Results tagged ‘ Bob Boone ’

1/21/12 – Day Four of the 2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I think of my parents every single day. It’s been more than 20 years since my mother passed away. For my father, only two.

I am an only child, so his death had an especially profound effect on me. Last year, Phantasy Camp was not just a baseball experience. It was therapy. It was redemption. It was a tribute. It was the happy ending to a tragic tale, and at the same time, the perfect beginning to the new, ever-expanding story of my life.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

This year, Camp has had a very different feel to it. I’ve come down to Florida knowing what to expect… physically and emotionally. I needed his support last year to let go and enjoy the moment. Now, he’s just hanging out on the bench, playfully making fun of my hitting, having a few beers, retelling the same old jokes over and over (laughing at himself before he even gets to the punchline), and making friends with every single person in Clearwater.

I miss him so much.

And in these last two days of Camp, those feelings couldn’t have been any stronger.

———-

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

This is starting to get old. Another beautiful day on tap. Another day full of baseball.

Fellow Campers are showing each other pictures on their phones of snow-covered neighborhoods, sent from their loved ones in the Philadelphia area. My wife follows suit and shares with me the now white taxis speeding down second avenue.

I love snow in the winter. I love New York City. Currently I have sunburn on my neck and face. I’m wearing shorts at 7 AM. For right now, I’ll take this.

Ricky Jordan replaced Ricky Bottalico on the bench at this morning’s Kangaroo Court. No one asked why. It was probably for the best.

After the daily awards were given out, our GM, Rick, approached the bench and presented the judges with several bottles of wine in response to the last two days-worth of vino-related infractions. The Cutler men are my type of guys. They love their food. They love their wine. And they love sharing it.

Luckily, no Drillers were called up to stand trial today, however, my friend and Camp roommate was not immune. Sam looked perplexed as he approached the stand and was read the case. Then it dawned on him midway through.

Clearwater Air Park sits right down the road from the Carpenter Complex. Yesterday was a busy day for the air park, as there were a steady stream of large, low-flying cargo planes coming and going over the complex all day. Sam stepped to the plate yesterday as the first batter to start the game. He then called time and stepped out of the box. One of the cargo planes was straight ahead, distracting him. When asked by the umpire, Sam said the plane was “in his line of sight”. Well, this caused befuddled looks from all three judges, prompting Larry Andersen to ask, “are you a couple thousand feet tall?” Sam did not hear the end of this for the rest of the Camp. Every time a plane flew overhead, people jokingly called for time.

Once again, this proves you ALWAYS have to watch what you do or say at Phantasy Camp… or else.

———-

Back to the action on the field. The Drillers entered the day with a record of 2-1. We still had a shot at playing for the Championship Game. It was very simple and obvious: we had to win this morning’s game for any chance.

But first things first. We had to warm up.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Bob Boone

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

All the kinks were worked out. Let’s play two!

As was the case in our first game, I would be catching our staff ace, Steely Dave. Unlike last time, the both of us would be in there for the full seven innings. But just like game one, we left the field victorious.

We played the Ravens, coached by Bob Boone and Jim Eisenreich. Their first batter? Sam. I promised myself to make no jokes about planes. Although, as I started to become more comfortable behind the plate, I was contemplating using a little strategy not unlike John Candy in this clip. (NSFW)

I’m kidding.

We had a great pitching duel going against the Ravens pitcher, and longtime Camp veteran Bill Rodebaugh. Like most every pitcher, he was successful against me, sending me down on strikes twice.

For me personally, this game was all about my defense. Early in the game, I was a half a step short of catching a foul ball behind the plate. After already making a play in front of the plate in the first game, I was determined to add a foul ball to my catching “bucket list”. I had come close last year and was determined to get one this year.

My dad knew my strength in baseball was my defense, and not my offense. We spent countless hours in the backyard after he got home from work. He’d hurl the ball as high as he could into the fading sunlight, not caring what obstacles I had to avoid… a nasty hill, large rocks, etc. This is why I patrolled the outfield for most of my playing days. I could catch anything that came my way. Catching one foul ball behind the plate would be my gift.

I had told the ump after I returned that wanted to get one so bad. Very encouragingly, he told me I would.

Later in the game, another one skyrockets above me. I can hear it was hit very well, so I may have time to get my bearings, locate the ball, and catch it. I threw off my mask and spun around two full turns. I may have even added another half. I could not find the ball. All I can hear is people yelling, “up! up! up!” Where the hell was it? It’s clearly in range.

*plop*

With my back to the mound, the ball dropped a couple feet in front of me. How did I miss this? Usually, when a foul ball is hit, it travels upwards. I was not looking that way. For some reason, I kept my head straight ahead.

As the inning ended, I strolled back to the dugout and found my coach, Mike Lieberthal smiling and laughing, all while shaking his head is utter disbelief. He didn’t have to say anything. But he did. He just kept asking why I wasn’t looking up. I could not give a valid reason. As if that wasn’t bad enough, while I was taking off my gear, Bob Boone, who was making his way to coach first base, took a detour and heading towards my direction. With a huge smile on his face, he reached out and put a hand on my shoulder. I immediately started to laugh because I knew what was coming. “The first rule in catching is to always look up when there is a foul ball. You’ll never go wrong if you follow that.” Two of the greatest, longest-tenured catchers in Phillies history. Gold Glove winners. All-Stars. In the space of one minute, I was teased about my catching “skills” by both men. My game-winnng double the day before was definitely my top highlight of the Camp so far. This may have just tied it.

The game moved along. We were ahead, but it was still tight.

Steely Dave was pitching a great game. As another pitch arrived, another foul ball was hit. Third time was a charm. There it was, easy as pie. My first foul ball. Absolutely satisfying.

Surprisingly, I would quickly forget about that one.

Another inning passed. Another pop foul. This time, hugging the third base line. I immediately spotted and locked in on the ball. As I got closer, I heard my teammates yelling “Dave! Dave!” I knew right then that Steely Dave was also hurdling towards the ball. I never took my eyes off the prize, but I heard his footsteps. I knew this could be disastrous. The ball was Earthbound. My arm was stretched out, and my glove was open, getting ready to catch the ball. Just as it was about to land, I see out of the corner of my eye, Steely Dave, diving headfirst at my feet, as to avoid the full-on collision. I toppled over him, on to my back, forming a lumpy pile of humanity. I quickly looked in to my glove. Just like something out of Bad News Bears, I gazed in awe and what just happened. I caught it. I raised up my glove to show the ump.

Out.

I returned to the plate, the ump waiting for me with a congratulatory fist bump. OK, that just topped everything.

We took our turns at the plate and broke through the wall. We plated run after run. I even found myself working a walk, finally improving my On Base Percentage. It was over.

