- Matthew Berry, Fantasy
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It was a fairly big upset.
In a week when I went to the MLB All-Star game and the ESPY awards, would you believe the best time I had was at my high school reunion?
I was as surprised as you. Frankly, I was fairly apprehensive about going to it. I didn't enjoy high school much. I had a close-knit group of friends, but there were also a group of guys that really went out of their way to make my life miserable and they often succeeded. I was much smaller and scrawnier than I am now. I'm 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, and if I was that size in high school, things would have been different.
So I wasn't sure what I would find. Most of the people I am still close to from high school weren't going, but it was a chance to see my folks, see some other people I wanted to catch up with and let's face it, if ever there's a time to go to your reunion, it's when you have a job that puts you on TV.
My week leading up to it was ridiculous, too. You'd be amazed (or maybe not) by what I call "the power of the four letters." Working for ESPN gets me into places I have no business being at, like shooting our Fantasy Focus show at Yankee Stadium, going to the MLB.com Joba Chamberlin/Alyssa Milano party (thanks, Kenny Gersh!). For the record, I saw Joba, but not Alyssa. Was at Derek Jeter's party and ended up at a table next to Chase Utley. I felt bad for Chase. If I was having the kind of season Chase is having, I would expect to be far away from someone like me. He's very cool.
Then the ESPYS, where I walked the red carpet and actually got a few cheers. Of course, they were quickly drowned out because Michael Strahan walked out after me. But still. Nuts, right?
I know I've been accused of being fairly cocky, and frankly, it's a legitimate criticism. I am fairly cocky. Anytime you make your living by predicting the future, you have to have a healthy sense of self. But most of the amazing stuff that happens to me or for me has absolutely nothing to do with me and everything to do with ESPN. I am unbelievably fortunate, and I am very aware of that.
I often find myself feeling awkward and weird and thinking, "What the hell am I doing here?" I often have to say, both to people within ESPN and outside, "Hey, fantasy sports are legit, okay? Lots of people play fantasy. It is too important. No, I am not here to park the car."
So those feelings of not exactly belonging remind me, of course, of high school. And all those old feelings of "What the hell am I doing?" came back up as I approached the Daisy Dukes bar in College Station, Texas, home of our Friday Happy Hour. And you know what I found? Everyone was great. Almost all were married, many with kids, and all were much more successful than I anticipated. Oh, and all the girls had "babed up." All of the women looked fantastic. The guys... meh. We were a mixed bag.
People seemed genuinely happy and excited for each other. I spent some time reminiscing, but most of it was catching up on what has happened since high school. I was worried folks might resent me for my job or whatever, but it couldn't have been further from the case. People were genuinely happy and congratulatory. I took a lot of photos, I stayed until the end of every event and I wasn't even disappointed that the girl I had a crush on all through high school was happily married. As my friend and classmate Rick Denmark wrote me afterwards, "You know, if everybody had been that positive and happy with each other in high school, our class gift would have been something far greater than spray paint removal."
I have one funny story from the reunion that will take too long to write, so I'll share that on the baseball podcast next week (Fantasy Football podcast starts Tuesday!), but my friend Randy Bond summed it up perfectly in an e-mail he wrote me: "It was an event that helped the soul and it was a time that I will not soon forget. As I told the committee members when I thanked them individually for their hard work, you don't walk away from years of memories and growing pains. You face them and embrace them and learn to laugh with each other again."
Randy's right and he described it much better than I could. It's been a reflective week for me. And as I look back on my high school years and the things that have happened since, I realize we are not perfect. We never are. But instead of beating ourselves up about it or walking away, we are better off facing it head-on, realizing we are all just doing the best we can and continuing to try to improve.
Which brings us, with every twist and turn of this convoluted segue, to this week's pickups. So you screwed up your draft. So you banked too much on Roy Oswalt or Erik Bedard or pick-your-Indian-not-named-Grady. You keep at it. You keep trying to get better. Little by little, day by day. You... wait for it...
Work the Wire
Here are some players that have recently seen an increase in value and may be available in your league. Ownership percentages in ESPN standard leagues are in parentheses.
Melvin Mora, 3B, Orioles (39 percent): He used to be good. And then, on July 1, it seems as if he remembered that. Or forgot that he hasn't been this year. We're not sure which way the memory faltered, but we do know this: Since that day, he's hitting .357 with five home runs and 24 RBIs in just 20 games. And he plays everyday. And he's named "Melvin." Have you ever met a Melvin in real life? Because I haven't.
Ramon Hernandez, C, Orioles (39 percent): In the past month, Hernandez has been the third-best fantasy catcher in all of baseball. Thank you, "http://games.espn.go.com/flb/playerrater?splitTypeId=3&slotCategoryId=0&slotCategoryGroup=1">ESPN Player Rater! Four home runs and eight RBIs in his past 10 games and he has already exceeded last year's home run total. Remember, he hit 23 in 2006.
