Welcome to the third article in our series of quick chats with our favourite people in the baseball broadcasting and fantasy baseball world.
Nando Di Fino is a multi-award winning writer, analyst, host and producer who has worked for, among others, ESPN, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, MLB Network, SiriusXM and is now the Editor of Fantasy at The Athletic. And he even has his own IMDb page.
The history graduate started his career as a researcher for the best-selling book Fantasyland: A sportswriter’s obsessive bid to win the world’s most ruthless fantasy baseball league. Have you read it? You should (buy it here from Amazon). Since then, Nando has become one of the most well-liked and recognisable characters in the industry.
Every guy wants to be him, and every woman wants to be with him, Mr Nando Di Fino, thank you for allowing us to break into your hectic schedule.
Can I start by asking, what is it like being the most charismatic person in fantasy baseball?
Haha. Hard pass on that one, friend! But I do appreciate the compliment.
Bat Flips and Nerds deals with all aspects of baseball, including grassroots play in the UK, European leagues, World Baseball Classic, fantasy baseball and, of course, everything encompassed by MLB. All with a British take.
Di Fino is an Italian name. Have you ever visited the homeland? What are your experiences of Europe and the UK?
Yes I have been to the motherland. And I love it there. And I know that’s pretty milquetoast. I have family all over Italy, so I try to go once a year. I get my day or two of running through Rome, eating and drinking, then spend the rest with family in these little villages in the south. It’s like I might as well be in Milwaukee. But I’m relaxed there. I just stare at the mountains and veg out, basically, then eat and drink and go to bed and repeat. I read a ton there, too. I mean, that might just be like a vacation for everyone else, but I associate it with Italy.
I’ve also been to London and Beaconsfield, for my friend’s wedding, about five years ago. I didn’t actually see Beaconsfield until a few hours before the wedding, and I hate that we didn’t spend a full day there. I’m a weirdo. I like going to smaller towns like that and buying random souvenirs or checking out the local wares and traditions.
London was awesome, but every bar seemed to be owned by the same company, with the same kind of format, so we had to really try to find some different ones. The Cheshire Cheese was great. There was, I think, a George Washington-themed bar? I loved that. We ate well there, too.
And I actually peed in a weird urinal port-a-potty. We don’t have those here. It was basically four plastic urinals just kind of in the middle of a plaza.
Anyway, enough about my thoughts on Europe! Next!
It is difficult to express how incredibly excited we are to have the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox visiting in June. The London Series is a dream come true for so many of us MLB fans in the UK who were brought up on a diet of one televised game per week … the broadcast of which started after midnight.
We are spoilt now with MLB.tv televising every game, blackout-free, although the time difference still makes life difficult. An 8:00pm ET first pitch is 1:00am over here. It is not easy to be an MLB fan in the UK, but it has created a committed fanbase of hardcore supporters.
The other problem faced by MLB fans over here is that the sport is disparaged by the media and therefore much of the public. We are doing our best to change this. We are bored with baseball being called rounders (which over here is generally a fun, non-competitive game for school children). The London Series will introduce the sport to a whole new audience. MLB is set to explode in the UK.
We realise that there is some animosity from fans not wanting yet another series to be relocated abroad, but what is your take on the London Series?
Ha. Fools. I think it’s awesome and bizarre to see these games played all over the place. I love that kind of stuff. Forget about the oddity of the teams playing for fans who may not skew one way or another… or hearing the names announced with a British accent. But the park itself — we talk a lot about park factors — we don’t know how it’s going to play with the dimensions and wind and everything. Strictly from a fantasy point of view, that’s going to be fascinating.
Launched in 2016, The Athletic has transformed sports journalism. The bar has been raised. No longer are dumbed-down, click-bait-filled articles the only choice for sports fans. The Athletic has recruited some of the finest writers in the business. It really feels like sports journalism has grown up.
I love the aim of The Athletic: Our goal? Make every article you read end with you excitedly declaring, loudly, “That was awesome, and I want more from this writer.”
The Athletic certainly appears to be monopolising the very best writers. I hope it is the future of sports journalism and not an unsustainable business model which will need to hike up subscriptions and become filled with advertising.
What were your thoughts when The Athletic launched and how do you see it progressing over the next few years?
I thought it was awesome before I got here. You don’t know how awesome it is on your eyes and brain to have no ads. I remember a few years ago, NFL.com had these PDF gamebooks, which had all the plays and snaps and everything. And you had to be lightning fast to click on the link, or an ad would play, and you’d click that instead, and it would launch a new window. And I used to mutter to myself, “I would pay a monthly fee to not have ads on this page right now, so I can just get to this f’ing gamebook.” And here we are years later, and this beautiful site exists. And the “no ads” thing is like 10th on the list of why anyone would subscribe, which is nuts. You can’t go back to regular sites after experiencing this.
I think over the next few years it’s just going to keep it up. I’ve read so much on this site, and it’s objectively so good. And smart. And I’ve seen it play out behind the scenes with these pure and awesome and really smart motives behind it all. It’s respecting fans, readers, subscribers — that’s a new thing. I’ve been places where the bosses think the audience is full of dummies, who will sit there and watch auto-play stuff or stick around to read bland garbage. Not here. And it’s driven from the top. We respect people who shell out money to read us, we have a responsibility to put our best, most creative foot forward, and it’s totally driven by the guys up top here.
You once gave advice that young people trying to get into the business of sports should be ready for this to be their part-time job (or a miserable full-time one) for at least five years, and to focus on creatively finding positives in all situations, after all, everyone can be negative.