This was, without a doubt, our most impressive win. Every single player contributed. Stock and Lieby admitted that this was the toughest game ball decision they had to make, so they gave more than one. Steely Dave got one for his stellar pitching performance. As for the hitting star, it could have been anyone… well, except me. But this time, it went to Ed Keith. We all thought poor Ed was going to be sidelined after hurting his hamstring in the very first game, but he roughed it out every single game. He was playing come hell or high water. This game, he came through with a couple huge, run-scoring hits. Everyone agreed on that one. Ah, but then Lieby added one more. There would be a ball given for the “defensive play of the game”.

Two in a row.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Dad, this one has your name all over it. Thank you.

———-

It was back to clubhouse before lunch. Like I said before, I’m not a catcher. I’m used to big gloves to help catch fly balls in the outfield, not beefy, stout catcher’s mitts. My left hand begged me for a little relief. I made my first trip to the trainer’s room. I walked in and saw Sam, laying on the table getting his ankle wrapped. During our game, he got caught in a rundown between second and third base. He slid awkwardly towards third, and it took him some time to finally get on his feet. He finished the game, and the rest of the Camp, but that ankle swelled up like a San Francisco Giants outfielder’s head. I got my hand wrapped up and numbed it with ice. I took a photo of him on the table. He returned the favor.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

While in the clubhouse, we learned that the 3-0 Clippers were upset in their morning game, which meant there was a three-way tie for first place. We would be in the running for the Championship Game! Ah, but all hopes were quickly dashed as the tie-breaker would be determined by runs allowed. That 17-run debacle the day before would be our undoing. We would be playing for third place. Even though we gave up a lot of runs, we also scored the most runs out of any team in the Camp. So basically we were a classic American League team.

So our last game would be purely for fun. Of course ALL the games are fun, but this had no pressure involved. We could take it relatively easy and be ready and healthy for the big three-inning matchup against the Legends tomorrow. However, this game did have a little something “extra” to it. We would be facing the Sky Chiefs, coached by Greg Luzinski and Terry Harmon. What was so special about a fourth place team? This team featured former Philadelphia Eagle, Ike Reese.

We headed over to Richie Ashburn field for our last regular game of the Camp.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

The guys got warmed up. We were loose and relaxed. Let’s have fun.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mike Lieberthal

Dave Mongeluzi took the mound and my platoon-mate, Howie Cutler, assumed catching duties. The first batter Dave faced was none other that Ike Reese.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ike Reese

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ike Reese

Ike hit a slow dribbler down the first base line. Pretty much everyone in the Camp would have be thrown out in that situation. However, Ike is a professional athlete. I think he got to first base in about seven steps. Everyone on the bench just “oohed” and “awed”. There ain’t nothing you can do about that.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Terry Harmon and Ike Reese

To be completely and totally honest, I really don’t remember too many specifics about the game. I know we lost, but I don’t even remember the score. I was having too much fun talking with my teammates and our roving cheering section, which included Dave and Jim Roberto’s children.

David (Dave’s son) had been recruited to be our new batboy, after Joe Stackhouse left the Camp early to attend a special award ceremony for his son, thus leaving an open position. After my first at-bat which resulted in a strike out, he approached me, and with the manners of the politest young man, started giving me pointers about what I was doing wrong. He told me he was working with a hitting coach back home and remembered a lot of his advice. David told me to stand further up in the plate. My positioning in the back was causing me to swing late. I listened very attentively and told him if I got on base next time, he was getting a special mention in my diary.

OK, he was going to be mentioned anyway, but I had to sweeten the deal somehow.

My next at bat, I got up there and gave him a special look after I took my position in front of the plate. Wouldn’t you know it, I was making contact, hitting foul ball after foul ball. I got the count to 3-2 and ripped a grounder that was misplayed by the third baseman. Sure, it was an E5, but I had a fantastic at bat. I got to first and immediately pointed my finger at David. I gave him a huge smile and nod of my head. He returned the gesture. Best. Bat Boy. Ever.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I was eventually sent in to play centerfield for a couple innings. After a couple hard hit line drives came my way, and a putout, Ike Reese stepped up to the plate. He hadn’t hit the ball hard all game, but he had the power to put a ride in to one. He also was pulling the ball, so I shaded him to right and took a few extra steps back. Well, wouldn’t you know it, he hits a long gapper between the leftfielder, John Ashcom, and I. Our scouting report had too small of a sample size apparently. I tracked the ball down and by the time I squared myself to throw to the cut-off man, he was already a good 3-4 steps to third base. I did mention he was fast.

The throw was made to third to nab him, but it skipped under the glove, and Ike made his move, sliding into home for a “Little League home run”. Or, you can hear it from him yourself. Yes, that centerfielder he speaks of is me.

Well, the outcome didn’t quite favor us, but we became a small footnote to a funny story.

The best part of this particular game though, and the whole Camp for that matter, was watching the interactions of all the fathers with their children. This Camp would soon be over and to watch everyone in the final hours of this experience was touching. Steely Dave and his dad Phil… cheering each other on, giving words of encouragement in-between innings. Rick… beaming like the proud father he is of his son. Howie… thrilled to be sharing this trip with his dad, whom he clearly loves with all his heart. I recall Rick greeting Howie at the dugout after he provided a clutch, run-scoring hit, and gave him a hug and kiss on the cheek. Dave, Jim, and Joe… playing quick games of catch with their wonderful and lovely children right after the conclusion of every single game.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

This is more than a fancy trip to play baseball. This is about family. This is about fathers playing catch with their sons when there is no more light to the day. This is what I wanted for my father and I, but never had the chance to do so… but nothing made me happier than to watch others around me relish in the joy of this Camp and their family. That’s what this is all about.

———-

Tonight was the awards banquet, complete with a cocktail hour outside by the tiki bar. This more than made up for the cancelled outdoor luau from the first night.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

The weather was gorgeous this night. Couldn’t we just stay outside and receive the awards here? I really didn’t need to go back inside.

As Sam and I made our way up to the bar, we noticed a very familiar face hanging out, signing autographs, and taking pictures with folks. Darren Daulton, the longtime Phillie catcher and member of the famous ’93 Macho Row, had made an appearance. His Hawaiian shirt and deep… deep tan, were unmistakable. I snapped a picture of him with fellow Driller teammate, Paul Kirsch.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Darren Daulton

We made our way back in to the hotel ballroom for the banquet. Like last year, the table were adorned with the jerseys of our team.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Team MVP’s were first given out. And the award for best Driller goes to… Steely Dave! Our own personal Mark Fidrych, circa 1976, had taken home the prize. His solid pitching on the mound and smooth stroke at the plate made him very worthy of the award. In a very kind gesture, he returned to our tables and thanked every single one of us, saying if it wasn’t for us, he wouldn’t have received it. He said he would loved to chop up the award into 12 individual pieces and mail them to us.

I think my teammates can say, without a doubt, this actually may happen. Dave, you just keep it buddy, you deserved it!

Here is Dave with his proud father and rock at second base, Phil.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

The banquet was filled with wonderful moments, including John Kruk receiving a plaque commemorating him for his work with Iraq War veterans. Truly touching.

