Phantasy Camp Reunion and Batting Practice
I have to say, the one consistent issue I have with this Phantasy Camp experience is how early I have to get up. OK, so I don’t have to stay up every night to try and close the bar down with Larry Andersen. Sue me.
This time, it was 5 AM… and being as excited as I was, I awoke even earlier. Of course, I had a legitimate excuse this time as I had to drive from Manhattan to Citizens Bank Park to make the 9:30 call time.
Me being me, I got to the ballpark way too early. Might as well stretch it out in the parking lot with all the CBP employees looking at me as they roll in.
This was staring to feel like old hat. Meet at the ballpark office entrance, go down to Phillies media room, change in the women’s locker room, blah blah blah. Just another Saturday morning. It was wonderful seeing all the familiar faces from ESF. Before we started to get the rundown for our day, I was stealthily attacked from behind with a bear hug from my team rep for the last two years, Joe. If I had a bat in my hand, my instincts would have kicked in, but the way I swing the lumber, I would have missed. Joe is one of the aspects of Camp that truly make it special. A highly intelligent baseball instructor, a BP-throwing machine, and just one helluva human being.
After we said our “hello’s”, “how have you been’s”, and most importantly, had our bagels and coffee, we got the rundown for the day. We would split in to three groups: one in the batting tunnels, one out shagging flies and the other hitting on the field. Just to torture me, my group would bat last.
After many times passing by the indoor batting practice tunnels, it was great to finally get in to them and feel that wonderful “real turf” from the last days of old Veterans Stadium. I could just smell the “boo’s”… and booze. See what I did there? *groan*
We casually took turns, shaking the rust off. In addition to being grouped with my buddy Sam, I also had my Drillers teammate Paul, and two of Phantasy Camp’s biggest celebrities, the only female player for the last two years, Martha Eyerly, and “The Happiest Man on Earth”, Craig Gerhart. Craig was still flashing his classic Sears Roebuck glove from his childhood and could not have been more thrilled to be taking part in this day. What a shock.
We spent a good hour in the tunnel and really felt like I was making decent contact. Fingers crossed that I could translate that to the next round.
Before we actually were ushered out, I did go and grab a sneak peak of the Phillies dugout. The last time I had a reaction to seeing the sight of a baseball field was my very first game at the Vet when I was six years old. Thirty years later, it was no different.
One of my favorite scenes in “The Natural” is when Robert Redford walks down the tunnel towards the dugout to meet Pop for the first time. The only sounds you hear are the cracking bats and faint conversations echoing through the completely empty ballpark. This was exactly the same. I decided to not completely ruin it for myself when I take the field, so I scurried back to my group.
Finally, it was our turn.
I got myself settled and watched the child-like reactions of my fellow Campers. I took a breath and walked out toward rightfield. And that’s when I started laughing… laughing at the absurdity of me wearing a Phillies uniform, standing in the outfield of Citizens Bank Park, and laughing out of pure, unadulterated joy. I thought I felt like a little kid down in Clearwater. That wasn’t even close. I thought I was going to run around and jump while uncontrollably shouting. The best part… so did everyone else. I took my time walking the entire outfield, from the warning track down to the lip of the infield. I have no idea how long I was out there. It felt like an eternity, but it also felt like a couple minutes. It was pure baseball heaven.
Sam nailed it on the head when he said THIS makes the entire Camp. Standing on the field of our baseball idols. I stood in centerfield and imagined Shane Victorino in late October of 2008. Chills.
We were called in for our turn in the cage. This would be the cherry, the whip cream, the immediate guilt, and upset stomach. We cycled in and out. Everyone got three turns to stand at home plate, look out on to the field, and instantly remember why WE don’t play professional baseball. Unfortunately, I left more of my better swings in the tunnel. The overhang in the cage cruelly told me every time my ball would be heading out as a pop fly. I did get the barrel on a handful of pitches, all to the left side… line drives and hard hit grounders to third and shortstop. I even had a beautiful line-hugger that went just over the bag, into foul territory. I imagined a diving third basemen diving just out of the reach of my “scorching” liner, and the left fielder scurrying over to try and figure the carom off the fence. Of course, I also imagined ANY Major Leaguer shuffling over and catching it… as it would have really happened.
