Family, Football & The Woodshop Years (An Ode to Alan E. Leimbach)
“Family, Football & This Adventure We Call Life” is a year-round column by Nate Polvogt that shares a Colorado dad’s outlook on life and his weekly advice for fantasy football waiver wire pickups. Nate enters Week 1 in his third season of writing and with the pride of being hot on 2021 league-winner Rashaad Penny early.
“The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one.” — Oscar Wilde
Once upon a time, so long ago, it almost feels like a past life; I was an “admissions administrator” for a for-profit technology college. I put my title in quotation marks because my title was a joke. I was a cold call salesman reaching out to people who had called an 800 number they saw on television or a bus bench. It was an awful job I hated, and I was let go after 90 days.
Making Ends Meet
It was 2008, and my wife, Jen, and I lived in a fancy-ish neighborhood in Denver proper. The economy was terrible, and jobs were hard to come by. Our rent wasn’t cheap, and losing my job wasn’t ideal. So we were mildly panicked, and no job was off the table.
Jen’s brother Zach happened to be working at a wood shop looking for a warm body. It was honest work, and I fancied myself a carpenter from my high school wood shop prowess less than a decade prior. Besides, we had bills to pay. Moreover, I wasn’t exactly ripe with opportunities with no college degree and no desire to return to the life of a kitchen worker.
My first day, as you’re probably guessing, was shocking. As I drove up to what I would eventually begin affectionately and begrudgingly referring to as “the shop,” I was stunned. I think we all have a vision of a professional wood shop. Maybe it’s not necessarily clean, but clean enough — something with polished tools, solid, flat work tables, adequate ventilation with a functioning HVAC system. In reality, it was a tiny shack behind a duplex. It was also next to a used car dealership, next to a body shop that I’m still not 100 percent convinced wasn’t a chop shop. But they were nice enough.
Jen’s brother greeted me outside the shop and escorted me into the “lobby” of my new workplace, which was also my new boss’s office.
“Nate, meet Alan.”
Sitting behind a cluttered desk immediately inside the door was Alan E. Leimbach. He was in his mid-70s but looked much older, worn down from decades of dangerous and back-breaking work. He was balding and grey and sat with a hunch. But upon standing to shake my hand revealed a tall, imposing man who stood around six-foot-four and had a very firm handshake.
“We work hard, have fun, but we don’t f*** around here. Welcome to Leimbach’s Master Craftsmen,” he said.
And that was the beginning.
When I say this was a wood shop, I should clarify. We refinished and repaired antiques and wood furniture. I had the opportunity to work on some very old pieces with neat backstories – I refinished a dresser that had been built before the civil war for the Biltmore family in South Carolina. It was fun but also pretty dangerous work.
The shop that looked like a shack outside was even less inviting indoors. At some point, it had been converted to a wood shop from housing a semi-truck repair shop for Coors Brewing Company in the 1940s. Alan had been in the building since the mid-1970s as a custom cabinet builder and interior home remodeling business. It showed in the clutter and junk he had amassed. Half of his office and almost every corner of that shop had spare parts, tables, chairs, random pieces and planks of wood stuffed wherever there was an open space. Navigating that place was an art form that no one besides Alan ever really mastered.
We had no plumbing. If we needed to use the restroom, we would go to a building next door we called “the catery” — the man who owned the entire corner had once housed a cat boarding business. There were still cat cages in the building. It was exactly as creepy as you imagine.
Our only heat source was a three-foot by six-foot gas box heater that had to be manually ignited with a match. The building also had no insulation, so on bitterly cold mornings, it could take two to three hours for the building to warm up enough to take off your layers of warm clothing.
Summers were brutally hot because, as you probably guessed, we had box fans to keep us cool.
I soon discovered that shack was a perfect representation of Alan E. Leimbach — rough around the edges, sometimes abrupt, gruff and rude. But on the inside, while unpolished and messy, you can’t help but love it.
Sign of the Times
Believe it or not, Alan had a hard time keeping employees. Between the dangerous nature of the job and Alan’s sometimes prickly personality, people didn’t stick around. Jen’s brother came and went as he needed the work until Alan p***ed him off. Another shop “OG,” Joel, would take shifts during slow semesters at grad school, never sticking around long enough to get p***ed off at Alan.