The Maje McDonnell Award was given to Camper Craig Gerhart. I’m going to save this fellow for my next diary entry…

The banquet ended with a fantastically-produced montage of photos from Camp and hilarious shorts featuring the Legends. I must say, this presentation far exceeded the one shown at last year’s dinner. That ended the banquet on a very high note. So why stop the flow?

Off to the hotel bar for one final night of imbibing and saying goodbye.

Tomorrow will be the best.

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

The MLBPAA 2011 Baseball for Kids Legends Game

A selection of 2011 Phillies Phantasy Camp Legends will be taking part in a charity game this Sunday, March 13th, at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL. Click HERE to purchase tickets.

legendsgame.jpg

1/22/11 – Day Four of Phillies Phantasy Camp – Awards Banquet

Earlier in the day, we had been told there would be a shuttle available to take us to the Phantasy Camp Awards Banquet. At the time, I found that funny, as the banquet was located right across the street at the Clearwater Beach Sheraton Sand Key hotel ballroom. Who would take a bus for a 30 second ride?

At 7 o’clock, guess who was singing a different, gravelly-voiced, Tom Waits-esque tune? I think I was first in line to board the bus.

Before dinner, there was a cocktail hour for everyone to mingle, share their stories, and with heavy hearts, start the process of saying our “goodbyes” (or “hello’s” for the first time… better late than never).  The Legends funneled in to the room, and everyone clamored to get any last minute pictures and/or autographs from their favorite players. Personally, I was not interested in getting autographs or photographs taken with the Legends for myself. Living in Manhattan, I see celebrities quite frequently, so the idea of an autograph to me has no connection to the person. I’d rather have the memory of a conversation, or a funny or interesting story about the person, which is exactly what I got at this Camp. No photograph or autograph could make up for that. Also, every Camper received an autographed baseball with all the Legends, so there was no need to stop the ex-Phillies for their John Hancock’s… ‘wipes hands’… that was easy.

Bob Boone

However, I did ask family and friends before I left if they had any requests for autographs. I had been procrastinating all Camp, so I needed to go down the list and get this done. I made my way round the cocktail hour (and later after dinner) and got all the specified signatures. Along with my notes from this Camp, my Moleskine book is now filled with these autographs. If I ever become wildly famous from this blog, I’m selfishly keeping this book and selling it on eBay. A couple thousand dollars sounds like a good opening bid, right?

The partition walls on the one side of the room slid open to reveal the large ballroom where we would be dining. Each table was adorned with a Phillies jersey, customized with every team name. After sitting down, putting in our dinner and drink order, etc., Scott Palmer approached the podium at the front of the room to start out the banquet.

He started out by asking for a moment of silence for Dallas Green, the Green family, and everyone effected by the tragic shooting that occurred in Tucson, AZ only two weeks before. It was a wonderful gesture and very touching.

Then it was time for the awards. The Legend coaches were called up to award the MVP for their respective team. Our MVP was a no-brainer. In fact, Pete Wichterman was also deservedly deep in the running for the Camp-wide Cy Young Award.  He lost out to Tony Carfagno of the Red Barons, who had now won the award three years in a row. If there is any proud, on-the-field moment I can take home with me, it’s the fact I got a solid line drive single off of Tony in our first game.  After a few more awards and the presentation of the World Series Trophy to the champion Red Barons, then came the highlights of the night. These were the awards that could not be quantified with statistics. They were the awards that embodied the spirit of the Camp and what it all was truly about. I had a sense of pride, as I had formed relationships with most of the folks who won these and other awards during the evening…

——————–

My friend Gene Mattioni won the team MVP Award for his squad, the Sky Chiefs. I was absolutely thrilled for him. This was the cherry on top for him. In speaking with him and his wife Marie on a consistent basis for the last couple months, since Orientation, they both were living for this experience. Gene went to a trainer, lost 20 pounds and became the Rock of Gibraltar at second base for the Sky Chiefs. His vim, vigor and child-like excitement was infectious. Every time I would run in to him during the course of a day, he would come over and give me a big hug.  With the biggest smile, he would ask me every single time, “are you having fun?!” Not only did he ask me this out of genuine interest, but in a “can you believe this is actually happening to us?!” way. It was so charming. Marie was right there with him. She couldn’t have been more thrilled to see her husband like this.  As she so eloquently told me in an earlier email, this gift to him, she thought, was just that… a gift. But she came to realize it was an “investment”. I still can’t get that out of my mind.

I went over to their table after dinner to congratulate Gene on his award. I can’t even describe the look on his face. It was priceless. He told me he was so excited to show this off to his lawyer buddies back home. I could see him now regaling them in tales of Camp with enthusiasm of a young child.  That’s what this Camp is all about.

——————–

Hank Wagner approached me and introduced himself on the first day of Camp. He told me he was the father-in-law of an old schoolmate of mine, Christian. I had reconnected with Christian on Facebook, and in response to one of my posts about Phantasy Camp, he informed me that his father-in-law and two brother-in-laws would also be participating. Even better, he and his wife would be joining them to watch them in their games. Hank let me know that they were there and brought me over to introduce me to his two sons, Tim and Dan. For the rest of the Camp, whenever I saw them, they would come over, ask how I was doing, etc. Just a lovely family. Older brother Tim was chosen as the MVP for his team, the Mud Hens, while his dad, Hank, won the “Charlie Hustle Award”. As most baseball fans know “Charlie Hustle” was the name given to the former Phillie, Pete Rose. He was a hard-nosed player who left everything on the field. He set the tone and got the ball rolling each and every game. This award would be given to that one Camper who exemplified that attitude. In an earlier game, my friend Sam Daley had slid in to second base, covered by Hank. Unfortunately, there was a nasty and accidental collision that made Hank look like he was run over by a truck; a nasty forehead gash and the shiner to end all shiners. Yet, Hank did not miss a beat. Most men would have probably taken themselves out for a game or two, but Hank kept plugging away, game after game. The funny thing was, Sam was hoping to win the award when he entered Camp, as Pete Rose was his favorite player’s growing up. Instead, he directly contributed to Hank winning it instead. Sam emulated Pete’s hustle all right, however, Hank played the unwanted and unexpected role of Ray Fosse.

But what really touched me was that all three of the Wagner men got to play on the same team together. And at one point, Tim took the mound while his father assumed his place behind the plate. A son pitching to his father at a fantasy camp of their favorite team, surrounded by former Major Leaguers… it still giv
es me the chills thinking about it. I was so happy that these men got the incredible opportunity to live out this dream. Not surprisingly, it also made me emotional. I would have loved the chance to be an infield or outfield tandem with my dad. I don’t think anything would have made me happier than sharing the field, in the Florida sun, with Papa Tom. But it brought me so much pleasure that these outstanding guys got that chance to live out these once-in-a-lifetime moments. That’s what this Camp is all about.

——————–

The most touching moment of the night came when a fellow Driller was awarded with the “Tug McGraw Inspiration Award”. Duke McLaughlin had told us during the Camp the story about how he got to come down to Clearwater. He had been saving up for years to attend Phantasy Camp, but every time he would come close to his goal, those funds would be reallocated to help out one of his 10 children or someone close to him. For his 70th birthday, his children decided to surprise this selfless widower. They pulled together their money and purchased a Phantasy Camp experience for their loving father.

