Draft daySunday, April 5
The big day is finally here. It's time to put aside all the distractions and get down to the business of drafting. At this point, all the weekend fun you've shared with your leaguemates has effectively raised the stakes and set the tone for an awesome fantasy baseball season.
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"When you spent a weekend with the guys versus just three hours at the draft table," Berry said, "it deepens the relationships, and it just makes the entire year that much more fun.
"It makes trading during the season easier, it makes trash-talk better, because you know all the guys that much better."
All that's left to decide is where to conduct the draft. The simplest way to do it is to transform a hotel suite into a war room, where you all gather, laptops and cheat sheets in hand, and participate in a live draft online at ESPN.com by clicking your picks. If you want to eliminate the computers to create a more authentic live draft, no problem: Set up a podium where team owners can announce their picks, and chart each round's selections on a Big Board. The logistics are up to you. Just have your league commissioner go to ESPN.com afterward and input each team's roster.
But this is your Vegas fantasy weekend. Let loose your imagination. Maybe you hit a hot streak at the tables Saturday night and cashed out a windfall. Or maybe one of your leaguemates is a whale to begin with. Either way, you can afford to dream, right?
The Maloof family owns the Sacramento Kings as well as the Palms, so you won't be surprised to learn the Palms is the place to make a sports fanatic's fantasies reality. How about conducting your draft in the Hardwood Suite, the only one in the world with an indoor basketball court? Determine your league's draft order by playing a game of H-O-R-S-E from the comfort of your room, if you can call a two-story, 10,000-square-foot spread complete with two locker rooms, a dining room, a full bar and lounge, a media center and a hot tub a "room." You can ramp up the excitement of the draft by having cheerleaders on the sidelines to applaud each pick.
Or if your Final Four wagers have soured your taste for basketball, rent out the Kingpin Suite, which features two full-size bowling lanes. Compete in a 10-pin tournament to see who gets to pick Hanley Ramirez with the No. 1 overall pick. The huge projector screen, surrounded by six plasma TVs, is the perfect setup to keep track of all the draft action.
On the other hand, perhaps you're a bit stir-crazy and anxious to go outside and enjoy a beautiful spring Sunday in sunny Las Vegas.
"People want to either be outdoors or be in a very energetic and dynamic environment," said Tyra Bell-Holland, executive director of concierge services for The Venetian and The Palazzo.
Bell-Holland's top recommendation is for a poolside cabana fantasy draft experience. Many Vegas hotels offer the option of renting out a cabana alongside their pools for the day. And why not?
"You work on your tan and make your picks," Jon Gray said.
Tao Beach at the Venetian offers the city's largest cabanas, which are tricked out with an HD plasma-screen TV, DVD player, Xbox, full DVD/game library, Internet access, custom-stocked mini-fridges and complimentary sandals for everyone in your crew.
"Basically, you're extremely pampered," Bell-Holland said. "You have your own hostess, and you have the luxury and the privacy and also you get the amazing scenery.
"It's kind of the best of both worlds. Because a lot of people who travel aren't from [places with] sunny Las Vegas weather, and they really want to celebrate outdoors."
Whether you're drafting at one of the most exclusive high-end spots in Sin City or at the Holiday Inn Express, feel free to spice up the proceedings any way you see fit. Protocol can be loosey-goosey or strict and severe. Rules and punishments can abound: If your cell phone rings, you lose your next pick.
When it's all said and done, don't forget that one of the best parts of the draft is analyzing the results.
"Part of the fun is, after you've drafted, is looking at everyone's team," Berry said.
So take some time to hang out together over a round of cocktails Sunday night. You can dissect the draft and trade insults with one another at a casino bar while watching the first regular-season baseball game of the year: At 5 p.m., the Atlanta Braves visit the Philadelphia Phillies, the reigning World Series champions.
And this being Vegas, there's no better place to continue the post-draft banter and trash talk than around a poker table. If you can't get in your fantasy-league opponents' heads with your mouth alone, you can put them on tilt with your aggressive action at the table.
ESPN Poker Club member and professional player Phil Gordon knows his way around Vegas' poker rooms, and said most of them are willing to open up a new table for you and your fellow fantasy leaguers to compete against one another.
"They will absolutely accommodate you if you have a group that's big enough to open a new table," Gordon said. "The places that I've had the most success with that strategy have been Caesars Palace and MGM."
If you'd rather not rake in your buddies' chips, enter a multi-table tournament.
