Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Gambler

Remember that guy? Kenny Rogers? Total stain. Not "Islands in the Stream" Kenny. I'm talking pinstripes Kenny. Anyway, I bring him up only to introduce today's topic: sports betting.

My gambling "career" began while I was at Roman Catholic High School. Yeah. I was like 15, dropping $30 parlays and $25, three-team teasers. During football season, me and my friends would gather in one of our living rooms and go through the matchups in the Inquirer. We'd call a neighborhood bookie and get the latest lines. We'd pass the phone around while each making our picks. Then we ordered food from Fiesta and watched our games. I always ended up regretting my food order; I was gonna need that money to pay off my loss.

I always lost. And that's not exactly the kind of thing you can bring to your single, two- and three-job working mother.

"Yes, my wonderful, youngest child?"
"Can I have $30?"
"Thirty? That's a lot. Why do you need that much money?"
"Well, I bet on the Seahawks to lose by less than eight points on the road in the snow after a Monday Night division loss at home. And, well, they lost by 22."

So, rather than trying to have that conversation, I instead had to keep all money I got that week and hope it came to $30 by Saturday morning. Token money, lunch money, some invented field trip. (Roman didn't do field trips. Though freshman year, our English teacher took us to Les Mis at the Forrest Theater. I fell asleep) Point is, even though Mom was actually paying my debts, she didn't know it. Yes. Hell will be hot. I know...

After a few losses like these, I pretty much came to realize that I was a mush. I needn't be betting, particularly with funds to which I had not access.

Fast forward to more current times. Fantasy football. I suck at running a pretend football team. Like, I'm horrible. The guys I draft don't just get injured; in fact, I'm pretty sure one guy I took back in '07, promising back out of Tough Guy U came down with Dengue fever. That, or I miss a player's career year by a season. I've learned to never draft rookie WR, but third-year guys are solid. No matter, because I always finish out of the money. Better yet, I always end up donating to the grocery fund of some dude I know through my college pals. Bastard!

Then there's fantasy baseball. What a clusterfuck that is. I've discovered, the hard way, that it's damn near impossible for me to follow a fake, 25-man team over six months. I was involved in a serious money league a few years back. Holy shit. These guys didn't even kiss me, they just told me to leave the money on the dresser on my way out.

Let's face it: gambling is hard. If it weren't, what happened in Vegas wouldn't last very long. On the other hand, gambling is fun. And that's why we do it, no? It's why I still do, at least. I can't sit through a Super Bowl without having some kind of wager going. Otherwise, I'll just eat and look stupid. And we can't have that.

So now, when I gamble, it's a small bet. Something to make the game I'm watching or the season I'm enduring a little more interesting. Case in point: back on Christmas Eve 2010, I was at a friend's house celebrating with a bunch of people. It was a good time and everyone's superior sports acumen was on full display.

As this was the case, a group of us were talking about the Phillies' latest signing: Cliff Lee. Many of us were quite excited about the prospect of a 1-2 punch of Halladay and Lee. My friend, Bobby, quickly asserted that Cole Hamels should not be excluded from our conversation. Hamels, according to my disillusioned pal, was better than Lee. Upon hearing this, I engaged in a spirited debate with my friend over who in fact was the better pitcher. The argument was moot, unprovable at that current juncture. The only way to solve our dilemma was to let them play. And of course, make a bet.

The bet was: I took Lee and Bobby took Hamels. $100. The pitcher with the best season won. We based this on wins and ERA. What a bet it turned out to be! Lee started hot, then Cole overtook him, but Lee rattled off an impressive streak and then settled into a nice rhythm. Lee ended the season at 17-8 with a phenomenal 2.40 ERA, while Cole finished with a respectable 14 wins against 9 losses and a 2.79 ERA. A good season, no doubt. Just not better than Lee's.

The bet made the season a touch more interesting. And once it ended, Bobby reached out and we agreed to run it back for the 2012 season. When we met on Christmas Eve 2011, Bobby laid a cool c-note on me and we brainstormed for this year's wager. What we came up with should prove to be another down-to-the-wire contest.

My horse is Hunter Pence; Chase Utley, Bobby's. The bet is who will have the better batting average. A few caveats had to be included, in the event of injuries. The winner must have at least 300 ABs. If the player with the higher average does not reach 300 ABs, he must hit at least .300 to win. I'll save you further explanation.

$100. A complete season of yet another reason to love and follow the Phillies.

I'm looking forward to this season. I hope to get to the Bank to see a few games. Maybe I'll take the subway once, just for nostalgia. Only one problem: I need token money.

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