In a stunning upset, David McIntire won his neighborhood fantasy fatherhood league for an unprecedented fourth straight year when his backup infant, three-month-old Michaela Reed, tracked an object with her eyes, showed clear signs of separation anxiety, and recognized that her feet were attached to her legs, all on the last day of the season, giving McIntire's squad, "The Pooper Troopers," a five-point victory over Rudy Talbot's front-running "Binky Busters."
"I rolled the dice, and I got lucky," admitted McIntire. "Michaela was sort of a sleeper pick all year. I just had a feeling she was ready to have a break out developmental spurt."
Talbot granted that he had probably gotten sloppy at the end. "Yeah, I was already spending my winnings in my head. I didn't even think about making any changes in my lineup this last week. Live and learn, I guess."
McIntire had run away with the River Run subdivision league title for the previous three seasons, but was trailing Talbot's squad by a seemingly insurmountable 67 points going into the neighborhood holiday party, which traditionally concludes the fantasy fatherhood schedule for the "River Run Rugrats League."
"To be honest, I had sort of given up," McIntire said. "I had a good run, but the four-peat just didn't look like it was going to happen. Then my wife Sheila happened to mention that that when she had taken our son Mikey over to the Reed's for a play date, Michaela had been 'so bubbly and interactive.' I thought, 'Hmmmm…I just might have a shot after all if I can snag Michaela off the waiver wire.'"
Going into the seventh season of the RRRL, a standard two-infant, two-toddler, two-preschooler keeper league with eight teams, McIntire looked to be the odds on favorite, but his squad was plagued by setbacks all year.
"First, Trevor Linden, my starting toddler who was my leading scorer last year as an infant, comes down with the croup and then HFMD [hand-foot-and-mouth disease] in back-to-back months. And Greg and Gina Linden, God love 'em, just wouldn't push the kid at all for weeks. I mean, Trevor was this close to going from two naps to one, which would have been 30 points right there, but Greg and Gina kept insisting on putting the kid down twice a day because he was 'still not feeling 100% yet.' I mean, come on!"
McIntire was also snakebit by an unexpected decision of Chad and Jacquelyn Bowers, parents of pre-schooler Hailey Bowers.
"The homeschooling thing came completely out of the blue. I had assumed they would be sending her to Kinder Kuties Pre-School, like everyone else. They had that girl in daycare from day one, so I just figured that was the logical next step. I guess that Jesus fish on the back of their Kia Sedona should have been a tip off. I'm not criticizing them for it, but that sort of isolation really robs you of points, especially in a scoring system like ours that rewards motor-skills and social interaction more than cognitive development."
Talbot, in his first year in the RRRL, also cited the league's scoring system as a factor in the outcome. "I've been in several other baby fantasy leagues, and this is the only one that doesn't reward you for picking kids based on their brains. Just for an example, my first-string toddler, Tyler, said his entire ABCs by 18 months-18 months! In my league at work, that would have been huge points. But in this league, I get next to nothing. Meanwhile, I lose points just because Tyler can't walk more than two steps without falling on his butt. It's just not realistic."
McIntire's win was not without some controversy, particularly after he picked up Reed as a free-agent infant as a replacement for Mikey McIntire, his own son, going into the last week of the season.
"Look, I love Mikey more than life itself. I was not truly a man, not truly a full human being, until fatherhood transformed me. The moment I held him in my arms in the delivery room was the most profound experience of total love I have ever had. Every time I gaze into his eyes, I feel a sense of oneness with the universe and I stand in awe of the mystery of life itself as I behold this miracle that God has blessed me with. But he still can't lift his head when he's lying on his stomach. The kid's just slow. If there's one thing I know, it's that you can't go with your heart in fantasy fatherhood-you have to put feelings aside and go with whose going to put points on the board, period."
Jeff Reed, father of Michaela and the owner of the RRRL team "The Diaper Dandies," said McIntire's move was unprecedented, but not against league rules.
"There's a sort of unwritten code among us that you don't drop your own kid and pick up the child of another member of the league as a replacement, but there isn't anything in the rules that forbids it," Reed said.
Asked if he was upset about McIntire's breeching of league etiquette, Reed answered, "No, not really. The bottom line is that I should have drafted Michaela to begin with. I mean, of all people, I should have seen the potential there, right? Dave just took advantage of my poor parenting. And that's what fantasy fatherhood is all about."