1/20/11 – Day Two of Phillies Phantasy Camp – morning

What kind of person would maliciously set my alarm for 5:15 AM? Oh the evil that resides in the heart of men…

No, I thought it would be prudent to wake up before sunrise and join some of my fellow campers for an organized early stretch in the hotel. Rookie mistake.

Right before I left for Florida, I felt that I was fighting off the early stages of a cold, or something along those lines. Last time I checked, five hours of sleep after being up for close to 20, flying for three hours, and partaking in some late afternoon-into-night imbibing is not quite the best way to stave off a little bout of illness. The stretching was very helpful, I admit. It also helped that we were situated right next to the breakfast buffet line. Nothing says “motivation” like the smell of cooked sausage. Larry Andersen joined in on the stretch and provided much needed color commentary. I felt better… as better as I could get. Pounding headache and froggy throat aside, I hit up the buffet line and took a seat in the ballroom where we had our Rookie Meeting the night before. On the tables were “Phantasy Update” newsletters. Very similar to what you would see on a cruise, it gave the highlights from yesterday’s events as well as the schedule for that day, the weather forecast, and any other pertinent information.  I was in such a haze, I couldn’t remember if I had even spoken to anybody. I apologize to anyone right now if I forgot our early morning conversation. I finished up and still had 45 minutes to kill before the first bus left for the Carpenter Complex at 7:30. Guess who was going to be setting his alarm MUCH later tomorrow?

I exited the hotel in to glorious early morning weather. It was still quite cool out, but the sun told me it was going to be a perfect day for baseball. I loaded my company-issued Phantasy Camp gym bag in to the belly of the bus, made my way inside, and plopped down in a window seat. To get us in the mood as we made the 20 minute-or-so ride to the complex, the 2010 video yearbook of the Phillies, “Great Expectations” was playing on the hanging TV screens. The video started with some highlights from the year, then proceeded to show them arriving and working out for Spring Training… right where we were going, and where we would be spending the next four days at. I have never come down to Florida to see Spring Training games (another excursion my dad and I never got to do).  This was all going to be very new to me. I was definitely that kid going to Disneyworld for the very first time.

We pulled up into the narrow parking lot, flanked by two of the most beautiful, pristine ball fields I think I have ever seen, except in a Major League park of course. There are not too many things more beautiful in this world than an untouched, perfectly manicured baseball field with the early morning sun shining on it like a warm, glowing spotlight.

The rookies congregated in front of the main entrance to the clubhouse, situated between Ashburn and Carlton Fields. In addition to Bright House Field, the main stage for Phillies Spring Training games as well as home to the Clearwater Threshers, there are four smaller fields in the complex, all named after Phillies Hall of Famers: Mike Schmidt, Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, and Richie Ashburn. There is also a field outside of the complex, named after the Yankee great Joe DiMaggio, which it also utilized by the Phillies. As we waited to be let inside, over the loudspeaker came the familiar voice of Dan Baker, the long time public address announcer for the Phillies and Eagles. He read off the uniform number and name of every camper in attendance. As he continued, Scott Palmer emerged and spoke over Baker’s announcements. I wanted him to stop so that I could hear my name! Scott, I love ya, but quit yapping for two minutes! But, as soon as he broke in to his speech, the undertone of Baker’s lineup really set up the moment so beautifully. Palmer’s voice dropped a few steps and he gave us a very brief, but emotional speech that emphasized this common dream we have an are about to live out and how special this moment will be… one that many people will never get to experience. He ended it with a simple, “welcome”.

As we funneled in to the clubhouse, Dan Baker’s lineup announcement was still echoing through the complex. Just like me leaving the airport to the Verve’s “Lucky Man”, this made me feel like I was in a movie. Dan Baker was the voice of God calling us all in to heaven.