"The Venetian holds some tournaments that are worthwhile," Gordon said. "They also have a great poker room."
The Venetian's Deep Stack Extravaganza II offers a series of daily tournaments April 1-25. Gordon said the Venetian tournaments have the best format in town, with "long levels and a lotta play. That's what they're famous for."
Gordon's favorite places to play are the Venetian and the Bellagio.
"Those two are the poker rooms that stand out in my mind," he said.
If you're as much a poker fan as a player, the Bellagio's room is a must-see.
"The best poker-people-watching is at the Bellagio," Gordon said. "That's where all the infamous or famous guys hang out: Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson.
"They also have an unbelievable sports book right next to the poker room, which is a good thing."
So if you bust out early, you might as well pop into the sports book to check out the various wagering options in advance of Monday's full slate of Opening Day games.
Spring into summerMonday, April 6
With the draft in the rearview mirror and team rosters set, all that's left is to enjoy a landmark day of major sports events. Today is perfect for doing so: What better way to commemorate spring fever than to celebrate the end of winter via the NCAA men's basketball championship game and the advent of summer with MLB's Opening Day?
But first, after three action-packed Vegas nights, we think it's time to get away from the Strip, if only for a little fresh air and for a little while. At least until the late afternoon. You might miss some early baseball games on the East Coast and in the Midwest, but content yourself with Cubs-Astros at 4 p.m., Dodgers-Padres at 4:05, Tigers-Blue Jays at 4:15, Mariners-Twins at 5:10 and A's-Angels at 6:05. The NCAA final doesn't tip off until 6:21.
Gordon, who lives in Washington state now but still maintains a home in Vegas, has some great tips for some outdoor activities.
"Red Rock Canyon is a spectacular place if you need some nature outside the Strip. That's a great place to jump off a cliff if you've lost all your bankroll," Gordon said with a laugh.
An even more breathtaking sight to behold? Several companies in Vegas offer helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon.
If you're looking for something a little more active? "Go out to Lake Mead and rent a ski boat," Gordon said. "You can drive right out to the edge of Hoover Dam. It's really beautiful. The water is clean and warm, and you can do some wakeboarding."
Whatever you decide to do, get back to the Strip eventually to catch the baseball-basketball grand finale. By now you're a Vegas expert, so you should be able to pick your favorite sports book location. For a real treat, hit up the Sportsbook Bar & Grill at The Palazzo, where you can eat your fill and track all the games on the 70-plus TVs.
In any case, enjoy the company of your fellow fantasy fanatics in these last moments together before you all head back home.
As you recap the weekend's highlights, discuss blockbuster trade proposals and prepare to crash back to reality Tuesday, keep in mind that your Vegas fantasy didn't just appear out of thin air. We had to be proactive and preemptive in ensuring your experience lived up to or even exceeded expectations.
"For the ultimate sports weekend in Vegas," Bell-Holland said, "the biggest piece of advice that I can give is to book everything in advance."
Every Vegas insider we talked to echoes Bell-Holland's words. You don't have to be a high roller to get premium service in Vegas. You just need a plan.
A group vacation in Vegas is kind of like the fantasy draft, in a way. In both instances you've got 10 guys looking out for their own best interests. While there's a certain flow to the group dynamic, there's also a lot of individual conflict and posturing.
Why waste time standing around trying to figure out what you all want to do and then waiting in line somewhere when you finally decide to go there? You wouldn't go into your draft without at least a cheat sheet of player rankings, so don't show up in Vegas without an itinerary.
Perhaps the best part of being organized is the VIP treatment it makes possible. In Vegas, a big part of the attraction is feeling like a celebrity. You rub elbows with the stars at hot spots around the city; you see their pictures on the walls and their autographs on the door, but what's even better is you can get treated like you're just as important. Jon Gray said as much in describing how you'll feel at the Palms, but he could be talking about anywhere in Vegas, if you play your cards right.
"Everyone that's here really is somebody," he said. "You're not just Room 25201. You're Mr. Jones, you're with your group here, and we know why you're here."
The Talented Mr. Roto loves Vegas vacations, and he sums up the power of the fantasy weekend perfectly.
"Fantasy sports at its core is about competition, it's about camaraderie and it's about the experience," Berry said. "And all of those things come to the forefront when you're in Vegas: The competition is more intense, the camaraderie is better and it kicks off the season in style."
Dan Peterson is an editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Daniel.R.Peterson@espn3.com.
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