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1/22/12 – Day Five of the 2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

For the second year in a row, I woke up with a bit of sadness knowing I would have to leave Camp by day’s end. But I had to keep telling myself that this was going to be the perfect way to end the trip… hanging out at Bright House Field all day, soaking up the warm January sun in Florida, taking the field and playing against ex-Phillies player… this would be one helluva birthday.

All packed up and ready to go, I made my way down for an early breakfast. As per the Camp schedule, the four teams that ended in the top of the standings had to take the first bus to the Carpenter Complex.  This not only meant I would get to see the Complex one more time in all it’s early morning glory, but our team would be facing a Legends team at full strength.

These guys have to play 10 teams, at three innings a piece. That’s 30 innings of baseball. Sure, they aren’t really breaking a sweat against us Campers, but still, that’s a lot of baseball. And by the time 2-3:00 rolls around, you can see it. Some just don’t play at all due to past injuries, some leave a little early, some take themselves out midway through the day.  The Drillers were scheduled to play fourth, so the Legends should be nice and loose by the time we got on the field.

I decided to forgo the normal t-shirt that I wore underneath my jersey everyday, and sport this little number (from Philavania.com) that I got for Christmas, courtesy of my best friends. This was definitely getting laughs around the locker room.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

A few last minute pictures and several “well, if I don’t see you later, it was great meeting/seeing you again” moments.

On my way over to Bright House Field, I walked with my teammate Paul Kirsch and Scott Eyre. Scott was telling us how much fun he had and how happy he was when ESF asked him back. He brought his young son once again, and they both had a blast.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Instead of walking up to the left field pavilion like we did every morning, we were allowed to enter the park through the batting tunnels, underneath the stands, and onto leftfield. As we reached the entrance to the tunnels, we came across two large ice storage bins. Scott stopped us and told us of a story about a time when he came down to Clearwater for a couple rehab games in August when he was with the Phillies. The weather was brutal; easily near 100 degrees with an equal amount of humidity. He was done for the day and couldn’t take it any more. He opened the door to the ice container, and proceeded to put his entire body inside. The fans on the stairway above were howling with laughter.

It’s stories like that that make me wish Scott was a Phillie lifer, and not a journeyman who only spent two years with the club. His myth would be legendary. Either way, his kindness and energy are exactly what the Camp strives for, so it doesn’t matter how long he was with the Phils. He’s perfect.

Past the batting tunnels and under the stands we went.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Scott Eyre

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

There is definitely a joke in this last picture somewhere.

I let Paul and Scott continue on to the field so I could take in this little moment of solitude. It was like something out of a movie or beer commercial. I’ve seen similar images a million times, but to experience this person… it’s baseball heaven.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I let myself have a little two-second fantasy, pretending I was some rookie getting called up for my first game in the show, entering the park for early-morning batting practice…

*cue dramatic music*

That was nice.

The entrance let me out in the foul territory next to leftfield.

Again, I’m all by myself. I hear faint voices coming from the infield and the occasional echoing crack of a bat.

People love to fall asleep to CD’s filled with gentle nature sounds like rain or waterfalls. I would have this on repeat all night.

Just beautiful.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I leisurely made my way to the dugout area to relax, chat, and take in the early games.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mike Lieberthal

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ricky Jordan and John Kruk

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Jim Eisenreich

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mickey Morandini

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - John Kruk

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ricky Bottalico

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Milt Thompson

This day is extra special because Campers will bring their families in to the park, hang out on the field and dugout, and get autographs and pictures taken with all the ex-Phillies players.  It’s the last, fun-filled hurrah before we all fade in to that baseball sunset.

And once again, I am reminded of the power of baseball and family… the Cutler men sitting together in the stands, taking in the scenery.  The dugout filled with Norman Rockwellian moments…  my teammate Ed and his son, Greg, side by side.  Sam showing his boy the benefits of being a left-hander, the Mongeluzis in a sweet embrace…

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

There was nothing I wanted more at that moment than to have my dad there with me to enjoy this day.

———

The third game was coming to an end, so it was time for us to get ourselves ready. Larry Andersen joined in for some catch with some of my teammates.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Larry Andersen

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ricky Bottalico, Greg Luzinski, and Larry Andersen

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Larry Andersen

We would be batting first, so let’s go to the big board for the introductions by longtime Phillies P.A. announcer, Dan Baker!

