For the serious-minded owner, it's the moment when a winter's worth of research culminates in the opportunity to build a championship-caliber squad in the MLB.com 2010 Fantasy Baseball game.
For the more casual types, it's a time to get together with some friends, pig out on snacks and enjoy a couple of hours of good-natured trash talking.
Regardless of whether you're in it for the glory or camaraderie, the experience can go sour without some basic guidelines to help ensure at least a moderately successful draft.
Here are a few dos and don'ts to keep in mind before buckling up for the official beginning of your fantasy season:
1. Come prepared: Perhaps you've been studying the analysis on the MLB.com 2010 Fantasy Baseball Preview and think you know your stuff cold. Still, you'd be amazed at how quickly your grasp of the information can vanish when pressed to make a difficult pick. Have printed cheatsheets (MLB.com offers cheatsheets by position on over 800 players) or some kind of reference guide handy to check the numbers, or all that research you did could go to waste.
2. Have a strategy: There's more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to drafting a team. Some owners load up on offense and fill out their pitching staffs with inexpensive arms. Others stockpile the best players at a couple of positions and immediately instigate trade talks. There isn't any one method that guarantees success, but you should at least have a sense of what you're trying to accomplish. Otherwise, you'll always be reacting to other owners' moves and you may end up with an imbalanced roster.
3. Consider position scarcity: Many of the game's best hitters play either a corner-infield spot or in the outfield, but just about all fantasy teams are required to have at least two middle infielders and one catcher. As a result, you'll likely face the dilemma of whether to pick a player at one of those positions over a productive slugger at some point in the draft. It's tough to pull the trigger, but keep in mind that a 25-homer first baseman can usually still be found in the later rounds. You don't want to end up with a shortstop who hits .240 in your starting lineup, if you can help it.
4. Understand park effects: Simply put, not all ballparks are created equal. Some, such as San Diego's PETCO Park, have huge outfields that turn potential home runs into outs. Others, such as Colorado's Coors Field or Arizona's Chase Field sit in climates in which hard-hit balls go rocketing into the stratosphere. It's a good idea to have a sense of these factors when drafting a player who recently switched teams. Cliff Lee, for example, should enjoy making his home starts in Seattle's Safeco Field. On the other hand, new Mets slugger Jason Bay may have a tougher time reaching the fences at Citi Field, which has quickly gained a reputation for being friendly to pitchers.
5. Roll the dice on youngsters: As the Tampa Bay Rays demonstrated with their run to the World Series in 2008, baseball continues to evolve into a young man's game. Be sure to take note of that trend and invest a couple of late picks in promising but unproven talent. With a little luck, the next Tommy Hanson could fall into your lap. And if things don't work out, it shouldn't be hard to find decent replacements on the waiver wire once the season starts.
1. Don't blow your budget: One advantage of taking part in an auction draft is that any player can be yours if you're willing to pony up the cash. The danger is that it's very easy to fly through your money in a hurry. Let's say you swing for the fences and grab Albert Pujols for $45, Ryan Braun for $41, Chase Utley for $39 and Tim Lincecum for $35. Given that most auction drafts allocate a $260 budget for a 23-player roster, that approach will leave you with $100 for the remaining 19 guys -- not such a wise business maneuver. It's OK to splurge for a couple of superstars, but using your funds for several quality $10-$15 players will give you a stronger all-around team.
2. Don't "punt" categories: "Punting" refers to the practice of ignoring players who specialize in one area -- such as closers or speedsters -- in order to beef up your numbers in the other major categories. While this strategy occasionally works, it's advisable to use it only in the playoffs of head-to-head formats or as a last-ditch approach. Use the draft to get contributors in all areas, and worry about making radical changes once the regular season reveals the strengths and weaknesses of your team.
3. Don't gamble on health: There are several players in the bigs who have all the talent in the world but struggle to stay healthy on a season-to-season basis. Rolling the dice on one of these guys -- such as Chris Carpenter last year -- can pay huge dividends if luck is on your side. However, it's a bad idea to tempt fate by taking on more than a couple of these types. If they all get hurt, you'll have a difficult time staying competitive with a patched-up roster.
4. Don't get sucked into "runs": It's an inevitable part of any draft: A few rounds go by, and all of a sudden one closer gets taken, then another, and another and another as owners scramble to avoid getting shut out in saves. If the run for closers -- or second basemen, or catchers -- is at full steam when it reaches your turn, end the madness by selecting a player from another position. You don't want to fill a spot out of desperation, and you can always make a trade later.
5. Don't panic: Even the most experienced fantasy owner is forced to confront the pressure that arises when a targeted player gets snapped up right before his turn. If that happens to you, or if you're getting the sinking feeling that the draft hasn't gone as well as you'd hoped, take a deep breath and relax. Things aren't going to get any better if you lose focus. By keeping your composure, you'll limit your chances of making mistakes, and you'll be in position to pounce on a prime sleeper candidate when another owner succumbs to late-game anxiety.
Tim Ott is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.