1/19/12 – Day Two of the 2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp
My father always preached to me that if you have consumed a decent amount of alcohol in a given night, in addition to drinking a lot of water, ALWAYS take two aspirin before your head hits the pillow to prevent any morning uneasiness. It never fails. Thus, my morning started out great… other than the fact it was 6:30 AM.
A good breakfast and incredible weather got the day off on the right foot. As I waited to board the bus, I ran out to the back of the hotel to catch the sun rising.
I exited the lobby and was greeted by this automobile. I was really hoping this was the “veteran bus”.
Even though it’s been a year since last Camp, the bus ride over to the Carpenter Complex was as familiar to me as the back of my hand. The veteran bus I rode on pulled in to the parking lot and I immediately got chills. The sun rising over Mike Schmidt Field every single morning, casting the most beautiful shadows over immaculate diamonds is a nothing short of miracle.
As we came off the bus, a sandwich board directed us to the other entrance to the clubhouse. We would not be experiencing the pomp and circumstance like the rookies, but that’s OK. This is THEIR moment.
As the rookies were listening to Scott Palmer’s emotional speech and the voice of Dan Baker reading off their names outside, I made my way to my locker and found my brand new uniform. I’m so happy this moment did not lose any of it’s luster. I still got goosebumps seeing that crisp and perfect jersey.
I had some time to take a breath and get ready to greet the rookies when they entered. I started hearing laughing and went to investigate. Ike Reese’s locker had already been targeted for some good old-fashioned hazing.
I was then instructed to take my place and welcome the rookies. The looks on their faces as we clapped and cheered for them… I know that very well. That gave me so much joy to be a part this special moment for them. Every single one of them looked like little kids. I’ll never forget entering that clubhouse for the first time. I hope they don’t either.
Ike Reese made his way in, filming the moment on his smartphone. I heard his howling laughter when he came to his locker.
In the middle of chatting with some familiar faces from last year, and talking with the new guys, I got myself suited up for our first Kangaroo Court session.
I made a point to get out to Bright House Field a little early to snap some photos, maybe even catch some current Phillies doing some morning workouts, just like last year. There were rumblings of a Vance Worley sighting, but no dice. No bother. The weather was absolutely stunning, so much warmer than last year. I just took it all in.
Kangaroo Court was ready. The judges’ garb was laid out. Let’s get blue!
Scott Palmer spoke first, laying out the day’s events, where to go, when to go, etc. A few words from the head photographer, ESF folks, and the crew chief for the umpires (complete with day’s first F-bomb)… then came the judges. Larry Andersen, John Kruk, and Ricky Bottalico took their spots on the bench, along with Mickey Morandini as the court-appointed defender. The F-bomb count immediately surpassed 100 within the first 10 minutes. That was fast.
The very first person called up was Dave Steel. I had met Dave the night before at dinner. His father, who I remembered from last year, had given his son the Camp as a gift, and they would both be on our team this go round. Dave, as I would come to find out throughout the entire week, is a renaissance man. Steely Dave had been charged in the case of “premature cupulation”. He apparently wore his cup from the hotel to the clubhouse, then later went looking for it, as he thought it was missing. This was definitely a sign of things to come with big Dave.
More laughs ensued as case upon case was heard, usually followed by Morandini’s catchphrase, “I got nothing”. Ike Reese would be the last victim of the day, charged with skipping Milt Thompson’s hitting clinic the day before.
We made our way back to the fields where we got our pictures taken with the Legends. Afterwards, I returned to the clubhouse to change in to the red batting practice jersey, as to separate the veterans from the rookies. After some group stretching, the rookies were summoned to their various stations for specific drills (hitting, outfield, infield, pitching, and base-running). Us veterans shagged flies, took grounders, and split up for a quick pick-up game to get us loose. This was much more relaxing than the constant rotating around the complex that the rookies were going through.
Standing out in the green of the outfield, taking in the warm Florida sun, hearing the sounds of fungo bats, just me and a fly ball… pure baseball heaven.
Before the morning session ended, there were rumblings coming from two different fields. On the Richie Ashburn, cheers were overheard as Ike Reese, taking batting practice from Ricky Bottalico, parked one over the rightfield fence. No offense to Ike, but he had a horrible-looking swing. But… he was a professional athlete. He’s a VERY strong man. If you are in shape the way Ike is, it doesn’t matter how bad you look at the plate, you are bound to get a hold of one and muscle it out of the park.
Here’s Ricky Bo giving Ike some post-AB tips.
Over on the Mike Schmidt field, an extra special Phillies guest was making the rounds. There he was… one of the greatest Phillies ever… Dick Allen.
Unfortunately, Allen had retired a year after I was born, so I never got to see him play. Oh, but I have read enough about him and heard plenty of stories from my father about his skills to know he was THE man. It was amazing to hear all the Campers saying how Allen was their favorite player when they were growing up. This was their Mike Schmidt.
Plus, how can anyone NOT love this?
After that, it was back to Bright House for lunch. Seriously, this is tough work.
