Although I was vaguely aware of the SL sometime prior, my first real involvement in the league came when my brother Doug asked for some advice drafting his 1999 Gilmer Banana Slugs team. Coming to someone with no SL experience for advice was Doug's first mistake, as he finished 66-96. Hoping to redeem the family name, I joined the league in 2000, drafting the Woollum Mammoths team that finished with a 75-87 record. The next year I finished with a winning record and did not make the playoffs, beginning a Saberhagen-like pattern of bad year-good year that finally ended in 2006 when I drafted the aptly named Festus Miracle team.
The Miracle were the compilation of everything I believed I had learned about how the APBA simulation worked and how to predict player performance using the "Reading the Cards" series that some APBA fan placed on the internet. At this point, I was also the beneficiary of 6 previous SL seasons and the education (often painful) that came along with them. I believed I knew how to maximize the value of a guy like Eduardo Perez or Mark Ellis. The whole season was kind of a zen-like experience, as the way I envisioned the pieces of my team working together is pretty much how it went. During the draft, I tried to pick up guys who were good at two things. The best example of this was taking Andruw Jones in the first round, when there were better bats available, because of his power and exemplary defense. I became an even bigger believer in defense as the season went on, leading to the Perez-Francour-Figgins for Chavez-Shelton-Wells trade that probably made the difference for me down the stretch, although it was as much Shelton's overachieving offense as Chavez's defense that stood out. In 66 games with the Festus franchise, Shelton posted a .327/.373/.619 line, after batting .219 with a .240 OBP for Keith. Hence the team name "Miracle."
While winning a Spit Cup with a team I really liked and understood was the highlight of my SL career, it was also the beginning of the end for me. In many ways, my relationship with the SL has been like my relationship with other interests- frolfing, Widespread Panic, Cubs games in the bleachers, etc. While I was in the middle of the "peak" of each of these obsessions, I couldn't imagine a day when my life wouldn't include them. Kind of hard to explain the transition, but I read a book a couple years ago about the concept of "Flow," which the author described as doing what you love, at the peak of your abilities, against an equally matched or slightly superior opponent. The 2006 SL season was like that for me. It was truly a labor of love.
Now I spend the vast majority of my time watching my kids in flow. Sam with his debate, Grace with softball, and Eli with his taekwondo. Watching my kids in flow is my absolute favorite thing to do. Ultimately, anything that detracts from that becomes dispensable. As my family matured, my tolerance for the amount of time the SL took was reduced, until finally it was a tradeoff I wasn't willing to make. While the game itself grew tiresome, the friendships did not, and the negative side of all this is that I spend less time with SL friends I really enjoy than I used to. This I regret, but my hope is that someday we will be able to pick up where we left off without skipping a beat. That is how it usually seems to go with old friends.
When Harold Ramis died, I read for the first time about his estrangement from Bill Murray. The two reconciled while Ramis was on his deathbed, but during their almost 20 year feud, Ramis said it felt like there was a "huge hole" in his life. When I start to feel that way about the SL I suppose it will be time to reconcile, but since I still have the friendships, the hole now manifests itself merely as jealously during the annual SL draft. Someday the SL and I may be reunited. I picture myself at the wedding of the child of an SL member, trying to sneak in some games at the reception. The SL and I will pick up where we left off without skipping a beat, for that is how it usually seems to go with old friends.