Thursday, June 20, 2013

Trading the Gator: The CFCL Goes Hollywood

Pride of the Yankees.
Bull Durham.
Field of Dreams...

Trading the Gator?

When listing the greatest baseball movies of all time, no one would name that last one, but no baseball film is more fondly remembered by the CFCL than Trading the Gator. The reason – we were among the featured players.

A 51-minute documentary filmed in 2002 and released (very limited) in 2003, Trading the Gator was billed as “an intimate and entertaining look at one league in Chicago, where intense competition coexists with strong friendships, where hope battles tragedy, where finding a second baseman with some steals just might allow you to control the uncontrollable.”

That “one league in Chicago” is the CFCL. Here's how it all came about… After the 2001 season the owner of Tim’s Maulers announced that he wouldn’t be returning for the following season. We put out the word to advertise for a new owner to take over his team, and one of the respondents was Jason Grey, of fame (he's also written for,,, and is now a scout for the Tampa Bay Rays). Given Jason's credentials, he was quickly approved and welcomed into the league.

In December 2001, shortly after Jason joined the CFCL, he was contacted by the documentary producers who were looking for a long-standing, local league that they could feature in the film to illustrate various concepts related to fantasy baseball. Specifically, “we are looking for a group that is proud of their involvement with, and proficiency in this sport … our goal is to give people an unprecedented view into the preparation and drafting process.”

Jason felt that the CFCL fit the bill, and after visiting the CFCL Internet Headquarters and meeting with me and Rich, the producers agreed. Rich and I were definitely intrigued, and checked with the rest of the league to determine their level of interest. Everyone responded positively and seemed to agree with the assessment of Six Packs’ owner Kelly Barone: “I've not seen anything so far to make me think this is a bad idea. Sounds like fun, outside of the possibility of us being portrayed as a bunch of pathetic geeks -- and what's the chances of that?”

And so the CFCL agreed to live the next few months under a microscope as a film crew interviewed us and our loved ones, documented our draft prep, and filmed our entire Draft Day. Although the producers originally planned for the film to end there, shortly after the Draft they told us they’d like to continue follow us for the entire season. Filming continued throughout the rest of the 2002 season, and by the time Draft Day 2003 rolled around, they were still filming follow-up interviews to fill in some holes.

Once editing and production were complete, the producers held a private screening of Trading the Gator for the CFCL owners in June of 2003. That was followed by a premiere showing at the Chicago Cultural Center during the All Star Break, a showing at the Chicago Historical Society in October, as well as appearances at a few film festivals. An interesting note about that premiere at the Chicago Cultural Center – in the audience that night was future CFCL owner Kenn Ruby, who joined the league in 2004. We’ll have more about Kenn’s experience at the premiere in a future post.

Trading the Gator includes interviews with some of the owners of the original Rotisserie League, including creator and Beloved Founder, Dan Okrent, ‘celebrities’ such as writer Dave Barry and cable TV financial guru Jim Cramer, a handful of real-life general managers and players, and some owners from The American Dreams League – purportedly the second-oldest Rotisserie League in the country. Most-featured among the ADL owners is political columnist Walter Shapiro, who speaks with more eloquence and child-like enthusiasm about the game than anyone I’ve ever heard.

However, the main focus of the film is on the CFCL as we play out the 2002 season. A subset of 4-5 owners are featured more than the others, though nearly every owner got at least some screen time. It’s incredible to have that document of our league at that moment in time – probably the league’s heyday in terms of engagement and competition. That’s not meant as a slight to the current set of owners (or any other in the past 30 years) but the 2002 season offered a full complement of 12 teams - not a weak owner in the bunch - and a total of 6 CFCL champions or future champions ( plus a nationally recognized guru and winner of multiple expert competitions).

When we wrote to the producers of Trading the Gator to ask about sharing clips from the film on this blog, one of the producers, Sara Berliner, who now helps run an iOS and Android app development company called Night & Day studios, shared these thoughts about her experience documenting the CFCL’s 2002 season:

I was really impressed with the dedication of the league members and how you guys created a membership organization based on your passion for baseball with a friendly but deeply competitive spirit. I remember seeing the preparation rituals (charts and marked-up books, Twizzlers, homemade baked treats) and the "game faces" of draft day and realizing how seriously some of you took it -- perhaps not always the friendliest of days! -- but it seemed to me that your lasting relationships and camaraderie were as important over the years as any individual seasons, triumphs, or trade stories. I doubt many groups last as long as the CFCL and congratulate you on your longevity. We had a lot of fun covering you guys and appreciated your participation. Definitely wouldn't be the same film without the CFCL.

We’re glad the producers were happy with the final product, and playing our season out in front of the camera was certainly a fun experience.

Throughout the year, we’ll be posting clips from the film (including scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor) to illustrate various aspects of the league or fantasy baseball in general.

The first clip we’re going to share does not include the CFCL at all; rather it features Bruce Buschel, a playwright and owner in the American Dreams League. We’re starting with him because his segment reveals the story behind the film’s name. But don’t worry; we’ll be posting plenty of clips from Gator, including those featuring the lovable clowns in the CFCL.

For now, let’s hear how the Gator got its name…

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