That was sage advice. With the changes you have witnessed over the last few years, seemingly everyone is able to produce a blog and podcast. What advice would the older, wiser Nando now offer youngsters wanting to get into sports media?
I still think you need to start this out on the side, but the avenues are definitely more accessible. You don’t have to hope an editor at any site will give you a shot. You just start a podcast or a twitch channel or your own site and go for it. You’re responsible for making your own way, but you have freedom to do it how you’d like. And with social media kind of pushing this, the playing field is levelled. I saw a twitter account a couple months ago called MLB Moving Averages. It got retweeted into my timeline. And it was great. I clicked on it, went through some old tweets, and it was consistently really excellent. So I noticed. And I follow it now.
Someone told me theres a football game today,
That may be, but we're definitely 1 day closer to Opening Day.
I was curious how the top 40 scoring SPs in my home pts lg from 2018 were going by position ranking according to current ADP (ADP/R)
YES I JUST TROLLED THE SUPER BOWL pic.twitter.com/vfYIIUmEsM
— MLB Moving Averages (@MLBMovingAvg) February 3, 2019
And I DM’d the guy running it to say awesome job and let me know if you need any advice or whatever. Today, I’d tell him to just keep doing that.
Don’t go to some site that won’t pay you or could ultimately just be out to exploit you (for more on that, ping Joe Sheehan — he’s long been a proponent of paying newer writers). You no longer need that. Anyone can do it on their own, they just have to do it well, not be afraid to self-promote, and have that first job to make actual money as it starts out.
Yours is a multifaceted job, what are the aspects you enjoy most? You once said that you preferred being Gepetto rather than Pinocchio. Is that still the case?
I think I enjoy, at least right now, in baseball season, doing something like reading Gene McCaffrey in the back end of our CMS and having that realisation that I’m working with him and not just reading his book from afar. And that the next week, there will be another article coming from him that I get to read before anyone else. It’s just really cool to be able to have this group that is a mix of Ron Shandler, who’s been at this for a long time and pioneered some really great stuff, and Matt Modica, who people are discovering and truly enjoying. Like I’d rather have someone tell me “I love Matt Modica” than tell me “I loved what you wrote about Tyler Glasnow.” And I promise that’s the truth.
Do people still ask you about your man crush on Jedd Gyorko?
Always. And Blake Bortles, who is my football version of him.
When was the last time someone woke you to ask for fantasy baseball advice with an early morning call?
My phone is on silent all night long now. Hahaha. Only a select few have the landline number in case of emergency. These days it’s just harried texts during drafts.
Final question. Platforms like Fantrax will force Yahoo, ESPN and CBS raise their game, and DFS (daily fantasy sports) is growing in popularity at an incredible rate. Where do you see fantasy baseball in five years time?
I think you’re going to see a lot more best ball. It’s such a great format for baseball — do the draft, then let the computer do the work for you. Jake Ciely also has a format — “350” — that is designed to be done by September 1, so you can focus on pennant races and fantasy football. I really think you need to do something to lessen the insane amount of work needed to follow fantasy baseball. Those two new formats could help. Because it’s a fun game, but it’s so intense.
FINAL QUICK PITCHES
Roto, points, categories or DFS? Roto all the way. Then categories, then points, I guess. I do not like DFS. Maybe I would if it wasn’t littered with sharks and spreadsheets. But the way it is now… no thank you.
ESPN, Yahoo, CBS or Fantrax? Haha. Pass again! I worked for ESPN and CBS, I love the people at Yahoo, and Fantrax has such a smooth format. I’m not being political here… I kind of like all four.
How many fantasy baseball leagues are you in? I’m down to about six real leagues, one Scoresheet, and then probably eight best balls?
Favourite player – past and present? It was always Don Mattingly for me growing up. About 15 years ago, it was a guy named Chris Snelling, who would sign “YODA” under his autograph and just got derailed by injury. Right now… I really don’t know. I guess Jedd Gyorko, right?? I have a Gyorko doll, and I can’t say that about anyone else…at the moment…
Favourite sports writer? I love them all. But let me turn your readers on to Levi Weaver @ThreeTwoEephus here at The Athletic. He’s great.
Baseball rule you would like to change? Any of the unwritten ones. It’s killing the fun of watching the game.
Where will Bryce Harper sign? I think it’s San Francisco. Philadelphia makes too much sense. And I wouldn’t count out either NY team.
Who will win the 2019 World Series? Tell you what… San Diego with Manny Machado is a very good team. Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer are nasty. Chris Paddack could be nasty. They get another pitcher in there (maybe Dallas Keuchel, maybe through trade — one of the Cleveland guys maybe?) they can be a ridiculous sleeper team.
Fantasy baseball sleeper pick for 2019? Tyler Glasnow will win the Cy Young.
Best Twitter account to follow? Try the MLB Moving Averages one @MLBMovingAvg. It’s interesting.
Thank you so much for your time Nando, and we wish continued success as your career spirals ever-upwards. What do you have planned for us from now until Opening Day?
Tons of good stuff. I think 15 new columns and chats a week. We’re also trying out a new thing called the “Request Line,” where we let subscribers commission columns they want written.
And finally, finally, I believe you have a special offer for UK readers wanting to subscribe to The Athletic?
And sure! 40% off theathletic.com/fantasylaunch40 Keep in mind we have EPL coverage!
Check out the rest of the new content on Bat Flips and Nerds. We have great articles about Tom’s trip to Padres’ camp (whether or not it was pivotal in the Manny Machado signing is up for discussion), the already excellent podcasts are getting even better, @BatFlips_Nerds is the essential Twitter feed for baseball fans in the UK and there are some great new writers on board.
Get involved: 2019 will be an awesome year for baseball.