Scott Palmer told Duke’s story with such compassion and heart.  He explained how Duke exemplified the spirit of the award named after the much-beloved Phillie pitcher. Duke gave up on his dream of Phantasy Camp many times for the good of his family and friends. He always put himself second. His family lovingly repaid him by granting his wish. With two of his sons in attendance, it was very hard to keep the eyes from not watering up.

Again, I thought of my father. He was exactly the same type of man as Duke. Family came first. His dreams would not go fulfilled unless his loved ones were happy. And like the Wagner’s, hearing Duke’s story and seeing his dream come true? That’s what this Camp is all about.

——————–

As usual, the night ended at the hotel bar. Everyone was there, taking in their last evening in baseball heaven. Gene and Marie were there at the end of the bar. Gene, still with his award, was enjoying a celebratory scotch… my man. I spoke with brothers Mike and Jack Lynch, who had looked forward to sharing this experience together. I also came across Joe Gibley, who I had met the first night of Camp (and another winner this night… winner of the “Andy Seminick Award” for catching every inning of every game).

“So?… what did I tell you? Greatest time of your life, right?”

Joe, you couldn’t have been more correct.

——————–

Off to bed. Tomorrow is the day all us Campers have been waiting for.

1/22/11 – Day Four of Phillies Phantasy Camp – morning and afternoon


Back in July, my wife and I attended a performance of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band at Radio City Music Hall.  This was the first time either of us had seen a former Beatle live and in person, and we were very excited.  This day, Ringo was celebrating his 70th birthday and in the back of our heads, we had dreams of a possible surprise appearance by his former bandmate and only other surviving Beatle, Paul McCartney. The show ended with a rousing rendition of “With A Little Help From My Friends”, assisted by a stage-filling group of musicians, family and friends that read like a who’s who in the music world. After a “Happy Birthday” sing-a-long, everyone exited the stage.

Then this happened…

PaulRingoNYC_JLiverani148.jpg

The Beatles have been, and will always be extremely important to me, as well as my wife.  I still remember to this day the moment my mom excitingly put the album “Revolver” on our turntable and an entire world of music was opened to my young ears.  Witnessing the two surviving members of The Beatles performing “Birthday” together on stage was a dream come true.  I thought about my mom; how much a Beatles fanatic she was and how she never got the chance to see them perform in concert. The closest she got was sitting on the hood of a car, with my dad, parked outside of JFK Stadium in 1966, and listening to The Beatles try and perform over the din of the screaming fans.

Six months later and here I was, having another dream of mine come true… on my birthday.  And just like that night in July, I thought of my dad this morning.  Just as my mom didn’t quite get to see The Beatles, my dad never had the chance to experience Phantasy Camp.  What happened later at the Awards Banquet really drove home what this Camp was truly all about, and exactly why I was here in Clearwater.

But first, I had some games to play.

This was going to be a very busy day. We first had to finish up our game against the Ravens that we started the day before. After that, we would play two more games. Ernie Banks once had famously said, “Let’s play two”. I’m pretty sure no one else had ever eagerly quipped, “What the heck, let’s go for three”.

Before we headed out to start our triple dip, we reconvened for our daily Kangaroo Court session.  Unfortunately, Judge Andersen called me out for a second day in a row.

Andersen: “Bryan Sargent, please rise. I understand this is a special day for you?”

Me: “Yes, it’s my birthday.”

Andersen: “No, I said a SPECIAL day!” ‘bangs gavel’ “Guilty! Two dollars for interrupting court. Next case!”

And so it went. It was sad knowing this would be the last Kangaroo Court of the Camp. I’ll miss all the foul-mouthed, yet good-natured ribbing and “public defender” Mickey Morandini’s clip-on tie and famous answer to the all of the judges’ inquiries: “I’ve got nothing”. However, I will not miss Mitch Williams’ dip cup, which he unfortunately forgot this morning. Mitch’s projectile spit after every other sentence, from the riser where he sat, onto the floor below, was not necessarily something I want to see first thing in the morning.  I’ll give him one thing; the distance he achieved was quite impressive.  Only a small town Texan could get that that kind of velocity. If only he was THAT accurate when he… no, I won’t make that joke.

It was off to Carlton Field to resume our rained-out game from the day before. Unfortunately, we could not carry over the mojo we had going for us the day before. We gave up eight more runs and lost the game 10-4. While manning third base, I made a ridiculous error, which clearly was foreshadowed the day before by Kevin Stocker. He was telling a group of us about his time playing next to Dave Hollins in the infield. Hollins loathed having to field infield pop-ups, as they have the tendency to spin back towards home plate. As soon as a ball was hit in to the air, Dave would immediately call Stock’s name to get the ball.  Well here I was, playing third, and a decently hit pop-up comes my way. Now, I’m much more used to playing the outfield, where fly balls don’t spin in. They soar, dive, or knuckle, but never spin back away from you, unless you have a nasty wind at your back.  Like a bad movie with a little Kevin Stocker talking head next to my shoulder, I hear him say, “Infield pop-ups are the worst”. The next thing I know, the ball is bouncing off of the heel of my glove and on to the ground. Error #1. Panicked, I see the runner on first far off the base. Instead of taking a second to assess the situation, I heave the ball to first in hopes of catching the runner napping. Not even close. Past Mark Stuntman it goes. Error #2. I stayed on the ground, atop my knees, shaking my head at what just transpired. I figured I would get in a prayer or two while I was down there, pleading to any spiritual being that would hear my call that this play would be completely wiped clean of everyone’s minds. Luckily, we got out of the inning unscathed. Funny enough, I made the third out, catching a soft line drive. I could hear the collective holding of breaths.  The next inning, I found myself in the outfield. I get the picture.

I finished the game going 0 for 2 with a strike and fielders choice. With my hit the previous game, I went a combined 1 for 3 in our third loss of the Camp.








No rest for the weary. As soon as we were done shaking hands, we walked several feet to our next game on Roberts Field against the Mud Hens. We had our ace, Pete Wichterman, on the mound. We had a good feeling about this. The wind had really picked up, blowing incredibly strong out to rightfield. So with opposing right-hand batters being late to Pete’s pitches, combined with the wind, for some reason, Stock and Lieby thought best to put me in rightfield. They also bumped me up in the lineup all the way to lead-off. Apparently they did not want to win.  Well, it did not matter as Pete threw a masterful game, shutting out the Mud Hens by a score of 5-0. Most importantly, we got over the hump and snagged that first victory of the Camp.

As for my individual performance, the Legends’ tactical move worked out as planned. I led off the game with a walk and eventually scored the first run of the game. Just call me Rickey Henderson… or John Kruk, according to the umpire. Yes, even the umpires got in to the game of calling out my likeness to a former player. This time, I got another one of the famed ’93 Phillies. “Hey Krukker”, said Blue. The next time I attend Camp, I am going down with a short haircut and cleanly shaven face. This was ridiculous.