Baker’s voice was quickly drowned out by the sound of cheering and clapping. Veterans, clubhouse personnel, Camp representatives, etc. were all there to enthusiastically greet us and direct us to our locker. Photographers and videographers were capturing every step as we looked in at amazement. As it was alphabetical, my locker was situated near the last row. On my way there I would look down the other rows and see everyone else’s reaction to their beautiful new uniforms. It was a sight to behold.

I finally arrived at my row. It was a tight fit. Most everyone had found their locker and were already taking pictures and marveling at their surroundings. I really wanted to savor the moment and take my time. With the amount of people I had to maneuver through, this wouldn’t be a problem. I finally arrived. There it was, on the left-hand side. The whitest, crispest, most stunning uniform I have ever seen. Sargent. 31. I have never seen the color red so solid and pure in my life. It was like the Phillies organization had used the most exotic and expensive dyes in the world just for my name and number. Also hanging in the locker was a pair of red pinstripe pants and belt, a personalized red batting practice jersey (our “away” top), a short-sleeved Phillies red t-shirt and a long-sleeve mock turtleneck with the Phillies logo on front of the neck. In the back of the locker was a “laundry loop”. That was to be used for all items that weren’t part of the main uniform. The clubhouse guys came around to show us how to use it and attach our clothing items on them. It was way too early for us to deal with such complicated technol
ogy like elastic bands and plastic clips.  Much like the room full of monkeys on typewriters, we eventually figured out “The Loop”.

After I squeezed myself into my uniform, dotted my “I’s” and crossed my “T’s”, I took a quick tour of the clubhouse to get my surroundings… the bathroom, the shower, the trainer’s room (see you guys soon!), and the huge snack/break room with a couple large TV’s, beverage dispensers for water and two kinds of Powerade, and buckets upon buckets of David sunflower seeds and Double Bubble gum. Before I headed out, I stopped to have a formal photograph taken of me in my poor excuse of a batting stance.

I exited the clubhouse and made my way to Bright House Field where we would have the first of our daily morning player briefings and Kangaroo Court sessions. At this point, I left my camera behind in the locker as I was not sure how easy it would be to tote it around from field to field, so unfortunately, the amount of photographs taken this day were low in number.

We all congregated under a large tent set up next to Frenchy’s Tiki Pavilion in right field. Scott Palmer ran through what to expect for the rest of the day and night, and some other basic information. Before he introduced Larry Andersen, John Kruk, and Mitch Williams, the Kangaroo Court judges, he warned us campers, as well as the folks who were there as part of the Phan and General Manager packages, that every morning, these sessions would be very blue. So blue in fact, they did not allow any audio or visual recording. The sign outside of the tent drove it home…

Andersen, Kruk, and Williams entered donning black robes and British-style judicial wigs. Mickey Morandini acted as the public defender for each camper brought before the court. Mickey looked very official in his uniform and clip-on tie. Very classy. I won’t get in to specifics because this blog would be even more excruciatingly long. To sum it up; there was plenty of laughin’, cussin’, roastin’, dippin’, and a health serving of general depravity.  I wouldn’t have expected anything less from this crew.

Now it was off to have our picture taken with all of the Legends. Since it went alphabetically, I had plenty of time on my hands. Until then, a couple player representatives held another organized stretching session and throw-around in the outfield of Schmidt Field.  It was just like you see in clips of Spring Training… just a lot of strolling, stretching, chatting, and goofing around. Where do I sign up for this job?

Finally my turn came to sit with all the ex-Phillies and have our photograph taken.  As I approached, several of the players, almost in unison, yelled out, “Inky!” I knew immediately what they were talking about. For those not familiar with the ’93 Phillies, former Texas Ranger Pete Incaviglia was brought to the team that season for his power at the plate. Like the vast majority of that team, he rocked a mullet/long hair and constant facial scruff.

No facial hair in this one, but it would eventually come…

My appearance had immediately struck a chord with the players and reminded them of their former teammate. Once that name was thrown out, the rest of them laughed. I knew I was going to be in trouble for the rest of the Camp. I noticed Jim Eisenreich was standing right behind the empty space that would be my spot on the bench. Jim looked at me and said, “Hey! It’s me, Jim Eisenbise!”