We had a myriad of “specialists” we used.
Nat was our major repairs guy, working out of his garage. He was a former high school math teacher and baseball enthusiast. We would meet him in his alley to deliver whatever we had for him.
Dale, a former geologist for the US government, was our expert carver. He was deaf in both ears, but thanks to hearing aids, he could hear when he remembered to replace the batteries.
We had our caning guy Dave (caning is the old-style woven chair seats), who was the son of two college professors. He had a wife and two daughters and loved his tiny, cluttered little shop.
Alan didn’t have much in his personal life. He had a wife and kids who didn’t respect or treat him well. He had been through the wringer more than once and, because of this, poured his life into that shop, which would ultimately prove to be the death of him. But it also gave him his family — Dale, Dave, Nat and me. We were all a family to Alan.
I stayed at Leimbach’s Master Craftsmen for five years, almost to the day. I attempted to buy the business twice, was “fired” once, had who knows how many blowouts with Alan and laughed more than I have at any other job I’ve ever had. Just like family.
The shop folded shortly after I left. The years of spraying chemicals without protection were catching up to Alan, and business was drying up along with the pool of workers he once had in his pocket. Zach and Joel had both moved on; Joel to a post-graduate school career in Chicago and Zach to building his own business. Dave had closed his caning shop. Nat was fully retiring to focus on building a cabin. And Dale’s eyesight was declining, and he could no longer carve. It was a sad end to what had once been a thriving business.
I tried to keep up with Alan after parting ways but to no avail. I would call his cell phone and leave him a message every few months but never received a call back.
Recently, I found out that he passed away in November 2020. It’s not surprising, knowing how quickly his health was declining nine years ago when I walked out of the shop for the final time. Alan was a pain in the ass, but his heart was as big as they come. He genuinely cared for every single person who came through that shop. Weirdly, I’m comforted knowing if he’s looking down on me, proud of who I am.
Life is the sum of our experiences and what we make of them. Five years in a wood shop taught me a lot about life, business operations and general human decency. 27 years as a fantasy football manager has done much the same. What started as a hobby became a full-blown obsession and is now a career. Finally, after what felt like a decade without football action, the NFL is back!
We are only two days away from the kickoff of the 2022 NFL season. We’ve done our deep stat dives, compiled spreadsheets and created draft cheat sheets. Unless your leagues are the last-minute type, you’ve drafted your teams and know what you’re working with this year. Now the real work begins.
It’s never too early to scan the waiver wire pickups. You might think Week 1 is a time to set your lineup and call it a day; to the contrary, my friends. This is where you set yourself apart from your league mates. There’s no more time to waste, so let’s get into it in this week’s edition of “Hot, Medium & Mild!”
Hot, Medium & Mild: Week 1 Waiver Wire Pickups
Many things ensure you field the most competitive fantasy football roster possible. What starts in the draft room continues with smart start/sit decisions and savvy waiver wire pickups during the season. Fortunately for you, heading into Week 1, a handful of undervalued assets are still there for the taking. In this week’s edition of “Hot, Medium & Mild, I have two players you should be taking a long, hard look at before waivers clear and one who isn’t worth rostering even with a change of scenery.
HOT — Infinity Pepper
Kenyan Drake (RB, Baltimore Ravens)
When Kenyan Drake was released during roster cutdowns last week by the Las Vegas Raiders, any hope that he would have relevancy in fantasy football in 2022 appeared to be out the window. Losing your job to a rookie (Zamir White) and two journeymen running backs (Ameer Abdullah and Brandon Bolden) doesn’t instill much confidence. It appeared unlikely he would land anywhere with decent opportunity.
Then, last week, Drake signed with the Baltimore Ravens, a team suddenly needy at the running back position. The team placed Gus Edwards on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP), keeping him out for at least the first four games. Likewise, J.K. Dobbins hasn’t looked 100 percent in camp. With both players coming off of significant knee injuries, it would be in Baltimore’s best interest to slowly bring them back. By signing Drake, the Ravens have signaled they will do just that.