I couldn’t go this game without another fall to the ground. As is the rightfielder’s job, I ran over to back up the first baseman on routine throws to him from all the infielders. On one particular play, I ran over, like always, to cover a potential overthrow to first. The throw got past our first baseman and I was able to run it down. At the same time I reached the ball, I lost my footing and fell very hard, square on butt and coccyx. The fall sent a shockwave through my body and I was worried I had just caused some damage. I was able to get up and make the throw to second to stop the runner from advancing, but I quickly hit the deck again as if I had the wind knocked out of me.  The first base coach for the other team, Legend Tommy Greene, came over with a few of my teammates to check on me. One of the many Camp trainers came out as well, asking me a dozen questions, and all I could think about is an ex-Phillie is talking me through a potential injury. Shows where my priorities stood. Anyway, all was fine. It was just a hard jolt to my body that threw me for a loop. As I came in to the dugout after the third out, their third base coach, Legend Tyler Green, came over to ask how I was doing. Again, I could have suffered a broken spine, but another former Phil as
ked how I was doing. Cool!

My response to everyone’s inquires on what happened? “I fell on my ***”. I can’t recall any Major Leaguer going on the D.L. with that particular injury.

During the game, Larry Andersen came by to check out how everything was going. He appraoched me and said, “Hey there Inky, how are you feeling?” After I told him I was totally fine, he wished me a very happy birthday.

Come to think of it, I never actually paid my two-dollar fine from this morning.

Check’s in the mail L.A.

As we huddled for our post-game victory talk, the game ball was given, rightfully so, to Pete for his fantastic performance. He asked to say a quick word.

“I have been on a LOT of teams in my life, and you guys, without a doubt, are… the… slowest m#therf###ers I have ever played with”.

We laughed our collective @sses off. Of course, mine hurt when doing so.

It was time for a victory lunch. Unfortunately, it lasted all of 15 minutes as everyone had to head out for the third and final game to determine our placement in tomorrow’s Legends Game. Lousy rain making me scarf down my BLT!

Barely digesting my sandwich, I raced to Carlton Field for our third and final game of the day against the Sky Chiefs. This was the 7th vs. 8th seed matchup that all of the Camp was eagerly anticipating. The crowd rushed to up to fill the bleachers.

Well, that could have been for the Championship game pitting the Red Barons vs. the Bay Sox on the field directly next to us. I could have been wrong.

I was excited for this game as we were facing a team who’s players included some new friends in John Mentzer, Mark Dellavecchio, and one of the Camp-favorites, Gene-Gene “The Fielding Machine” Mattioni. It was the last game of the day. We were all tired. It was getting cold. We weren’t gunning for any sort of placement trophy. This was just going to be a lot of fun.

The Sky Chiefs were coached by Greg Luzinski and Terry Harmon. As we were waiting for our fearless leaders, I met Terry at home plate. As he had been all Camp, he gave me an emphatic “hello!” and asked how I was doing and if I had been keeping up with the blog while I was here. Incredible. He had such a heartfelt honesty to him. You could tell he truly loved participating in these camps. It showed right away in his coaching of third base. For the entire game he was cheering on every member of his team. “Gene! Geno! Genie boy! Let’s get a hit kid!” He never relented. His enthusiasm and positivity were absolutely infectious. He embodied the spirit of this Camp. That’s what it was all about.

(I have to remind myself to snatch up all of his baseball cards…)

I started out the game in centerfield and eventually moved to shortstop. These guys must have the shortest memory spans. My play in the field was limited though, as a small tweak in my left calf from the morning, had ballooned to full hobbling-inducing strain. It would come and go during the game, but by the end, there was no letting up. I was able to get three at-bats in though, going 1 for 3 with a single. I couldn’t have asked for two better outs than the ones I hit in to. One was a pop-up straight to John at shortstop, ending the inning and garnering smiles and points to each other. The last was a groundball to Gene at second, throwing me out at first. If I’m getting out, that’s the way I want to go.

I sat on the bench, completely worn out. I could have plopped down and fallen asleep right there if it wasn’t for the bitterly cold winds that came roaring in. Of course, it was snowing back up north, so I really had no leg to stand on… literally and figuratively. Larry Andersen made his way to the game and saw me massaging my calf. He inquired about it and made me stretch out my leg as he pressed against my toes. What a guy.

We lost the game. And to prove how out of it I was, I don’t even remember the score. So the Drillers officially ended Camp in 8th place out of 10 teams. I’m not going to complain about that. I wouldn’t have complained if we ended dead last… because that wasn’t the point. All I know is, our team laughed a helluva lot and we had a lot of fun. We were all winners.

(Did I really just say that?)

A surprise was waiting for us in the clubhouse break area: several cases of cold Yuengling beer.  NOW I felt like Inky or the Krukker. There was nothing better to help cure my calf pain then a bottle of Pottsville’s finest… that and my first trip to the trainer’s room. I downed my beer, hit the showers, then made my way to the trainer’s room. They escorted me to the hydrotherapy room when I dunked my legs in to the cold liquid situated in one of their two huge metal tubs. All I can is, I really want one now. It would take up half our apartment, but what doesn’t in New York City?

I made my way on to the bus for our ride back to the hotel. Again, we’d only have about an hour to get ready for the big Awards Banquet.

It would all be worth it.

1/21/11 – Day Three of Phillies Phantasy Camp



No, Ryan Howard did not decide to take batting practice on the roof of the hotel in the middle of the night. That would have been two extremely loud, and very close lightning strikes, which scared the holy hell out of me, and most everyone else in the hotel. Unfortunately, that meant that our fine groundskeeper, Opie Cheek, was right on the money about that impending rainstorm.

The bus pulled in to the Carpenter Complex and we were greeted with the image of a virtually drowning Ashburn Field. We did not like the looks of that. As I entered the clubhouse, I saw the grounds crew scrambling to make the fields as playable as possible. The skies were grey and it was drizzling. Plus there was another wave of precipitation on its way. This was going to be interesting.

On the TV screens in the clubhouse, the game schedules for the day were posted, and not surprising, the first set of games were pushed back. I wouldn’t be playing until 2:30. As a teammate of mine said, “Who has a deck of cards?”

First order of business was our daily player meeting and Kangaroo Court. As I made my way to the entrance of the tent, I noticed all the campers were still outside, looking towards rightfield. Immediately, I thought that this might be a current Phillie working out, just as Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown did the day before. Sure enough, at 8:30 AM, in a steady, chilly drizzle, the 2010 CY Young Award winner, Roy Halladay, was out tossing the ball. Living up to all the praise that was bestowed upon him the night before at the Bull Session, Halladay proved why he is arguably the best pitcher in the Major Leagues.  What a beast.

