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Baseball hits a feverish pitch - Gerry Yandel

It was with considerable shock and joy that I logged in to find Yandel's Messiah in a tie for first place Saturday.

It felt, I imagined, how John Schuerholz must feel watching his team clinch another trip to the post-season.

But my elation was short-lived, and the mantra of fantasy baseball, passed on to me years ago by a legendary sports editor, echoed me sharply back into reality: "It's a long season."

It is, after all, only the end of April.

Yandel's Messiah is my entry into Manuel's Fantasy Baseball League, one of 15 teams with rosters made up of real players in Major League Baseball.

Except for the fact that the entire league exists only in the minds of the small group of team owners (and in the inexhaustible database at CBS Sportsline), and the fact that we're a bunch of working stiffs, as opposed to being a bunch of gazillionaires, the MFBL is nearly identical to MLB.

It's also a lot of fun, and having had a team in the League for 10 years or so has substantially increased my enjoyment for the game. I've been a Braves fan since I grew up, and that's where my heart goes during the playoffs, but now I enjoy watching any players on any teams in any games. More often than not, I'll have a player or two in the game.

On one level, the league is a simple thing. Each team has a roster of 25 real players, 15 hitters and 10 pitchers, and the team's performance is based on their live stats for the 2005 MLB season.

Hitters get points for home runs, RBIs, runs, batting average and steals. Pitchers get points for wins, strikeouts, earned run average, WHIP and saves. Whoever has the most points after the last game of the season wins.

But, the advent of the Internet and the leaps in technology during the past half-decade offer the game up on a much deeper level. Particularly the access to limitless amounts of data that can be manipulated in limitless ways.

When I first joined the league, weekly stats were disseminated via fax. Half of the team owners worked together at an Atlanta newspaper, and the fax was copied and distributed throughout the newsroom. Trades were orchestrated primarily by word-of-mouth and putting players on the DL was a 24-hour process of phone calls and trying not to pick a replacement who was already on someone else's team.

When the Internet hit the masses, our league made the transition by joining a free site that offered daily stats based on the games from the day before, but we still kept the stats by hand, just in case.

Being able to log-in and see instantly what place you were in, and also have it broken out by each individual scoring category was an incredible leap forward. Being able to surf around the World Wide Web and gather news about your players was another leap forward.

Then, everyone who had a fantasy league joined the free service, and its servers started crashing... until they eventually crashed into oblivion. So, we migrated to where our league is now, CBS Sportsline.

Now, every morning I receive an e-mail with the new standings, updated with the results from the previous day's games. I can log into the Web site and customize a daily box score for my team for whatever categories I desire. I can run head-to-head comparisons between players or other teams in my league. The free agent pool is categorized by position and updated whenever an owner picks up a player.

Today, with the advent of broadband, the statistical data available and the ways it is available is, simply, mind-blowing.

A new feature this season in our league is "GameCenter," which is updated live while games are in progress. It automatically updates our league standings based on the live stats of the games being played, so, a well-placed homer could move you up or down instantly.

It seems all very edge-of-the-seat, but it isn't. The potential for that, however, considering the capabilities of PDAs, wireless networks and automatic e-mail alerts, is enormous.

And some people say the Internet is a vast wasteland.

Go figure.

Gerry Yandel is the city editor for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or gyandel@henryherald.com .