Well, they got my new number correct, but they still used my old #31 in addition to last year’s photo. I’m surprised the board didn’t break with my face being up there for so long. And even though Stack was not there in attendance, his picture was not shown. And where was Steely Dave, our MVP?! I wonder if the person running the video board was that same guy I saw doing tequila shots the night before at the hotel bar?

At least the lineup card would be fine. Wait a minute, is my name spelled wrong?  *sigh*

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

We would be facing Ricky Bottalico today. Oh boy.

Of all the Legends at Camp, he definitely comes to the filed with the intention of winning. He gives us a REAL Major League Baseball experience. We take our first at-bats and Ricky Bo is throwing gas.

And just like that, we take our positions in the field. Before I go any further, let me explain the rules to these games:

-       Games are three innings.

-       Legends are only allowed to score two runs maximum in a given inning, no matter how many outs there are.

-       Campers can field their entire team at once. That means multiple outfielders.

-       If, by the last inning, a Camper has not batted, the inning continues until everyone has had a chance, no matter how many outs there are.

Howie and I agree to split the catching duties. He said he’ll take the first and I’ll come in for the second inning. I told him that I’ll also be catching the third since we WILL be holding the Legends going in to the bottom of the third. He smiles and gives me a “hell yeah!”

John Ashcom takes the mound and I run out to my normal softball position, right-centerfield. I have another little moment, taking in my incredible surroundings. I’m playing on Bright House Field!  This is not getting old. At all.

First up is The Krukker. And like he somehow knew I was wearing a t-shirt bearing his image, he sends a fly ball directly at me. Putout.  I’ve never been so nervous setting up to catch a ball. I did NOT want to drop this one.

Ash made it a 1-2-3 inning as he got Jim Eisenreich and Mickey Mornadini to ground out to Dave Mongeluzi at first base for two consecutive, unassisted outs. Dave looked like Keith Hernandez, complete with impeccable trimmed facial hair, smoothly fielding both shots by the ex-Phillies.

We were unable to knock in a run in the top of the second, however, the highlight was easily Howie’s at-bat. Rick had asked me to document his son’s time at the plate, and he did not disappoint. He ripped a shot down the first base line for a triple. My camera caught ever step of the way. After Howie got a congratulatory high five from Tommy Greene, he tossed the ball in to the dugout for prosperity. What a thrill for the Cutlers.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mickey Morandini and Dave Hollins

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Tommy Greene

It was my turn to don the catcher’s gear. Now it felt like a dream. There I am, situated next to former Phillies, catching pitches thrown to them as they try and defeat my team. Seriously, where am I?! The last time I was in this situation, I was in my backyard about 25 years ago with a few friends from grade school. The Phillies were there… in spirit.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - John Kruk

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Just like the first, we get out of the inning leaving the Legends scoreless. My overly optimistic prediction had come true. I would be catching the third inning. The Legends were against the ropes!

Fellow New Yorker, Dave Horowitz, starts off the inning with a single. Everybody hits woo hoo! He quickly breaks Camp rules and swipes second. Our excitement is overflowing. The Legends let it go and leave him be on second. Eventually my spot in the lineup comes up.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Ricky Bo ‘s pitches come in fast, but nice and straight. I work two balls, but hell if I’m going to walk in this game. I start thinking of the advice imparted to me before I went up to bat. David Mongeluzi, Dave’s son, had once again approached me to help me with my swing. This time, he told me to position myself towards the back of the plate. I told him it probably isn’t going to matter.

I was right. I could have been sitting back 70 feet 6 inches and I still would have been late on these pitches. Whiff. Thanks for the advice David, but I have no chance against 80+ MPH pitches. Like I always love to say, you can’t polish a turd.

That’s OK, I was looking more towards the bottom of the third. Could the Drillers join a very elite group of teams to finish the Legends game in a tie?

Ricky Bo leads off the inning and, like every one of his at-bats, he wants to crush the ball. He rips a single, and, not to be outdone, promptly steals second base. Tit for tat. I can respect that.

Legend after Legend comes to the plate. Eventually Ricky Bo makes it to third, but does not score. Dave Horowitz fielded a ground ball at third, looked Ricky back and threw to first. Ricky did not budge.