My last bit of humility came in the last round when I felt I got a pretty good hold of one, square on the barrel. It felt perfect as it “soared” out from the cage. I stared and watched in excitement as it pitifully landed in shallow left field. I think I caught a smirk from my BP pitcher. Give a man a break!
And that was that. Off to the showers. My closest experience to being a big leaguer was over.
Damn, it was worth it.
Lunch consisted of hot dogs with all the fixings and cheese steaks wit’… white cheese? To be honest, I do prefer good old American cheese, so the absence of the standard Whiz was totally fine. We ate in a blocked-off area of the media room with a TV playing highlights of the 1980 World Series, marveling at the players’ lack-of-size. They aren’t athletes, they’re ball players.
Next we got a guided tour of the ballpark, the same one that thousands of people go on during the year. This was my first time so it was definitely a very interesting look at the inner-workings of the Cit. Of course, I just played on the field, so you’ll have to excuse me if I trail off while looking at the visiting executives private box.
We then got our own private viewing of the REAL guys taking batting practice. We sat on the third base side right next to visiting dugout. This is where we would come out later for our on-field introductions. The pitchers were in the cage first. Once again, proof was given why they were Major Leaguers and were not. Kyle Kendrick, Cole Hamels, Vance Worley, and Cliff Lee were mashing taters like no one’s business. Worley and Kendrick were sending a few pretty close to Harry The K’s. Amazing.
OOOH, now everyone is stretching! Work those quads.
We had to get back to the locker room before the big guns got in the cage, but before we left, the bullpen of the Washington Nationals made their way past us and towards the outfield. At the back of the pack was their closer, Tyler Clippard. I don’t like to talk disparagingly about others, but there is a reason closers are stereotyped. He was, as the kids like to say, a “hot mess”. Muttering to himself, walking awkwardly, staring off in to space… but, what can I say, the guy has a good chance of being in the World Series this year, unlike my club. So I’ll just shut up now.
From this point on, it was just like last year’s reunion. But also like last year’s Camp, it was a pleasure to see all the rookies now attending their first reunion… their wide eyes, the frantic cellphone calls to all their friends and family so will be able to see them and catch them on the jumbotron… fantastic. I started hearing shouts of “Hey Sarge” and quickly turned around. No, they were calling the other Sarge, Gary Matthews, who was making his way to the booth. Him and I really need to discuss this shared nickname arrangement. Bob Boone, Dickie Noles, and Scott Palmer made an appearance and chatted with us Campers. The next hour was spent catching up with all teammates and other acquaintances from Camp. It was such a honor to have people approach me and tell me how much they loved the blog and my photos. It makes me so happy when people take the time to sift through all the internet noise and spend some time on this little site. It definitely makes it worth all the effort.
Because last year’s reunion was rescheduled due to hurricane Irene, the on-field intros seemed a bit rushed. It made sense as this is a big undertaking and I’m sure many concessions had to be made. This year was a totally different story. This seemed much more organized. As we waited in the underbelly of CBP next to the Nationals’ clubhouse, piles of calcified clay, endless kegs of beer, and the Phanatic’s two quad bikes, Larry Andersen came by and said hello to everyone. I’m pretty sure he wore the same exact shirt last time too… and down at Camp. I’m now curious about LA’s wardrobe closet.
The light rain that fell during the player’s BP had left and gave us a beautiful, clear night so everyone could see our beautiful faces. As the cameraman made his way down the rows, the Phantatic followed suit, hamming it up with Campers. There were more people in the stands, the weather was much better, and a lot more Campers were in attendance. The smiles seemed broader, the eyes wider, and the laughs heartier.
It was the perfect ending to an even more perfect day.
*On a side note, if anyone happened to record the pre-game/game from that night, please let me know. I was told by family that I was spotted!*
To see all my pictures from that day, please view my Flickr collection. Thanks to Sam Daley for the video and shots of me batting.