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.
Mike Lieberthal… former Phillies All-Star catcher, fellow sushi fanatic, and more importantly, coach of my Phantasy Camp team for the past two years, has just been selected for the prestigious Phillies Wall of Fame. Lieby will be inducted in a ceremony before the Phillies game against the St. Louis Cardinals on August 10th. He will be the sixth Phantasy Camp Legend to adorn the Wall, in addition to Greg Luzinski, Bob Boone, Juan Samuel, Darren Daulton, and John Kruk. Congrats skip!
Tonight, the folks from ESF/Phillies Phantasy Camp are sponsoring a meet-up/”drown-your-sorrows-from-the-ever-maddening-2012-season” event at Alla Spina in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend, however, I am finally getting together with the New York City Chapter of Phantasy Camp next week as we watch the Phillies take on their longtime rivals, the Minnesota Twins.
Yes, that was sarcasm.
Have a wonderful time tonight everyone!
We are officially at the two-month mark. Luckily, the hustle and bustle of the upcoming holiday season will be a nice distraction from the excitement of my return trip to Clearwater in January. Some folks, however, have been lucky enough to finish off their fantasy camp experience already.
I am not a native to New York City, but for the last 10 years, I have been fortunate to call it home. My wife and I cannot imagine living anywhere else. Of course, this also means I’ve been living amongst the “enemy”. However, I have a much more zen approach to the Philadelphia/New York sports rivalry. It’s such an interesting aspect to my baseball fandom, that I’ve felt to document this relationship in another blog of mine.
In my perusing of off-season news from the local nines in the Bronx and Queens, I came across a series on yankees.com from MLB.com writer, Bryan Hoch. Bryan followed diehard Yankees fans down to Tampa for the first of two fantasy camps held by the club.
You can read his great daily recaps below… but I think my fellow Phillies fans would rather hear from this particular Bryan *points to self*
When one of the ESF employees welcomed me back to Phantasy Camp last night, I said to her, “I knew I was going to sign up again at last year’s orientation“.
This go round, I knew what to expect. Still, the excitement was not diminished. Unlike last year’s long, solitary train adventure to the Bank, I had the good fortune of getting a car ride down with another second and consecutive year Camper, Sam. Talk of expectations, rookie mistakes, and the game plan for ’12 filled the time as we made our way down the Jersey Turnpike.
Once again, it was a cold and wet night. But this time, the walk to front door was not as heart-pounding. I felt like a senior in high school, heading to class on that first day. I’ve done this before. No problem. Look at the newbies. They don’t know where to go. They’ll learn.
We took the elevator down to the media room. Deja vu all over again. This time, I recognized faces… the good folks from ESF, Campers from last year… lots of “welcome back!” and “hey, you cut your hair!” Yep, Joe Cool runnin’ school.
Sign in, table to table, dot the I’s, cross the T’s…
Now last year, rookies received those great duffle bags with our number on the side. For us second year Campers, we got a nice cold-weather pullover, again with our number on the sleeve. However, my new garment had my old #31. Of course, I had to be a pain and get a new number for this year. Yep, my luggage tags would have to changed (I’ll buy you a beer at a game at the Stadium pal. Sorry about that.)
After we look over some more paperwork and grab some sandwiches and cookies… and more cookies… ok, one more… we get our guided walk towards the clubhouse. Past the umpire lockers, past the Phantic storage, batting tunnels, retired jerseys, photos of recent Phillies triumphs…
…and one Bart Simpson-esque temptation before we enter the clubhouse.
The sight of that clubhouse still gives me chills. Yes, the lockers are emptied out until next Spring, but still, what a moment. Lots of champagne and Bud Light had been sprayed in this room.
Ah, but right before we crossed over, we were met with a sight that made us all shudder. It was like seeing the ship’s log of the Titanic on April 13, 1912. “Clear lanes, smooth sailing”.
Yes, the lineup card for Game 5 of this last season’s NLDS was still up.
Let’s move on.
There was no need for a uniform sizing this time, so we got to spend a little more time taking photos of the lockers. We gazed at the prominently displayed Phantasy Camp awards given out every year as well. You heard it here first: Sam Daley will be the 2012 Batting Champion. I will win the Mario Mendoza Award.
It was very nice of the Phillies to bring in the industrial-sized cap-shaping machine to fit my noggin. At this point, I will also restrain myself from making any Placido Polanco jokes.
Like last year, Scott Palmer was there to greet the Campers. This time, he had two friends with him: Larry Andersen and Gary Matthews. So, I did what had to be done.
Sarge and Sarge.
