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Matthew Berry on What Rick Santorum and Fantasy Sports Fans Have in Common (Q&A)

Matthew Berry
John Atashian/ESPN
Matthew Berry

The ESPN fantasy analyst's new book, "Fantasy Life," celebrates how Jay-Z, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the average joe are the same: "No matter how powerful, how rich you are, everyone has the same question: 'Who do I start on Sunday?' "

As ESPN’s senior fantasy sports analyst, Matthew Berry admits he has the greatest job in America – and “everyone else is playing for seconds.”

He regularly talks fantasy sports with NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. and has given advice to Seth Meyers and Jay-Z. He even had a talk with former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum about fantasy baseball.

“No matter how famous you are, no matter how powerful, how rich you are, everyone has the same question: ‘Who do I start on Sunday?’ ” Berry tells The Hollywood Reporter.  “It would never occur to me that Rick Santorum and I would have something in common, and I had a half-hour conversation with him all about fantasy baseball, and it was like we were the best of friends.”

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Berry has penned his first book, Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports From the Guy Who's Lived It, which was released this week. The work, published by Riverhead Hardcover, is full of fantasy sports anecdotes he's gathered from readers and acquaintances over the years as well as his personal experiences joining a league of older men at age 14, working at ESPN and starting a family with his wife.

Find Berry’s full conversation with THR below.

The Hollywood Reporter: How did you decide now was the right time to put out a book?

Matthew Berry: I’d been getting all of these great stories over the years from different people, but I didn’t really have any place to do them. I write my columns, and occasionally one would make its way into an intro, but I didn’t have anything to put it all together and put them all in once place. I felt like there’d never been a fantasy book that represented the fantasy I love, which is: It’s fun. I play for fun. Yes I want to win, but at the end of the day, I love the guys in my league, and I love the camaraderie.

I also felt that a book of nothing but fantasy stories would get old quickly. I knew I sort of wanted to weave myself and my experience with fantasy throughout it, but I didn’t have a final chapter. Then meeting my wife and the birth of our daughters and getting to ESPN and becoming the senior fantasy analyst of ESPN – all of those sorts of things culminated. I don’t want to say the journey is complete, but it felt like the story was. 

THR: At the beginning of the book, you talk about being this out-of-place kid in College Station, Texas. Then, at 14, you joined a league of guys that were much older. What was it like being the young guy?

Berry: It was a little weird in the sense that a lot of the discussions would be way over my head. People would be talking about jobs and mortgages and young kids, and I’m worried about algebra. I was a pretty mature kid, which is probably one of the reasons why I had trouble fitting in as a kid. And it really wasn’t all that awkward. I'm still in that league. Out of the original 10 guys, six are still in that league almost 30 years later. The fact that I’ve been friends with some of these guys for 30 years now speaks volumes. The fact that I was able to fit relatively seamlessly into a group of 20- and 30-year-olds at age 14 should tell you all the reasons why I didn’t fit seamlessly with a bunch of other 14-year-olds.

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THR: You write about how Rick Santorum is a big fantasy guy. That kind of humanizes him – is that something people take away from the book, that fantasy is a unifying factor?

Berry: It’s a common language for everyone. It sort of unifies people. No matter how successful you are, how famous you are – there are a number of people I give fantasy advice to. Friends of mine or people I’ve met through ESPN. Some of them are in the book, obviously. People like Dale Earnhardt Jr. Seth Meyers, who gave me quote for the book. I’ve given Jay-Z advice before. No matter how famous you are, no matter how powerful, how rich you are, everyone has the same question: “Who do I start on Sunday?” It’s one of those equalizing factors. It would never occur to me that Rick Santorum and I would have something in common, and I had a half-hour conversation with him all about fantasy baseball, and it was like we were the best of friends.

One of the great appeals of fantasy sports is it’s a common language. You see it in work. You see vice presidents in fantasy leagues with guys in the mailroom and everyone in between. Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks about how the guys in his pit crew are in a fantasy league with him. I don’t know anything about NASCAR, and we never talk about NASCAR. When [Earnhardt] and I text or talk on the phone, all we talk about is fantasy football or the Redskins.

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THR: You had a funny guest spot on FX’s The League where you are hounded by these guys for advice. Is that pretty common for you in real life?

Berry:The plot to The League episode came about because that happens a decent amount. I’ve known [show creators] Jeff and Jackie Shaffer for a long time. They’re friends, but the whole plot was their idea, and it came out of that. I do get that when I go to a bar, people will notice me. “Hey, who do I start on Sunday? Hey do I make this trade?”

THR: With the more notable people you give advice to, how does that come about?

Berry: Sometimes someone reaches out to me. Sometimes I just meet them through ESPN. Dale Jr. was doing a bunch of interviews at ESPN and asked to meet me. There have been a few times when I’ve interviewed people at my podcast or here at ESPN.

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THR: How often do people tell you that you’ve got the best job ever?

Berry: I’m very blessed. I hear that a lot. The one thing that’s funny is when they ask, “Do you have your dream job?” I’m always like, “No. When I was dreaming of jobs, this didn’t exist.” Who gets to make a living at fantasy sports?  I feel like I have the best job in America, and everyone else is playing for seconds. It’s unreal. I get paid by the worldwide leader in sports to talk and play fantasy. It’s pretty cool.

THR: Was there anything that surprised you when you were writing this?

Berry: What was surprising to me was the number of people who play fantasy sports with their husband or their wife or their family. … And discovering that Billy Beane, Mr. Moneyball himself, not only plays fantasy football but is a stars-and-scrubs guy [the strategy calls for spending most of one's money on top players]. I thought that was fascinating for anyone who is familiar with how Billy runs the A’s.