I checked another dream off my bucket list after last week's pilgrimage to Arizona for spring training and my league's annual fantasy baseball draft.
After two years of walking dead-drafting, I vowed to give my head the wheel and my heart the day off, and I think it worked. Without further adieu, here's a round-by-round glance at my 2013 band of misfits:
Once Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander were gone with the first two picks (one must understand Uncle Randy's history with pitchers to see the logic behind taking Verlander a good five to 10 picks early), I snagged Ryan Braun and his 30-home run, 120-RBI, 30-steal, .340-average potential with the third overall pick.
Now, I just have to pray that the PED Bunny hops down a different trail. While I live in fear that a 50-game suspension could be handed down at any moment (see Melky Cabrera 2012), my gut feeling is that Major League Baseball would already have benched Braun if it had anything concrete on him. For now, my fingers remain crossed.
I caught a break in Round 2 when Buster Posey somehow made it past four foaming-at-the-mouth Giants fans to me with the 20th overall pick. The reigning NL MVP will bat north of .300 and could produce 25 to 30 home runs and 100 to 120 RBIs, so this was much more than a classic "homer" pick. Throw in his multiple position eligibility and this was the easiest, and quickest, call this Giants fan has ever made.
On our first night in Arizona, we took in a Mariners-Padres game in Peoria featuring Felix Hernandez on the mound for Seattle. The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner was so dominant, I made up my mind to take him in Round 2 if Posey was gone. I feared that taking Posey would likely cost me any shot at Hernandez, but luckily King Felix was still available on the turn and was mine with the 25th overall pick.
With pitchers flying off the board in the fourth round -- Cliff Lee, Jered Weaver, Gio Gonzalez and CC Sabathia among them -- I picked Giants southpaw Madison Bumgarner, effectively removing myself from my father's will and all future family reunions. In a perfect world, Bumgarner will win 20 games and strike out 200-plus -- call me an optimist.
Having gone sans closers last season, I made it a point to grab as many good ones as I could this go-round, starting with the cream of the crop in Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel in Round 5. Kimbrel could threaten 50 saves while delivering amoeba-like ratios and triple-digit strikeout totals. Check please.
I paid dearly for ignoring speed and going with a team of Bengie Molinas a season ago, which is why Michael Bourn, arguably the game's top base swiper, was a pre-draft target. While it might have been a round early to get him, I happily secured the Indians speedster in the sixth round. A round later, I added a second elite closer in the Phillies' Jonathan Papelbon, a proven quality who should push 40 saves while fortifying my ratios.
My first reach came in the form of Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda in the eighth round. While most experts ticketed the right-hander to go in the middle rounds, another run on pitchers forced me to grab the best arm available. Kuroda wasn't the most glamorous name left on the board, but if he can approach last season's numbers (16-11, 167 strikeouts, 3.32 ERA and 1.17 WHIP), I'll be perfectly happy.
I reached again in Round 9 with the selection of Mariners outfielder Michael Morse, who led the planet in home runs this spring with nine. The veteran slugger missed 60 games yet still managed to generate 18 HRs, 62 RBIs and a .290 average for the Nationals in 2012. But it was his 2011 numbers -- 31 HRs, 95 RBIs, .303 average -- that convinced me to roll the dice.
With D'backs second baseman Aaron Hill and Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario safely tucked away as 10th- and 11th-round keepers, nearly an hour passed before my next pick, which I was hoping would be Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong but wound up being A's pitcher Jarrod Parker. Because denial is a powerful weapon, I chose to look the other way on Parker's rough spring and instead focused on his solid rookie campaign and the possibility of 12 to 15 wins, 170 strikeouts and solid ratios across the board.
With visions of the 2011 World Series dancing in my head, I grabbed Cardinals third baseman David Freese in the 13th round. While he's opening the season on the disabled list with a stiff back, I can be patient, at least by my standards, if Freese is able to deliver close to the 20 HRs, 79 RBIs and .293 average he produced a season ago. In the meantime, Todd Frazier, come on down ...
The only pick that truly threatens to alter my sleep pattern was 14th-round selection Dan Haren. Once one of the game's top pitchers, Haren was the AL's version of Tim Lincecum last season with the Angels: A fallen ace who lost velocity and a ton of games. It was alarming to see Haren serve up four gopherballs in his final spring appearance, and the Nationals right-hander is on the shortest of leashes, especially if his fastball struggles to beat Barry Zito's in a foot race.
I went with Nats closer Rafael Soriano in Round 15 (in a perfect world Haren will win 15 games and Soriano will save 'em all), then went with Orioles third baseman Manny Machado and Pirates outfielder Starling Marte in rounds 16 and 17, banking on at least one of the much-ballyhooed youngsters breaking out. In need of a shortstop and with few attractive options available, I picked up Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox in Round 18, hoping that the veteran will deliver 15 HRs and 20 steals without Adam Dunn-ing my average.
By Round 19, it was pick-'em'-out-of-a-hat time to fill in the remaining roster gaps. Luckily there still were some useful pieces out there, and I was able to round out my team by picking Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster (for wins and strikeouts), Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano (for HRs and RBIs), Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy (for batting average) and Rockies outfielder Michael Cuddyer (it's never bad to have anyone who hits in the heart of Colorado's order).
On paper, it's a solid team, but we all know that one injury, suspension or lost fastball can have devastating consequences, so we'll just have to let the numbers play out.
In the meantime, good luck to all!
Bee fantasy sports columnist Stu Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.