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There is less than a week to go before the 1999 baseball season gets under way. As the problems around us grow bigger, I need baseball more than ever if I’m going to maintain my sanity.

I have my own “Fantasy Island” where I retreat every day from the crud I have to report on. If I didn’t go there I’d lose my mind.

My retreat is to the island of “CyberSkipper” — fantasy baseball on the Internet. The diversion is just what I need to empty my mind of all the craziness going on in the world around me.

I’m not the only one. Thousands of baseball fans from one end of the country to the other are doing the same thing. They leave the stresses of the real world for the excitement that comes from running their own fantasy baseball team.

I’ve been a baseball fan since my father enrolled me in Little League when I was 9. It’s the great American pastime, and I love every minute of it. Now my sons are just as excited about a game that links fathers to sons, and generations to generations.

My 3- and 5-year-olds will play on my T-ball team starting in a few weeks, and my 9-year-old has already started practice in Pony League. He also has his own “CyberSkipper” team, and he beats me all too often.

Last year I paid lots of money to play a dozen different fantasy games. They were all fun, but only one gave me what I was looking for — real baseball exactly the way it really happens.

It was my first time playing fantasy ball, and I wanted to find one game that I could sink my teeth into and have fun.

All the games out there attract players by offering huge cash prizes. To win you must select players from the real teams to create your own unique team — a fantasy team. There are opportunities to change your team throughout the season, and much of the end result is based on luck.

“CyberSkipper” was the only game I found that did not require me to create a make-believe team. Instead they let me play actual teams. They let you pick your favorite teams and predict which players will get hits, runs, RBIs, home runs, and more.

They took the fantasy out of fantasy baseball and let me play reality baseball. I love it. They also keep the fun where it belongs by not offering big cash prizes. I play for the same reason I coach my kids and watch major league games — it’s fun.

Their prizes consist of team caps, t-shirts, team jackets, autographed balls, other baseball stuff and some free flights and tickets to games. Fun prizes that you really have a decent chance of winning. The best part is the cost to play — zippo. I like free stuff.

Well this year I’ve dropped all the others and I’m playing “CyberSkipper” only. If the news has you stressed out, go to the doctor if you must, but I strongly recommend a different approach. Take a five-minute break each day and play “CyberSkipper.” You’ll have fun and relieve your stress all at the same time.

If you want a break from the maddening world we live in, join me. “CyberSkipper” lets friends join together in private leagues to compete against each other as friends. Just send me an e-mail at CyberSkipper@talkusa.com if you want to join my private league. You can play any of the 30 major league teams.

In a world with so many problems, thank goodness for baseball.

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