I was recently asked to review a unique fantasy baseball book. What made it different was that it will be a mathematics textbook for Grades 5 and up. Gladly, I agreed to look it over.
While waiting for it to arrive, I revisited my childhood memories of collecting baseball cards and inventing games using dice to play each game on the schedule and to keep track of the team and pitching records. That led to the simulated games using a deck of cards to play a full game with line-ups and pitching match-ups. By my junior year in high school, I was using BASIC to compute the hitting ratios of AVG, OBP and SLG and produce the stats line on the back of a baseball card.
This reminiscing fed my eagerness to see what the author, Dan Flockhart, wrote as I recalled how baseball had always been a part of my own self-directed learning. How much better school would have been if I were playing these types of games in school!
I received the book and willed myself to read it carefully. I could have flipped and zipped through different parts, but wanted to examine it with a soberness reserved for the responsibility of guiding our children. The text was easy to understand and presented in a way that made me feel I could step into a classroom and implement it with no formal training in the pedagogic arts!
The author, Dan Flockhart, was kind enough to answer some questions about his experiences in fantasy sports and teaching fantasy sports and mathematics. There are links at the end of the Q&A to his website, and I have added one to my links section under "Baseball Reference Sites."
FT: How did you get into fantasy baseball?
DF:I taught middle school mathematics in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1990s, where I used fantasy baseball to motivate students in a summer school program. I had previously used fantasy football and fantasy basketball in my classroom, and discovered that the games generated a high level of student interest. I never played fantasy baseball before I used it in the classroom, although I felt comfortable because I had experience playing the other fantasy sports, and I had followed baseball closely ever since I was a young boy.
My interest in baseball originated from my father. He played semi-pro ball for the Blue Lake Chicks, and he spent considerable time teaching my brothers and I fundamentals of the game. We used to get up at four in the morning to travel five hours to watch Mays, Marichal, and McCovey play for the Giants, then turn around and drive home. My favorite memory is watching Roberto Clemente throw out a runner from the corner of right field as the runner tried to stretch a base hit into a double. He had an absolute cannon for an arm.
As a kid, my favorite players were Willie Mays, Cesar Cedeno, Dave Cash, and Bob Gibson. I'll never forget arriving late at a game and as we were walking in the parking lot at Candlestick there was a huge roar from the crowd. We thought someone had homered, but when we got inside we discovered that Mays had struck out. He was electrifying, and one of the highlights of my life was getting my picture taken with him at the old Crosby golf tournament at Pebble Beach.
I also played Strat-o-Matic when I was an adolescent, which led to a love for reading box scores. In fact, between the ages of 10-30, I HAD to read them everyday. It reminds me of when an ex-girlfriend asked me "So what players do you follow?" and I replied, "All of them."
FT: Do you still play fantasy baseball?
DF:Interestingly, I've never played fantasy baseball other than in the classroom, although that has changed this year as I just selected my team (my programs use a salary cap model) and posted it on my site so I can play along with students in our fantasy baseball game. As is the case with most fantasy players, optimism reigns before the season begins and I'm excited about my team. I have what could be considered four of the top players at their respective positions: Pujols, Utley, Tejada, and Ortiz. Plus I snagged Schilling and Penny on the cheap. Monroe is underrated and should put up decent numbers. My riskiest pick is the rookie third baseman (Alex Gordon). He hasn't even won the job and yet I'm relying on him to come through. If he doesn't, I have the veteran Jose Valentine as my backup infielder.
FT: What is your most memorable fantasy baseball moment?
DF:My childhood memories of playing Strat-O-Matic. We used to spend hours indoors on beautiful summer days rolling the dice. Good times and good friends. The camaraderie was off the charts.
FT: Do you believe Bill James and Dan Okrent should be in the Hall-of-Fame?
DF:This is a tough one. Part of me believes that Cooperstown should be only for players, in large part because once you start letting in non-players, it's tough to draw the line. That said, I enjoy the debates about who should go in and who shouldn't, and I can't imagine the Hall of Fame without guys like Red Barber and Vin Scully. I mean, to me, those guys ARE baseball. I believe James's and Okrent's contributions to the game are significant, and if broadcasters are let in then why not these two guys?
If we are considering the impact that potential Hall of Famers have on the game, then we have to consider the impact on us, the fans, because we are the game. For instance, I grew up listening to Lon Simmons, and his voice has more of an impact on me than anyone else, with the exception of my wife and mom. That said, a case can be made that there are recognition awards for writers, as there are for broadcasters, and perhaps that is enough. Of course, this leaves out team owners and many coaches, but the problem is that we are trying to make judgements based on intangible factors, whereas the main criteria for getting into Cooperstown for the majority of entrants (i.e., former players) is mostly based on quantitative data.
FT: Describe the moment you realized fantasy baseball could be used as an effective teaching tool.
DF:The first year I used fantasy football in my classroom, students asked me if they could play fantasy basketball after Christmas vacation. I said yes, and I didn't even have a curriculum yet. I realized that I could integrate any fantasy sport into the learning environment. Yet, I couldn't really use fantasy baseball at our school for several reasons: we played fantasy basketball until mid-April, then had a week of state testing in early May, plus the school year ended in early June. Consequently, there wasn't enough sustained time to play. Therefore, when I had the chance to use fantasy baseball in summer school, I jumped at the opportunity.
FT: Is this curriculum difficult to sell to the students?
DF:There is no selling required. Students eat this stuff up. Even students who don't care about sports discover that fantasy baseball is an exciting way to learn math when compared to traditional methods. I was initially concerned the game would marginalize girls. However, once the game began I was surprised because girls were as successful and had as much fun as boys. The girls got a kick out of being successful in a field that has traditionally been dominated by males.
FT: What has been the feedback from your fellow faculty members?
DF:The feedback I've received from teachers and parents throughout the country is phenomenal. Educators are informing me that my programs are resulting in a positive impact on student confidence, motivation, attendance, and achievement. One school in New Jersey reported that state test scores increased from 10% to over 50%. Another teacher reported that her all-girls inner-city class went nuts over fantasy football, and now the girls want to play fantasy basketball and fantasy baseball. ESPN's Outside the Lines broadcast a feature story on the impact my programs had on students. It's a powerful piece, and it can be seen on my site at www.fantasysportsmath.com. [In the "FSM in the News" tab at the top of the home page.] You can also get a sense of the impact these programs are having on students by reading the testimonials on my site.
FT: What is the simplest way to implement Fantasy Baseball and Mathematics?
DF:I suggest following the lesson plans in Fantasy Baseball and Mathematics. The program includes a pre- and posttest, student handouts, 46 practice worksheets, 46 matching quizzes, examples of graphs and box scores, and step-by-step instructions on how to play the games, as well as over 100 scoring systems that allow the content to be customized according to the skill level of students. Each program also addresses the national math standards. More information can be found at www.fantasysportsmath.com
FT: Thank you.