——————–

Finally, it was time to start actually playing some baseball. I almost forgot that’s what I was there for. To evaluate the rookies, the Camp held four 15-minute drill workouts. Based on these, the Legends and GM’s would make their selections at the lunchtime draft for their respective teams. The first workout for me was for infield. I reported back to Schmidt Field and met with Mickey Morandini and Terry Harmon on the pitchers mound. Mickey caught sight of me, smiled, and said, “Hey there Inky!” Oh man…

Memories of my childhood came flooding back. Just like in Little League, we formed two lines at second base and shortstop. Mickey would hit the shortstop a grounder, throw to second and complete the double play at first, then switch. I was very pleased with myself for consistently making the clean pickup and throw on both ends. I heard the reassuring words of Harmon and thought my plan of playing the outfield would immediately be in jeopardy. But it didn’t matter. It just felt fantastic being out there in the sun, throwing the ball around and hearing the snap of leather.

The next workout revolved around pitching. We reported to the pitching mounds located between Roberts and Schmidt Fields. This should be interesting. I pitched one inning in my life in Little League: two strikeouts and a triple. I made my way up and my goal was jus not make a fool of myself, i.e. no bouncing to the catcher or throwing to the catcher NEXT to mine. The first handful were over the plate, which, in my mind, was a complete success. Can I go now? No? Damn. The more I threw, the more they started straying outside the strike zone. My catcher stopped me before it got worse and someone would eventually get hurt.

As I was waiting to move on to the next workout, we noticed a commotion in the outfield of Schmidt Field. Some poor camper had gone to catch a fly ball and tore his Achilles tendon. A cart had to be brought out. He eventually had to leave Camp and return home. We all felt a pit in our stomach for the guy. He just got there, just like the rest of us. Now he couldn’t even stay and just hang out. I think we all had this underlying fear that could easily happen to any of us. Maybe I will reconsider those early morning stretches.

Now on to my biggest weakness: hitting. We went inside to the batting tunnels, which held four separate netted hitting areas. In three of them, Legends and player reps were switching up and throwing batting practice. Ex-Phillie and hitting coach Milt Thompson was holding a quick evaluation in the fourth cage. If I had any notion that I possessed somewhat of a decent swing, it would have been quickly brought down to Earth in these five minutes. Luckily I don’t, so why get embarrassed? I tried to utilize some pointers he gave out to fellow campers before me. I took a few swings and stopped me. Like everyone else, his mantra was to get us to make our swing rhythmic to the beat of our heart. If that’s the case, then my swing must look like I’m suffering a massive arrhythmia. He asked me to step back and took a swing, demonstrating his method. Now, there’s Joe Schmoe who gets around on a pitch, hits it square on the barrel, and makes that beautiful sound of wood cracking and launching a baseball. They actually may even look pretty decent doing it. Then, there is a Major Leaguer swinging and hitting a baseball.  Night and day. Not even close. Milt Thompson is not a big guy at all. In that split second, he was Superman. I felt like I should have apologized to him for wasting his time and offered to buy him a beer later. Wow. I took a few cuts off of a player rep throwing BP, then moved on to the next and last station.

This was the one I was looking forward to. Back to Schmidt field for the outfield workout with Jim Eisenreich and Von Hayes. We stood at the warning track in centerfield and Eisey would hit one to us. Nothing more than that. The first one he hits to me was an in-betweener, so I let it bounce… past me and to the wall. Beautiful. I’m going back to the infield. I liked my results much better there, thank you very much.

Lunchtime.

Fantastic, I can’t mess that one up.

2 Comments

Sarge not only are you a good team-mate and a devoted son,
but you are an excellent writer as well! Thanks for sharing your insight of the past week. Keep in touch!

Joe, it was an absolute pleasure meeting and playing baseball with you and your whole crew. It was a blast. Thanks so much!

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