Scott Palmer got on the microphone and announced the teams. It was finally time to get down to business. I knew three of my teammates would be returning, so I chose to once again, play for the Drillers, coached by Kevin Stocker and Mike Lieberthal. I had been contemplating a switch to a new team, just for the experience of having new Phillies Legends as my coaches, but I had such a blast with Stock and Lieby, and knowing the stellar guys that would be coming back, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
During the draft, Ike Reese was sitting next to me. He was chosen for the Sky Chiefs, coached by Greg Luzinski and Terry Harmon. Luckily, we would get to face them later in the Camp.
So it was off to Steve Carlton field to get ready for our first game against the Mud Hens. We were greeted by our player representative, Joe. He was the Drillers’ rep last year and I was so happy to have him back. This year, the Drillers added a General Manager to the mix. Folks who sign up as GM’s at Camp are given the opportunity to help draft players and be a part of the team-building experience. Our GM this year was a lovely man named Rick. As it turned out, his son Howie would also be playing with us. This now made two father-son combos that would be on the team. I was absolutely thrilled to be a part of this, to see the joy in each other’s faces… but at the same time, not surprisingly, I experienced moments of sadness.
This is what my dad and I should have been doing.
As to be expected, I started the game at catcher. Before the lunch break, I saw Lieby who said to me, “Sarge, you ready to catch?!” I had a feeling even before Camp started I would be tabbed to take the spot behind home plate. Even though that’s not my first, or even 7th choice, I was actually looking forward to it. To be completely honest, the only thing I don’t like about catching is all the damn gear! Other than that, it’s a pretty great position… well, there is the constant strain on your knees and legs, the foul balls off you various body parts, the everlasting pain on your catching hand… OK seriously, who in their right mind says, “I want to be a catcher”?
Our opening day starting pitcher was Steely Dave. He had really nice velocity and occasionally threw a fork or drop-arm. As the game went on, we found ourselves in a pitcher’s duel. That is until the 4th inning. We pulled ahead 2-1, and in the 5th, broke out the whoopin’ sticks. Five runs on eight hits. Our star of the game, John “The Mailman” Ashcom, delivered with a big single. The floodgates opened. Five consecutive singles. The Mud Hens retaliated with one run, but we returned the favor with one of our own, courtesy of Ashy’s double. Steely Dave ran in to some trouble and was relieved by veteran Driller, Dave Mongeluzi. Dave closed the game and we started out the Camp on a high note, winning 8-4 with 14 hits. Definitely a huge improvement over last year. All of a sudden, we had the Championship Game on our minds!
How did I do? Let’s just say, I had fun watching my team win. I caught four innings and patrolled rightfield at the end. I pulled out my best Carlos Ruiz impression by fielding a squibber in front of home plate, and throwing a perfect strike to first. I didn’t have the new hockey-style masks, but the traditional backwards batting helmet/mask combo, so I’m hoping my whipping-off of the mask looked pretty cool… I’m sure it’s didn’t, but I’d like to think so.
At the plate? It wouldn’t be one of my patented batting performances if I didn’t start out the Camp with two strike outs. The first looking, of course. The third was a “broken bat” grounder to second base. Later I started taking pictures of the bat, to which Stocker threw out one of his hundreds of little sarcastic comments, this one about my “massivly shattered bat”. Yes, it really was just a tiny crack, but I don’t care.
As if the day couldn’t have ended better, we followed the most amazing sunset all the way back to the hotel. Unlike last year, the warmer weather and clear skies created absolutely stunning scenes of natural beauty each day on our return trip. Every night looked like a painting filled with the most vibrant of reds and oranges. I wanted to take pictures on the bus, but this was the one time I just wanted to take it all in. I waited until I got back to the hotel to capture the last moments of the day.
The night ended with the Bull Session. All the Legends gathered, took questions from the audience, and told stories of their playing days. This is just another opportunity for some good-naturing ribbing on each other. Rick, our team’s GM, got up to ask a question, but before he could, made a nice gesture that would end up backfiring on him. He had procured himself a couple bottles of wine from the Phan wine and cheese tasting a couple hours before. Rick, who is a big lover of wine, had opened a bottle for us at dinner. He told Larry Andersen that he would like to give him some as he knew he loved wine. The problem was, there about a half a glass left. He brought up the red and an unopened bottle of white dessert wine. Well this just caused all sorts of “you got to be kidding me?!”-type of responses. Larry proceeded to down the remaining wine like the champ that he is.
Rick was sure to be called up tomorrow morning in Kangaroo Court.
There were many great quotes from the Legends, but my two favorite came from, not surprisingly, members of the ’93 Phillies. A Camper had asked Terry Harmon about playing in Connie Mack Stadium, as he was the only Phillie there to do so. John Kruk blurted out, “He played when the managers wore suits!” Classic.
The last came from Mickey Mornadini, who ended the session with a story about former Phillies pitching coach and Brooklyn Dodger, Johnny Podres. In 1993, Danny Jackson was pitching in Cincinnati. Jackson was giving up a lot of homeruns, and in turn, the stadium would set off fireworks. Needless to say, it was like the 4th of July. Podres walks out to talk to Jackson. When Danny asked Johnny, “What the hell are you doing here?”, Podres responded, “I’m just giving time for the fireworks guy to reload.”
And with that, we retired to the bar, yada yada yada, it was a helluva day.