The inning reaches its dramatic apex. Bases are loaded. One out. Mickey Morandini at the dish. A single or sacrifice fly will end this game. We needed a double play, or at least a strike out. Since that would be a sure-fire impossibility, we would have to depend on our gloves to end the game. Mickey works the count, then hits a grounder to Steely Dave who is now playing first. I immediately take my position at home. He throws a strike to me. One out.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mickey Morandini

Now I had to make another very tough throw down the line, back to Steely Dave to complete the 3-2-3 double play. Unlike my play from the first game, this throw went off target. I saw it go wide, but he stretched out with all his might. The ball hit his glove, but it tipped out. He quickly gathered it up and tagged the base just before Mickey’s foot hit the bag. Two outs. Game over.

We did it. Not only did we tie the Legends, but we held them to no runs. We gathered around each other in the infield and celebrated like we just won the World Series.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

We came back to the dugout. Mike Lieberthal, Kevin Stocker, and our player rep Joe were beaming, giving us high fives, telling us what a great job we all did. It was a truly special moment.

In all my years of playing sports, this was easily the greatest couple days of my baseball “career”.  And to think my defense would come in to the play to end the game… my dad would have been so proud.

———-

Now it was time to relax in the dugout and have fun.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I stayed to watch the next game in which Sam was playing and take some more pictures.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Bob Boone

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Afterwards I headed to lunch with Dave Horowitz, then back to the clubhouse to get myself cleaned up. I would have plenty of time before the first shuttle to the airport, so I returned to the stands to watch more of the games.

I came across rookie Camper Ron DiBiase. Ron’s brother-in-law had attended Phantasy Camp in the past, so he had an idea what to expect. However, he did stumble upon my blog earlier in the year. We struck up an ongoing conversation on email. This fellow drummer had also recently lost his father and was having very similar feelings about Camp. We bonded about our losses, but also reveled in the excitement of the upcoming Camp. His entire family joined him for the award banquet and the Legends game. I have a feeling I looked like Ron last year. Every day I saw him, he had the widest of smiles and a look of complete awe.  He just could not believe what was gong on around him. I spoke to him after lunch and he could not stop talking about how much fun he had. I’m also considering hiring Ron as my P.R. man, as he had no problem telling anyone in earshot about my blog. I think he knows the details better than I do!

I turned my attention back to the games.

I happened to catch the previous night’s Maje McDonnell Award winner, Craig Gerhart take his at-bat. I was really looking forward to this moment. The award Craig won was for “the player who has the personality, plus is a class both on and off the field”. If Ron was the epitome of a happy Phantasy Camper, Craig probably should have been tested for an illegal amount of performance-enhancing giddiness.  His daughter had given the Camp experience to her father as a gift for thanking him for all the love and care he had given to her mother during her bout with breast cancer. He was on cloud nine for the entire Camp. He said hello to every single Camper, asking them if they were having fun, while proudly showing off his glove… the same one he used as a child over 50 years ago.  His enthusiasm and love for life was infectious. Larry Andersen kept tabs on him, constantly marveling at his happiness, almost to the point of annoyance. Of course, he was kidding.

Craig came up to plate against Andersen. He sent a shot over the second basemen’s head, and the purposeful slow play in the field allowed Craig to move up a base for a double. He jumped up and down like a little boy. He hugged L.A.. He gave high fives to anyone within reach. That smile never faded.

I regret not taking a portrait of Craig during Camp. Craig, if you read this, I still want that photograph!

Later on, I got to see Martha Eyerly, the lone female player of the Camp, take her swings. She also got hold of one and sent it in to the outfield. Like with Craig, the Legends moved a little slow, “misplaying” the ball, throwing it away at each base. As Martha rounded third, L.A. then purposely threw the ball into the dugout. Martha made a big slide into home, plating two runs. The Legends “lost” this game, 2-1.

That’s what Phantasy Camp is all about.

———

And with that, I walked to the bus that would take me to the airport. Once again, I would leave with all my baseball fantasies realized, and go home to the loving arms of my wife.

Baseball is not just a child’s game. It can do wonders for one’s soul.  I came out of this Camp filled with absolute joy.

My dad was truly with me again.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

You can read about Day Five from last year’s Phillies Phantasy Camp here.

———-

Like last year, this blog is not finished. There will be plenty of updates, including interviews with Campers, and two reunion events including the big one in August where I will take the field at Citizens Bank Park before the Phillies game that evening. So keep checking back  and thank you much for reading!

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