Kangaroo Court came in to session and already there was a shake up on the bench. Judge John Kruk was mysteriously absent from the proceedings and needed a reliever. Judge Ricky Bottalico to the rescue. Before cases were heard, the first of the daily awards were given out. A “Gamer Award” would be given out to the one player who had the best day on the field. Simple. The “Gomer Award” was… the complete opposite. For the first time ever in Phantasy Camp history, the “Gomer Award” was given to an entire team… mine. Our 18-0 shellacking at Bright House Field the day before, added to our 2-0 loss, meant we were completely shutout AND lost by a combined 20 runs… at least I can say I left Camp with an “award”. The winner of the “Gomer Award” is given a mask to wear, a baseball with a ridiculous face on it. Since they didn’t have 14 of them, our poor teammate, Connie Hidalgo, got the dubious distinction of donning the mask.  Another one of my teammates, Mark Stutman, was called to the bench later in the session. It was not a good morning for the Drillers. Mark was charged with batting out of order during our first game, but in his defense, we had an injury on the field. With 14 people in a batting lineup, there was some understandable confusion. Our fearless co-manager Stocker chimed in, “I don’t condone counting”.

Kangaroo Court continued. More jawin’, razzin’, blasphemin’, and crimes against human decency ensued. A lot of us got to thinking that this would probably be a heck of a lot more entertaining if it took place at night, after a few trips to the bar… or maybe not. We would probably have more and more people missing come the morning.

After Court was dismissed, we went to have our team photos taken in the main concourse of Bright House Field, right behind home plate. Normally they would do this outside, but with the weather as it was, there was no choice but to be under cover. This gave us some time to hang about and get to know each other a little better.

Larry Andersen made his way to our team for a quick chat with all of us. We had a lot of time to kill, so it turned out to be a nice experience. I caught sight of a few friends on other teams and talked to them for a bit. This also gave me the time to make up for the lack of photos from the day before.

We took our team photo, in addition to an individual picture with Stock and Lieby. Now we had a lot of time to kill before our game. In between mulling around the complex and clubhouse, I grabbed lunch. Our player representative, Joe Moore, and another rep, led an organized stretch in the outfield of Carlton Field to keep us limber.

Finally, our game was scheduled to start. Unfortunately, the break in weather was short-lived. The second wave of rain started right at the beginning of our game and got progressively worse… very quickly.  Our opponents were the Ravens, coached by Jim Eisenreich and Bob Boone. I made the start at third base and we gave up two runs in the top of the first inning. We continued to run up our record for Runs Against. With our ups in the bottom of the frame, the scoreless streak finally came to an end. We quickly got a couple runners on base. I stepped in and proudly provided our first run of the Camp when I hit an R.B.I. double over the leftfielder’s head.  That got us going. I was moved over to third then scored our second run on a force out. The game was now tied. As we were getting ready to take the field for the top of the second, the game was called. The rain really had started coming down now and there was no end in sight. Our mojo would have to be saved for the next day.

As much as I would have loved to finish out that game, I must admit, I did appreciate the downtime and extra hours of rest before our team dinner.  All the muscles I never knew I had were still aching, and a little R&R would most definitely help.

As I entered the lobby, my friend Sam caught my eye as he was giving me a defying point in my direction. He let me know that I “just made him look like a Little Leaguer”.  I did not realize it at the time, but my double had gone over the head of Sam. If I didn’t get another hit all Camp, I would be satisfied with that one, just for the humor attached to it… well, humorous for me. Not Sam.

I made my way down to the lobby after a nice rest to wait for our shuttle to the team dinner at the Island Way Grill. Before our shuttle arrived, I had a chance to talk with a teammate of mine, Lee Sorenson. His son’s band, Forward Motion, play frequently in New York City. He was telling me that he was just in Manhattan to see him play at this tiny little bar called The Local 269. Funny enough, my current band just played there back in November, and has become quite a fixture on their stage in the last year or so.  Lee told me how proud he was of his son and his music accomplishments. He also told me that he requested from his son that he’d be allowed to join them on stage for one song during a performance of their choosing. He also thought it would be great to have a stage name, preferably something along the lines of “Sting”. To make it easy, they bestowed him with the name “Ding”. Since Lee does not play an instrument, his son gave to him for Christmas a cowbell, inscribed with name “Ding”. Not only was I laughing all night from that story, but also I found that to be so incredibly touching. It was so obvious that he and his son have an amazing relationship, and the pride he had for his son’s accomplishments was so beautiful.

It reminded so much of my dad and I. In my 20 years of playing in bands, I think he probably liked two of them, but he always made time to come out and see my shows and support whatever music I was playing. The countless hours he endured while we were making a sonic racket in our basement easily qualifies him for sainthood. It made me feel so good to see a pure and honest relationship like that.

We arrived at the restaurant, which is co-owned by two former Tampa Bay Buccaneers players, Mike Alstott and Dave Moore. I must say, for this jaded New Yorker, I was very impressed with their food and the creativity in the preparation of their seafood dishes. I regret not getting a couple pieces of sushi, as Mike Lieberthal did. They were some very healthy portions. Since Mike was sitting next to me, we had a chance to talk a little more. He and I chatted about our love of sushi and all the incredible Japanese restaurants in my ‘hood, particularly Matsu (the original location, not the expansion down the street. Trust me). He also told us all about his extreme passion for playing golf, which he is trying to parlay in to an actual career.  He makes frequent golf excursions and got the chance to play a round with Hunter Mahan in Ireland, compliments of their shared agent. As we spoke, he paused, stared at me and goes, “Do you remember Eric Milton”? I nodded. Milton was a teammate of Mike’s on the Phillies in 2004. He continued, “You remind me so much of him”. Well, that’s #2. First Pete Incaviglia, now Eric Milton. I can only imagine who would be next.

Other discussions we had with Mike revolved around his career in baseball, from being drafted, to his first game with the Phillies, to his final days. We also talked about the state of baseball in general, like steroids their impact on the Hall of Fame voting.

On my other side sat our player rep, Joe. I had started to talk with him earlier in the day, and this was my chance to get to know him better. Basically, player reps are employees of the Camp that basically are the den fathers to each team.  They basically make sure that the only thing we have to worry about is having a blast. They figure out all the logistics for each team, on and off the field. They are the workhorses; along with the countless others that made this adventure a true fantasy.  In the morning, there was a note from Joe in my locker, written on Phantasy Camp paper, complimenting me on my job catching and my hit from the first game. It’s these small touches that really make this camp a priceless experience.

Later on in the dinner, Mark Stutman came over to wish me a happy birthday. The next day was actually my birthday, but he had seen the date in the player profile guide we all received the first we arrived.  When the desserts came out, my key lime pie “mysteriously” had a couple candles stuck in it, followed by a chorus of “Happy Birthday”. I immediately looked at Mark and he gave me a coy shrug, denying all responsibility. It was definitely a fantastic way to end the night.

Well, I did have a nightcap at the hotel bar when we got back.

THAT was a fantastic way to end the night.