In three seasons with the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals, Drake scored 27 touchdowns and amassed more than 3,000 rushing yards. 2021 wasn’t on par. Yet, he was trapped behind Josh Jacobs on a team that threw the ball fourth most in the league (62.8 percent of offensive snaps). He is joining a team in Baltimore that keeps the ball on the ground when quarterback Lamar Jackson is healthy. In 2020, the Ravens threw the ball on 44.96 percent of offensive snaps, the lowest percentage in the NFL.
From a pure volume standpoint, Kenyan Drake is a value add for at least the season’s first four weeks. While Jackson is likely to lead this team in rushing as he did in 2020, there is still enough volume for Drake to be a relevant flex play. If he plays well early on, it’s not out of the question that Drake could earn a more permanent and significant role on this team down the road.
Right now, he is rostered in five percent of ESPN leagues. That number is about to go way up. So if you are feeling iffy about your running back room, Drake is one of the best waiver wire pickups available. You may have to use waiver priority or a small percent of your Free Agency Acquisition Budget (FAAB) to acquire him. While that sounds like a lot to spend early on, it could be well worth it down the road.
MEDIUM — Apache Pepper
D’Onta Foreman (RB, Carolina Panthers)
One of the many surprises of the 2021 NFL season was the re-emergence of running back D’onta Foreman. After tearing his Achilles tendon back in 2017, he had struggled to produce in limited opportunities. While it took an injury to lead running back Derrick Henry to allow Foreman an opportunity in Tennessee, you cannot ignore what he was able to accomplish.
Once he became the featured back in Week 14, he was the Points Per Reception (PPR) RB11. In that span, he scored three touchdowns and managed over 100 rushing yards twice. He showed a running style similar to Henry, who can get work done in short-yardage situations.
Foreman, now in Carolina, will again be slotted behind a marquee NFL running back. This time, however, is different. Christian McCaffrey has spent the better part of the last two seasons injured. Yet, when he is on the field, he is the best running back in football; there is no question. However, head coach Matt Rhule will likely use a less-is-more approach with McCaffrey, which should give Foreman ample opportunity to produce from a fantasy standpoint.
Currently rostered in six percent of ESPN leagues, Foreman will be available as one of your early waiver wire pickups. Depending on your league, acquiring him may cost a bit. I’m OK with spending up to three percent of your FAAB or a mid-level waiver priority to get him rostered. This move will be worthwhile if he gets some of the short-yardage and goal-line work as expected. If he works his way into an increased snap share and more opportunities, it’s a steal.
MILD — Gypsy Pepper
Laviska Shenault (WR, Carolina Panthers)
Part of success in life is being willing to take new information and use it appropriately. Sometimes it will even change your opinion. This hits home hard when it comes to fantasy football. A willingness to adapt is crucial to winning. Unfortunately, adapting isn’t always easy, as is the case for Laviska Shenault and me.
Hopes were high for the versatile receiver out of the University of Colorado when he entered the league in 2020. His rookie campaign showed promise, though not the flash most had hoped. The dual-threat receiver who showed he was a problem out of the backfield and out wide in college simply didn’t see the rushing opportunity in Jacksonville. While he saw 179 targets over his two seasons in Jacksonville, he was inefficient in his chances, managing 1,200 yards and only five touchdowns. Likewise, Shenault only earned 29 carries for 132 yards and no touchdowns in that same span.
With a new head coach and a new philosophy on offense with Doug Pederson, the Jaguars moved on from Shenault two weeks ago, trading him to the Carolina Panthers for draft picks. While there is always hope a new situation could ignite Shenault and catapult him to fantasy football relevancy, it is unlikely this season in Carolina.
New quarterback Baker Mayfield will have several weapons at his disposal, including wide receivers D.J. Moore, Robbie Anderson and a familiar face in Rashard Higgins. If that’s not enough competition, McCaffrey is back and will be the main focus of this offense when he is on the field. Shenault could weasel his way into some spot duty. Yet, he won’t be garnering high-value targets in this offense to make him one of the viable waiver wire pickups. So unless you have a deep bench, spending any FAAB or using priority to acquire him is a waste of valuable capital.
That’s all for me, folks! I hope you find my spicy and not-so-spicy waiver wire pickups and notes useful. Until next time!
We’re going to start this 2022 NFL season off right. With a corny #DadJoke, that’s only funny because it’s so bad!
Two guys walked into a bar. The third guy ducked.