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April 2, 2014

Still a hit

Fantasy baseball league going strong 30 years later

(Continued)

Having played in a fantasy baseball league during college, Chicago firefighter Matt Grage, 55, is in his 15th year with the CFCL.

“When I first started in the league, I’d go to spring training and scout,” Grage says.

Now doing most of his scouting online, Grage and his Graging Bulls won the championship for the first time last season. He also had a championship season in one of the fantasy football leagues he plays.

The CFCL’s lengthy constitution has been modified during the years, and most disagreements are handled peacefully. “This is, first and foremost, a gentlemen’s league,” Bentel says.

In his 21st year as an owner, Naperville’s Matt Bentel (the co-founder’s cousin) says he has more time for the league now that his daughter and twin sons have graduated from college.

“I love baseball, and being a Cubs fan, there isn’t much to cheer about some years,” says the 55-year-old elevator-installer. “So I can cheer for my own team.”

Even if the results are the same.

“I’ve never won,” he says. “I’m the Cubs of this league.”

His son, Mike, 24, is working on his doctoral degree in chemical engineering but will fly in from California for the draft, which is such a fun time that the group records it and posts videos on its website so members can relive highlights from past years.

“You want to talk about paint drying,” Rich Bentel says. “But for us, it is hilarious.”

Keeping the league going as everyone evolves through college, jobs, marriage and parenthood hasn’t been easy. The group now farms out the statistic-keeping to a service.

“We do have jobs and families,” Rich Bentel says. “Our wives may not understand, but they tolerate what we do.”

Rich Bentel’s wife of 21 years, Kim, was a Mets fan when they met. He knew he would propose to her (in a small plane flying over Wrigley Field on game day) after she gave him a card reading, “My love for you is deeper than the Mets’ starting rotation.”

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