1/20/11 – Day Two of Phillies Phantasy Camp – evening Bull Session

The clock said 6:45 PM, but it felt like 2 AM. Everyone on that bus ride home was either falling asleep or showing off their various ice packs and wraps, compliments of the fine folks in the trainers room. But in the end, you know we all had an absolute blast this day. No amount of pain or weariness could have put a damper on what we just experienced.

After the bus arrived, I had only about an hour to get ready for the evening’s Bull Session. I made the mistake of lying down on the bed to “rest my eyes” as my dad would have said. I fell asleep for about a minute then woke up in a panic. Just like my dad, my one quick bout of snoring roused me from my sleep. I really needed to get my second wind or else I would have conked out for the rest of the night.

The Bull Session took place in the hotel ballroom where we had our first night’s Rookie Meeting. We sat with our team and coaches. Luckily, our tables were situated in the front row, stage right. Some of my teammates had already sat down with their dinner. I was getting ready to join them, as the other table was completely empty. At the same time Stocker took a seat at the empty table and joked that no one wanted to sit with him. I had to oblige. More of my teammates joined the table. Stock told us all about his career in baseball, stories of his minor league days with Lieberthal, getting called up to the Majors, etc. He also told us about his post-baseball career, his family, and living back in his hometown of Spokane, WA. I knew of Stock’s time with CBS Sports as a TV analyst during the College Baseball World Series (he played for the Washington Huskies during his college days), but I did not know that he is the owner of a smoothie company, Emerald City Smoothie. If they only had these in New York… I am such a sucker for these smoothie joints. Stock, do you deliver?

After dinner and few drinks to help with our muscle pains (no, really, that’s all they were for. I have read that 9 out of 10 doctors recommend Canadian Club for aching quads), the Legends were called up to the stage by Scott Palmer. For the next hour or so, Scott would ask different Legends to extrapolate on the Phillies and different aspects of the organization as it stands now (their recent successes, their ability to bring in top level pitchers to a non-pitcher-friendly park, their future, etc), and talk about how that relates to when they played for the team. As the night went on, it turned in to the evening version of Kangaroo Court, no thanks to the hotel bartender taking orders and refilling the Legends during the session.  Mitch apparently is also a fan of the CC. Good taste my man. Greg Luzinski is not only a connoisseur and big fan of red wine, but also all of us who have purchased a ton of BBQ from his stand at Citizens Bank Park. He made it very clear he was extremely grateful of our patronage. When you put out a product like he does on a daily basis, you are guaranteed return customers. That kielbasa is pure heaven.

Von Hayes spoke about rookie Domonic Brown and the impact he could have on the Phillies’ future. He said that it is essential that Brown have a great mentor when he finally arrives full time. When he first came to the Phillies, Hayes mentioned how Garry Maddox was the key to his understanding of the outfield better. With Garry being one of my all-time favorite players, that really warmed my heart.  Other discussions revolved around each position and the current players that occupy that spot (Dave Hollins talking about third base and Placido Polanco, Marty Bystrom, Warren Brusstar and Dickie Noles talking about pitching, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and the work ethic of Roy Halladay, etc.).  The conversation stuck on Halladay and how his presence on the team has influenced so many players and impressed all the Legends. John Kruk, on the other hand, could not understand how anybody, including Halladay, could come to the park hours and hours before game time. “The game is only three hours long!” When discussing his diet of cheesesteaks and hot dogs, he quipped, “at least I was happier than Roy Halladay”.

It’s no secret that Kruk’s weight and physique have always been one big punch line since his playing days. The Legends, especially Mitch Williams, have no problem facilitating that running joke. But all kidding aside, what I found interesting was how many of the Legends who had played with Kruk will animatedly tell you how incredible of an athlete he was.  Lieby said Kruk loved (and still loves) to play up that persona, but when he played, no one took that field with more gusto and athletic prowess.

Kruk came up again during a great story about Mitch Williams hitting Barry Bonds during a game. Williams was discussing the appropriate times to send a message to a player or other team (strangely, he was once ordered to bean Bob Boone… who hits Bob Boone?) Williams had hit Bonds and Barry had some words for him on his way to first base.  He kept chirping to Kruk, saying he was going to charge Williams if he did it again.  Kruk, stood aside, held out his arms toward Mitch and said, “go right ahead, be my guest”.

Kruk got another crack in at Williams’ expense. Mitch told a story of when he gave up nine hits in a row in a Minor League game, to which Kruk loudly responded, “Mitch didn’t give up a walk to nine straight batters?! Unbelievable!” That got the crowd roaring.

And speaking of Minor League war stories, Larry Andersen contributed a fantastic story about his last game ever. While doing a brief stint in the Minors at the tail end of his career, Andersen arrived to the ballpark in not-so-optimal condition i.e. hungover. This particular game was “Miniature Bat Giveaway Day”. The kids in attendance had figured out that banging the bats against the metal bleachers would make a loud and obnoxious sound… and they kept it up. Andersen could not take it anymore. When he was called to start throwing in the bullpen, he told the coach, “didn’t you hear? I’m retired”.

A few Campers were able to throw out some questions to the Legends later on in the session. Someone had asked Bob Boone if he knew the whereabouts of the ball used on last pitch of the 1980 World Series, as he was the last person to touch it. In his very cool and quiet way, he slyly smiled, nodded his head and said, “I have it”. One of the Legends chimed in and joked that he has about 25 of them that he tries to sell every year. Hilarious.

But my favorite moment of the night came at the beginning of the session. When Scott Eyre was introduced, Scott Palmer mentioned that Eyre has a l
ittle phrase written on the underside of the bill of his cap. Eyre said he would look at the phrase all the time during a game to put everything into proper perspective. What did it say?

“Have Fun”

And that right there, is what baseball is all about. People forget this is just a child’s game. We forget about being in our backyards as little kids, running around, scraping our elbows and knees sliding and making diving catches. We forget about the simple joy of having a catch with our father, or brother, or whomever, and the snap of the leather coming from an extremely worn down baseball.  We forget about straining our eyes in the fading light as we try to squeeze out every second we can before we can no longer see the ball on a long summer’s day.

That’s what baseball is all about. That’s what this camp is all about. It’s about bringing back the excitement of having teammates and cheering them on, no matter what happens in the field. It’s about the camaraderie and sharing the pleasures this game provides us all.

This is what I wanted to experience with my father.

He’s not with me anymore in the physical world, but he definitely has been with me here in heart and spirit. His positive influence and love has made me appreciate this game for what it is… just a game.

“Have Fun”

 

12/6/10 – This Day in Legend History… Dave Hollins, Bob Boone, and Mike Lieberthal

Still hungover from the weekend off-season activity binge, I forgot to include my “This Day In…” for last Saturday…

On December 4, 1989, the Phillies drafted third baseman Dave Hollins in the Rule 5 draft from the San Diego Padres. Hollins’ first two years were spent as a bench player, backing up Chalie Hayes who manned the hot corner. In 1992, the position became his and he did not disappoint. He had a monster breakout season hitting .270 with 27 home runs and 93 RBI’s. He continued in 1993, helping lead the team to the World Series. He was a perfect match for the Phillies and the fans: gritty and hard-nosed. Just the way we like ‘em.