About half the time we were in the clubhouse, I found myself turning around at the sound of “Hey Sarge!”, over and over. Joe Cool ain’t that cool.
All things must come to an end, so we slowwwly made our way back to the exit. But before we left the clubhouse, I did get to snap a photo of the team mailbox. I made a mention of it last year, but never took a picture of it.
I won’t tell you what I saw, but I will say, “Chooch… I would have never guessed that about you.”
I ran into some more returning Campers as we made our way back. And then it really hit me. Yes, I am going back for the once-in-a-lifetime experience for any die-hard baseball and Phillies fan, but more so this time, I’m looking really forward to the camaraderie. I think this is what truly brings people back, year after year. And that’s what makes this Camp so incredibly special.
The countdown is officially on!
(ooh, one more cookie)
I was only ever on a Major League Baseball field once in my life. Standing on the concrete field they called “turf” at Veterans Stadium for photo day in 1989 was one thing. This was completely different. Just like every other moment I’ve had during this Phantasy Camp experience, you could not get that goofy grin of mine off my face during this reunion. The grass was perfect, the dirt was clean, the Fall-like weather was awakening, and Dan Baker’s voice boomed down from the heavens. This was a religious baseball experience.
On that photo day in 1989, my dad was by my side. Without a doubt, he was with me again on a Major League field.
And he would have the same goofy grin.
Getting changed in the…
That’s why there weren’t any urinals.
“Yes, I promise not to break from the group and run around the field… OK, I can’t really promise that.”
Hey there Scott.
My number was retired across from the visiting team’s clubhouse. They think of everything.
“Calcified Clay? Check. Phillie Phanatic ‘Lady Gaga egg’? Check.”
I immediately recognized this from Opening Day…
Really Bryan? Control yourself.
“Bryan Sargent just ousted Placido Polanco as mayor of third base.”
The Marlins are underwhelmed.
“I welcome you to Citizens Bank Park.”
The 2011 Phillies Phantasy Camp reunion will finally be happening tomorrow before the 7:35 game against the Florida Marlins. Ms. Irene wreaked havoc a couple weeks ago, rescheduling not only this reunion, but my “VIP Batting Practice Day”, which is still to be determined.
With the incredible run this year’s team has been on lately (and really, this entire season), I started thinking the hurricane’s disruption would be a blessing in disguise. As the days went by, the chance of now seeing the Phillies clinch their 5th National League East Championship in a row was a strong possibility. But no, the Houston A(AA)stros have unexpected taken two straight from the Fightins, thus eliminating the opportunity to see our boys celebrate on the field.
So, if you find yourself going to Citizens Bank Park tomorrow night, come early and take a gander at us Phantasy Campers as we are introduced on to the field before the start of the game (roughly 7 PM). If anyone cares, you will find me lined up along the first base line. Please keep your D batteries at home.
As usual, a full recap with pictures will follow.
The other day I received an email from ESF to push the upcoming 2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp. No need to try and sell it to me!
I did find something interesting about this email however…
Yes. That would be the one and only Gary Matthews on that list. Sarge was not apart of last year’s Legends group.
I believe he and I will need to have a frank discussion about nickname copyrights next year…
For the past several months, I have run today’s scheduled activities in my head every single day.
My early morning departure from Penn Station. My cab ride to Citizens Bank Park. Walking through the clubhouse to prepare for morning batting practice. Making that emotional first step on to the diamond. Most likely embarrassing myself in the batting cage. Wandering around the field, occasionally shagging a fly ball or dodging a line drive because of my lack of attention. Returning to the clubhouse. Lunch. Tour of Citizens Bank Park. Watching batting practice of the real players. Looking like a fool with all my cameras. Seeing all my fellow Campers. Getting ready to be introduced on to the field before the game. My friends and family in attendance…
Hurricane Irene has promptly disrupted all weekend plans for 20% of the U.S. population. This includes me.
No batting practice. No on-field introduction. No reunion. No game.
Come on Irene!
My selfish, inner 12-year old got over it. This is a serious storm. Millions of people will be severely effected by the weather. My little day in the sun is meaningless.
My batting practice will be rescheduled. The reunion/on-field introductions have been moved to September 15th. It’s a small price to pay for being safe.
Until then, I’ll keep playing the day in my head as I hunker down this weekend with my wife. I’ll always have this tide me over…
Best to all…
They finally arrived.
I feel like Ryan Howard every time the Phillies play in St. Louis. I had a lot of requests for these tickets to the Phantasy Camp reunion on August 27th. It’s going to be an incredible night!
I know all 45,000+ in attendance will be there just to see us Campers, but just in case you need a second reason…
Here’s the link to enter your name to win this very cool promotion.