As lifelong Braves fan Will Bryan was closing in on the $5.6 million grand prize in MLB.com's Beat the Streak contest earlier this summer, at least one of his fellow competitors was silently rooting against him.
Mike Karatzia, who holds the game's all-time record with a 49-game streak in 2007, admitted in an interview at MLB.com headquarters on Thursday that he "100 percent" does not pull for participants as they close in on his record. Bryan, whose season-long streak was ultimately snapped at 47 games last month, joined the interview, as well, via video stream.
"I am conscious [of other lengthy streaks]," Karatzia said. "I still play, so I stay up with the game and I see who's getting close. I watch who they're picking and -- well, no offense, Will -- but I was rooting against you."
In Beat the Streak, participants try to establish a virtual "hitting streak" by picking one or two players per day, with their runs continuing as long as their selections record at least one hit. In 13 seasons of BTS play, no one has matched Joe DiMaggio's magic number of 56, set in 1941. To win the $5.6 million prize, a participant must top DiMaggio's run by one game.
Bryan's attempt to break Karatzia's record -- and then surpass DiMaggio's 56-game streak -- came to an end against the Marlins on Aug. 10, when Braves outfielder Justin Upton went 0-for-4. Though Bryan's streak ended at 47 games, the 30-year-old police officer still collected the $10,000 consolation prize for finishing the season with the longest streak this summer.
Aside from the financial reward, Bryan also had the opportunity to meet Upton after the Atlanta outfielder learned that he was responsible for ending Bryan's streak. Shortly after his streak ended, the South Metro Atlanta resident received an email from Upton's agent and -- less than a week later -- Bryan met Upton in the home dugout at Turner Field prior to the Braves' Aug. 16 game against the Nationals.
Bryan, along with his wife, Kelli, and son, Grant, watched batting practice from the top step of the dugout, and Upton gave them signed baseballs and a bat before playing catch with Grant and chatting baseball with Will.
"[His agent] was just initially going to get me some signed merchandise, and then he said Justin just felt really bad about it, so he invited me out to a game and I brought my wife and oldest son," Bryan said. "It was such an amazing experience that my friends keep asking about, and I can't even explain how awesome it was to get to meet Justin and the rest of the Braves."
Karatzia said he didn't get any similar treatment from then-Tiger Placido Polanco when Polanco went hitless to snap Karatzia's '07 record streak at 49. Polanco, ironically, was playing third base for the Marlins on the night Upton failed to extend Bryan's streak last month.
Though Karatzia admitted he was not cheering for Bryan on that night, the two do share a similar approach to the game. Each participant said he always picks a player that hits near the top of a team's lineup to maximize his at-bat opportunities on a given night. Both Karatzia and Bryan said they also focus more on a player's lifetime numbers against that night's starting pitcher as opposed to the hitter's overall season numbers.
The hardest part for both participants was dealing with the pressure once their streaks surpassed the 40-game plateau and they started getting more attention from outsiders. Their friends and family members quickly took notice at that point and wasted no time interjecting with their suggestions.
"When you start getting recognition, you start getting a lot of cooks in the kitchen," Karatzia said. "Everyone is kind of telling you what they would do. They weren't there in the beginning with you, so you've got to kind of just trust your gut and go with who you want to go with."
Though there is not enough time left in the season for anyone to reach the 57-game milestone under normal circumstances, all fans will have one more chance on Friday to win the $5.6 million prize via this year's final installment of Beat the Streak in a Day.
Beat the Streak in a Day works the same way as the normal game, with one exception -- fans can make 57 picks in a single day. If all 57 of your selections record a hit in Friday's action, you win the coveted grand prize. Those who wish to participate can either show off their knowledge and manually select 57 players or submit an entry with one push of a button, selecting a "Quick Pick" option that will choose 57 out of the top 150 big leaguers for you, based on their Beat the Streak success rates.
Just don't look to Karatzia for any help with your selections on Friday -- or when the game returns in 2014.
"You're not going to beat me, just give up now," Karatzia joked. "But no, it's a fun game and, like I said, it's all about matchups. It's baseball. You want to pick guys at the top of the lineup -- they get a lot of at-bats -- and look for lefty-righty matchups. In the end, though, just trust your instincts."
They just might be worth $5.6 million.