We want to be taken seriously after last season and set ourselves apart from the rest of the teams in the league.
And set themselves apart, they did. At the time of production, Becky’s team is in first place with an 8.5 point lead. It’s a lead she’s not willing to give up any time soon.
They say you can rebrand a team, but you can’t make it win. The anomaly behind Becky’s success this season seems to be in her new philosophy, which has been “on the money”.
BECKY: When I was drafting my players this year, I went with the philosophy of drafting with my head and not my heart. I think that’s what hurt us last year. I’ve always been inspired by Billy Beane and the Moneyball story, so I decided to draft based on numbers and who would be most valuable.
Having a strategy based on numbers going into the draft definitely helped me, and after how last season went, having a lead early on is a change for us, but we’re not going to let it get to our heads.
It might not get to their heads, but it has certainly bounced off the craniums of her opponents, who are desperately trying to close the gap.
But that isn’t a worry for Becky. She remains focussed on appealing to her fans and giving them something they didn’t get last season.
BECKY: We’re grateful for the fans who came out last year, and we’re excited to welcome new fans to the park this season. We hope that we can continue to fill our seats, and we have some really cool game promotions coming up.
“Cool game promotions” are not often seen in the fantasy baseball world, but is a testament to the culture Becky is trying to create. A culture that has permeated through the clubhouse and resonated with each and every player.
BECKY: As one of the younger managers in the league, I think I probably run a looser clubhouse. These guys know they’re here to do their jobs, but why not let them have a little fun? And since things are going well so far this season, the vibe in the clubhouse is better than it was last season. That’s not to say, though, if we hit a rough patch that the guys won’t take it seriously. I have faith in this team that they’ll support each other through the thick and thin.
That support starts with her. As someone who admires Gabe Kapler and tries to model her managerial style after him, Becky is all for her players promoting themselves and growing their personal brand.
BECKY: My office door is always open for the guys to come in and talk before or after a game, and this allows me to get to know the players better. We’re all in this together and I think it’s important to not only have a professional relationship, but one where you get to know who’s playing for you and what they want out of this season.
I can tell you for sure, though, that Derek Holland is the comic relief in the clubhouse, and he won’t mind that I told you that. I mean, have you heard his impressions?
We tried to track down Derek Holland for an impression, but he told us, “I’ll be back” and never returned. Odd.
Instead, we did some further digging into what “fun” things this team does when they’re not on the field. Apparently, Becky is big on field trips and getting out of the office. A mini-golf trip is in the works, as well as a team picnic for all the players and their families.
When asked if there was any concern about mosquito bites at the team picnic, we were assured by an anonymous source that the mosquitos are fans of Hate Us Cuz Yoenis and would not harm them.
Stephen P. Scotty is one of the veteran players on the team and seems to be embracing the “fun” environment, despite the “fun police” connotation that normally follows older players.
STEPHEN P. SCOTTY: I’m 28, so I’m not sure if I’m considered “a kid” in the game, but change is inevitable, and I get that changes are hard, but I don’t think the players who are having fun are disrespecting the game.
We just express our fun differently than say someone in an office job. You can’t really flip your phone after a good phone call, right? I’ve never worked in an office.
We sent a producer and a cameraman to a nearby paper company to try and catch a phone flip in action, but it never happened. When asked why, we were told that it would make too much noise and disrupt their colleagues.
Could the success of Hate Us Cuz Yoenis be this simple? Could flipping a bat lead to a happier and healthier work environment? One where winning was the norm, rather than the exception?
We approached returning member of the team, Cody Bell, for his thoughts on what’s so different about this group.
CODY BELL: I just think the groove was missing last year. This team does have a different vibe to it. There are a bunch of young guys here, and we have a few veterans who have been leaders in the clubhouse and on the field. Becky lets us have fun. We’re here to do our jobs, and we all believe in Let the Kids Play.
The “groove”. Perhaps it is that simple. Like a groove left on a couch, there is a sense of comfort in this clubhouse. There is a sense of, “this is where we are meant to be for the next eight hours”.
Will this “groove” last, though? Many baseball minds have their doubts, but this team seems to be employing the “one field trip at a time” approach.
With so much early momentum and a fan base wrapping its arms around the team, Becky realizes that Rome was not built in a month.
BECKY: The baseball season is 162 games, so we still have a long way to go. We’re just honored to be here, really, and have the opportunity to play in this league again this season and provide great entertainment for our fans every night. We just hope everyone has fun.
A look around the ballpark tells you that everyone is having fun. People are smiling, dogs are barking, ice cream is being scooped, and bullpen carts are being used by every reliever.
It is a sight unlike any other, and it is one that puts Becky in a fantasy league of her own.
Some of the players names were changed because I don’t want to put words in their mouths. Thank you to Becky for allowing me to tell her story in my own way, and for putting up with me continuously pushing back my deadline for this piece.