I don’t know exactly what age I was when I first learned that my favorite baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies, held an annual “fantasy camp” at their Spring Training facility in Clearwater, FL. According to the “second most important male voice in life at the time”, Harry Kalas, attendees would spend several days playing baseball with other camp-goers and ex-Phillies players. I looked to my dad to make sure I heard that correctly. Harry might as well have said the entire Phillies team will come to my house and play nine innings in our backyard. It was that preposterous. Harry wouldn’t lie to me, right? Dad gave me a reassuring smile and told me it was indeed true.
My hopes were immediately dashed though when I found out that you had to be at least 30 years of age to attend. Once again, the powers that be were denying this kid the basic human right to have fun. Thirty?! That’s an eternity! (So goes the thought process for every boy and girl that age).
Years went by and my desire to fib about my age and attend Phantasy Camp had waned. My love of baseball turned to other interests like music and playing drums. My posters of Mike Schmidt and Pete Rose were being replaced with rock stars and Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. In addition to Schmidt, it also did not help that my favorite player, Garry Maddox, had retired. Compound that with the fact that my team went through a pretty long period of less-than-stellar play on the field, save for the statistical outlier that was 1993 (easily one the most fun-filled seasons following the Phillies… although did you have to lose 15-14 at my first ever World Series game? Come on. That was painful).
I moved to New York City in early 2001 and I followed the Phillies with even more fervor. Baseball was slowly making a comeback in Philadelphia. There were a lot of reasons to get excited about this organization. That season saw them turn around with a winning record, led by new manager and Phillies legend, Larry Bowa. A new ballpark was on the way. Amazing homegrown talent was coming up like Jimmy Rollins, Randy Wolf, and Pat Burrell. Catcher Mike Lieberthal was coming in to his own. Outfielder Bobby Abreu became a quiet superstar. Later, free agent Jim Thome graced Philadelphia with his presence. Chase Utley soon followed, along with a first baseman making a lot of noise down in the minor leagues named Ryan Howard. And as any baseball fan knows, what has become of Philadelphia Phillies baseball in the last half of this decade has been nothing short of pure bliss for their fanbase. Right Harry?
In the last several years, my dad and I became even more fanatical about our team. Whenever it was on the phone or face-to-face, our conversations centered round the Phillies. He and I had always been extremely close. The Phillies made us even closer.
On November 4, 2009, my father passed away. Apart from the obvious shock, pain and heartache that surrounded me that day, what made it even worse was the fact that it was the same day as Game 6 of the World Series against the Yankees… a game (and Series) the Phillies would lose. I wrote an article for prosportsblogging.com detailing that day.
Once I was able to start focusing again on the things I loved to do, the idea of attending the Phillies Phantasy Camp went off like a light bulb. Why not? I had the time and resources now (I also finally met the age requirement. I would turn 35 during the camp in January 2011… same day as Carlos Ruiz… let’s add in “birthday present to myself” shall we?) I ran the thought by my wife. She didn’t even let me finish my sentence before she gave me a hundred emphatic “yeses”. Not only would this be a wonderful, exciting, and therapeutic experience for me, but it would be the ultimate tribute to my father: A man, no matter how tired he was after a long day at work, would rush home to have a catch with his son in the backyard before the sun went down and to talk about baseball. A man who used sports as a way to comfort ourselves after my mother passed away when I was 14. A man who made his only child his number one priority.
I called the very next morning. After a 20-minute phone conversation with the enrollment coordinator, I knew I made the right decision.
And I knew I had to document this entire process…