You hear about it all the time at bars, at work and on TV during games. Fantasy sports has been the craze for years now, and it gets more popular with each passing season. Why do I play? Why do any of us play fantasy sports? The answer is simple: We are sports fanatics. Personally I was hooked when as a child I was taught how to play baseball and saw my first game. Unfortunately, like many of us, I was not able to get to the next level of play after high school, but in fantasy sports I've found a way to bring my fanatic love of the game to a new level and feel connected to professional sports in a way I otherwise couldn't. If nothing else, playing fantasy baseball lets you beat your friends and give them a hard time about it, or place bets on who's buying the drinks the next time you all go out to talk fantasy league trash.

Are you the ultimate baseball fan amongst your friends?  Do you think you have what it takes to draft and trade players to put together a super team and win a championship?  Maybe … maybe not, but I'm going to help you get there.

Getting Started

The idea behind fantasy baseball is simple: Assemble teams of professional players through drafts and trades. When your players take to the field in real life, your fantasy team scores points based on individual players' performances. Different leagues place different values on different statistics, as we'll get into later, but basically if your players get a lot of hits, steal a lot of bases, and strike a lot of opposing batters out you're probably going to win. If your guys are striking out and giving up round-trippers every inning, your team's not going to do so well.

Your first step is to find a site to play online. Even better is one you can sneak peeks at while at work (check your block lists!), and a site you won't mind spending a lot of time on. Two popular places that fit the bill are ESPN Fantasy Baseball and Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball '11. The great thing about these two places is they also offer tons of resources including player stats and news updates, as well as the ability to try your newfound championship attitude out on other fantasy sports. You'll want to poke around the different game types available to you at each of the sites and pick the one you find the most enticing.  My personal favorite is ESPN, and I've been playing there for years now in public leagues as well as private leagues offering cash payouts for winning.

Picking A League

Fantasy sports is most fun when played with friends you can brag and smack talk to. If you know people who are going to be playing, ask if they have any openings left in their leagues. If not, start browsing the league lists on your preferred site. You'll find a few options available to you, but as a new player you should look for public leagues. Some will be generic leagues with no managers, while others will be run by actual people who decided to run free leagues.

It is very important that you read over the rules of each league, and don't forget to check out the draft and scoring rules, league managers have the ability to modify how their individual league games are played. For instance, in a Point League, league # 1 may have Home Runs valued at 10 points and Stolen Bases set at 5 points, while League # 2 has their settings completely reversed. This means in League # 1 a slugger like Albert Pujols would be your prime target, as opposed to in League # 2 where you'd be looking towards a base thief like Juan Pierre or the more rounded Carl Crawford. A great site for combing over player statistics is Baseball-Reference.

There are a few different game types, and many variables to choose from in fantasy baseball:

Number of Teams

●      ESPN offers leagues ranging in size from four teams all the way up to 20. The more teams, the more difficult it is to have a superstar-stacked squad. The average league size tends to be around 10-12 teams.

Game Types

●      Head to Head Points: One-on-one game, most points wins

●      Head to Head Each Category: One-on-one game, accrue one win or loss per scored category

●      Head to Head Most Categories – One-on-one game, most total categories won gets the win

●      Season Points – Most points accrued over the season wins the championship

●      Roto – Compete against the whole league to rank highest in each category

Draft Types

●      Snake Draft –  Snake draft is the best for new players, as the draft order changes in each round. For instance if you draft first round one, in round two you will draft last. This ensures each team gets to pick first in at least one round.

●      Auction Draft – Auction drafts usually take a good two to three hours to complete and are great for people who love to really plan things out. They work like this: Each team nominates a player, and everyone has a fair shot at drafting that player. The catch is there is a limit on how much each person can spend, and you have to fill an entire team with that allocated amount. Blow most of your salary cap in an auction for one superstar and you'll be stuck filling out the rest of your roster with low-pay scrubs.

League Settings

●      Each league has their own settings that alter game play, including roster size, position limits, disabled list slots, and limitless scoring options. Stick to generic leagues when you're first starting out.

Drafting Your Team

This is the fun part, as your skill and knowledge of baseball really comes into play. Much like your favorite team's manager constructs and runs his team his own way, fantasy drafting is really no different. We could go over a million different strategies here, but I'll stick to a small list of tips that can help you achieve success:

●      Mock Drafts are very useful to get a feel for the upcoming season before you draft your actual team. ESPN has them running all the time, and they can also help you set up a basic plan for a live draft.

●      Know who is injured before the draft and find out when they're expected to come back; some gems get left behind on draft day due to injury, but can help you win later on.

●      Auction drafts are all about construction of an overall team. Don't spend all your money on one player, it will cripple you.

●      Mix it up in terms of drafting for different positions: don't fill up your entire offense before getting some pitchers. Get a slugger, a base thief, an ace and a closer early on.

●      Got a favorite team? Got a favorite player? Ignore your fan instincts, and forget your rivalries. I'm a die hard Boston Red Sox fan, and I have Robinson Cano on my team.

●      Do not stockpile a bunch of players from one team. Scheduling can leave you with a big "L" due to a team break, rain outs, and other similar play stoppers. Mix your team up so you'll be ready for constant action!

●      Got everything you need and still have a spot or two left to fill? Draft some trade bait based on other's actions. Sometimes players will complain that you got a player they wanted, or they'll announce that they're looking for someone in particular. Use it against them and pick off someone from their team later on!

A good draft can get you well on your way to a championship run in your fantasy baseball league. But in-season management is important, too, so here are a few more crucial tips to help you out during the year:

●      Keep up on injurie. Ff a guy goes down for the year, someone will replace him, and he may be the key to winning for you. Up to date player information is best found at Rotoworld.  They offer iPhone and iPad apps, as well as a mobile site for Android users.

●      Good trades don't have to be obvious landslide wins for you. If making a trade fills a need you have, it's probably a good move.

●      Shop trades around: You may get a better offer from someone other than the first person you talk to.

●      Fill out your trading block to let people know who you are offering and what you are interested in.

●      Learn other team managers' favorite players and teams. You may be able to get a little more for a player you're trading if the other guy is a rabid fan of his.

●      Last but not least, set your team's roster for at least a week in advance, even two. Things happen and we get sidetracked from keeping tabs on the league, or sometimes just can't get online to adjust our rosters. Setting your roster in advance means that, barring injury or a game cancellation, you give yourself the best chance to win even if life keeps you from managing your fantasy baseball team on a particular day.

Have fun and good luck! Play ball!