Ubaldo Jimenez, P, Rockies (23 percent): I mentioned him in my May 19 column, and Nate and I have had a long-running bet about him (I'm pro, Negative Nate is not, as you'd expect) starting on the April 28th podcast. But clearly, no one believed me back then because he's still around in more than 75 percent of leagues. Well, he's been fantastic lately. In his past 10 starts, he is 5-3 with a terrific 2.62 ERA. And by the way, of those 10 starts? Seven of them were at Coors Field.
Chris Iannetta, C, Rockies (36 percent): Apparently I'm all Rockies and Orioles today. While Ramon has been third among catchers for the past month, Iannetta's been fifth. Since June 1st, Iannetta has six home runs, 23 RBIs and is hitting .283 in 30 games.
Ian Stewart, 3B, Rockies (2 percent): As long as I am talking Rockies like crazy, I should mention that Stewart has 11 RBIs and is hitting .550 since being recalled five games ago.
Paul Maholm, P, Pirates (3 percent): Another guy I mentioned when apparently no one was listening. He was a pickup in this column on June 6 and he's owned in way too few leagues. In his past 10 starts he's 5-1 with a 2.90 ERA and a 42-to-11 strikeout-to-walk rate in 71 innings. I wish he struck more guys out but there's no denying he's been terrific. For the past month, he's been more valuable in fantasy than Carlos Zambrano, among many others. Thank you again, Player Rater!
From the Obvious Name Department
Here are some well-known names that have seen an increase in value and may be available in shallow leagues or leagues where you play with morons.
Joel Hanrahan, P, Nationals (82 percent): He's the new closer. The best of a bad lot, he'll get lots of chances and, apparently, owners in 18 percent of leagues aren't aware of it this year.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals (60 percent): Back from injury, he's hit at least 20 home runs each of the past two seasons and has never hit worse than .282 after the All-Star break.
Carlos Marmol, P, Cubs (100 percent): He's gone in pretty much every ESPN league, but if you play elsewhere in a daily league and he's available, he's the new closer while Kerry Wood gets over his blister. Expect Wood back within the week; I mention him here just so you didn't think I forgot him. Yes, I care what you think. Not the dude in the cube next to you. Screw him But you? You I care about.
Juan Pierre, OF, Dodgers (84 percent): He could be back as early as Friday and he already has 35 steals for the season. Good batting average and speed, that's what you get with Juan, and if he was dumped when he went down, he needs to be picked back up. Nothing wrong with getting a little action on the rebound.
Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres (43 percent): It's like I own stock in the Kouz the way I keep talking about him, but I've always liked him for some reason. And recently, that reason has been that he's hitting. Two home runs and 11 RBIs in his past 10 games and he's hitting .311 in July.
Gary Sheffield, OF, Tigers (30 percent): Seems to be coming out of his funk, with two home runs, six RBI and a nice three steals in his past seven games.
Just Below the Mendoza Line
Here are some guys that have recently seen a spike in value and should be added in deeper leagues or kept an eye on in more shallow leagues.
David Purcey, P, Blue Jays (0 Percent): Called up to replace Jesse Litsch in the Toronto rotation, eh? He was on fire in Triple-A, going 8-6 with a 2.69 ERA with 121 strikeouts in 117 innings pitched.
Jed Lowrie, SS, Red Sox (1 percent): he's getting a chance and making the most of it. Or, as we call it around here, "pulling an Anti-TMR." Not a ton of power or speed, but he's hit .292 in 24 games this year; he'll play every day and won't hurt you.
Willie Harris, OF, Nationals (19 percent): With three home runs, 10 RBIs and a nutty .459 batting average in his past 10 games, he's getting a chance because everyone else in the Washington outfield is injured, and he's "pulling the anti-TMR. " I've always liked him but he seemingly could never get a fair shake in Atlanta. Ride him while he's hot.
Quickly now, since I'm already way long, but Matt Joyce of the Tigers has double-digit home run. For super-deep AL- and NL-only leagues where you might be looking for a bit of pop, check out Richie Sexson and Tony Clark, respectively, as neither will play enough to hurt you and both have legit power. If Brian Fuentes gets dealt, Manny Corpas will probably get the gig, and in Oakland, I'm guessing it's Santiago Casilla and Alan Embree. Though they have said if Joey Devine gets healthy, it's his gig, so he may be someone to stash there. Finally, I have always liked Matt Murton and think he and Sean Gallagher will do well in Oakland. Been waiting a while to say that.
With football right around the corner, I'm gonna start writing a weekly football column, so I'll only be doing one baseball column a week from here on out; this one, on Fridays. So Tuesdays will be football, and Fridays will be baseball for the next while. Have a great weekend. Or don't. It really doesn't affect me either way.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is ESPN's senior director of fantasy. He was just as surprised as you to find out it's a real job. He is a multiple award winner from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, including a Writer of the Year award. He is also the creator of RotoPass.com, a Web site that combines a bunch of well known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off.
23mTristan H. Cockcroft