December 6th saw the official departure of two long time and well-loved catchers to Southern California…25 years apart. In 1981, Bob Boone was purchased by the then, California Angels. In 2006, Mike Lieberthal signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both had been born in Southern California, so these were seen as homecomings for the both of them. Boone earned five more Gold Gloves and an All-Star appearance with the Angels, and later with the Kansas City Royals, where he eventually retired in 1990.

Plagued by injuries, Lieby played only 38 more games for the team he grew up rooting for. He signed a one-day contract with the Phillies in 2008, and retired. He played with the club from ’94 to ’06, which means during his tenure with the club, he was a “day late and a dollar short” when it came to playoff appearances… debuted a year late, left a year early…

This will be Lieberthal’s first year as a Legend for Phantasy Camp and I couldn’t be any more thrilled for the chance to not only meet him, but to play alongside one of the other greatest Phillies catchers in Boone.

11/28/10 – Giving Thanks, Looking Back, Looking Forward

My wife and I normally spend our Thanksgiving holiday visiting my in-laws in Florida. This year was no different. Living in the northeast for my entire life, it’s been very interesting these last several years to gather around the dinner table, give thanks, and eat way too much food… all while wearing shorts (luckily, this last Black Friday wasn’t like another Black Friday years ago). In just under two months, I’ll be back in Florida, not only wearing clothing I’m not used to donning in the middle of January, but also sporting a nifty little number supplied by the Philadelphia Phillies.

It’s been a pretty excruciating year for me, my wife, family and friends, but there is a LOT to be thankful for. I am truly a lucky man.

——————–

Now that one major eating and drinking holiday is over, it’s time to get cracking on getting myself into decent shape for four straight days of baseball. From Thanksgiving until my birthday, there is a perfect storm of overindulgence in my life… Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, wedding anniversary, and birthday… I thank the baseball gods for flexible pants. This year, I’ll be extra conscious of what I’m ingesting. Not that I am a total out-of-shape blob, but I could get off my tookus, not take the subway or hail cabs as much, walk a little more, etc. It’s getting cold in NYC and I have no problem just hunkering down and only moving to get another snack. So I’ll pound the pavement, take extra long walks in Central Park, get off at a different subway stop, anything to get my blood pumping a little more. More stretching and some light muscle-building exercises should round out my path to better health nicely. Just in case, I’m still going to Costco and buying a metric ton of Icy Hot and Advil.

What I really need to get cracking on is getting my hitting in order. I plan on making many-a-visit to Manhattan’s Baseball Center to get plenty of swings in. If there is one aspect of my game I have never gotten a handle on is being able to hit a baseball. I’ll run around the outfield ALL day, shagging fly balls, snaring line drives, gunning the ball to the cutoff men, but when I step in to that batter’s box? I believe you have heard the term, “Mendoza Line”?

Anyway, “I’ll start my diet tomorrow”.

——————-

Since I found out which former Phillies will be in attendance at Camp in January, I’ve been scanning through my baseball cards, remembering what each one of these players meant to my fandom (or “Phandom” if you’d like). I decided I would mark some significant days in the Legends’ lives (and ours as fans) as they occur. Since I’m a month late getting to this, these will be retroactive to October 27th, the day I received the email with the official list of Legends…

Mitch Williams – 1994 Topps

November 17th – Mitch Williams’ birthday. I don’t believe any Philadelphia sports figure has had a phoenix-like resurgence as much as The Wild Thing. After that fateful pitch to Joe Carter in the 1993 World Series, Williams was almost immediately run out of town by rioting townsfolk with torches and pitchforks. Years went by and he returned to the Philadelphia area, first as an operator of a New Jersey bowling alley, then as a local on-air personality for 610 WIP AM and Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. He is now on the fantastic MLB Network and has become an incredible and entertaining baseball commentator. Recently, he did coverage for FOX during the 2010 World Series… come on Mitch, we love you, but please do not go down that particular path.

Kevin Stocker – 1994 Topps

November 18, 1997 – Kevin Stocker is traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Bobby Abreu. Stocker
made a splash in 1993, debuting for the Phillies midway through the season. He injected a massive dose of youthful energy into the already popular squad. With a young Desi Relaford waiting in the wings, the Phils pulled the trigger on a deal for a young and unproven outfielder. The Devil Rays had drafted Abreu in the expansion draft and immediately moved him to Philadelphia. Stocker only lasted for two more seasons and Abreu became one of all-time best outfielders in Phillies history. While his career was brief, Stocker’s time with the Phillies will never be forgotten by fans.

Bob Boone – 1974 Topps
Dickie Noles - 1982 Topps
Dickie Noles – 1982 Topps

November 19 – Bob Boone and Dickie Noles’ birthday. Also, on this day in 1998, Ricky Bottalico is traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, along with Garrett Stephenson, for Jeff Brantley, Ron Gant and Cliff Politte.

Bob Boone and Dickie Noles are two players that live through my baseball cards, video replays, and memories from my dad. Both left the team after the 1981 season. I was only 5 years old at the time, too young to experience their playing days for the Phillies. Boone is a legend: a home-grown, long-tenured catcher who was a main cog in the late ’70’s playoff teams and 1980 World Champions. Probably one of his most famous plays was actually a dropped foul ball that was scooped up by first baseman Pete Rose in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the ’80 Series. His father was a Major Leaguer. His two sons were Major Leaguers. The name “Boone” is baseball royalty.

As I mentioned in my orientation recap, the player with the dubious distinction of the most doubles of any 1982 Topps baseball card I owned belonged to Mr. Dickie Noles. At least that’s what it seemed like. That curly ‘fro haunted my dreams. Noles only spent a couple years with the Phillies, but was crucial in the relief role in the 1980 World Series, playing some chin music to George Brett of the Kansas City Royals. It was a pleasure meeting him the night of the orientation, especially since his hair is short now.

I’ll be completely honest, Ricky Bottalico’s tenure with the Phils is a bit of a blur to me. He played for the team during a period where the Phillies were not quite a priority for me. The combination of the strike in ’94 and ’95, and the fact the team left something to be desired did not leave a good taste in my mouth. Like Mitch Williams, Bottalico was a very effective and electric reliever, but also a tad bit shaky, causing many-a-grey hair. He was the Phillies only All-Star in 1996, the year Philadelphia hosted the game. Also like The Wild Thing, Ricky now is a fantastic analyst for Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.

Greg Luzinski – 1981 Fleer

November 22 – Greg Luzinski’s birthday. Like Boone and Noles, Luzinski’s time with the Phillies lives on in my imagination. Like the current team, who is made up of home-grown talent and has started their own dynasty, Luzinski came up with other rising stars from the Phillies farm system to form the first dynasty of the organization in the late ’70’s. Luzinski was the big bat behind the equally-sized bat of Mike Schmidt. The Bull has been a fixture in the Phillies organization since his retirement. Currently he rules the roost at arguably the best concession stand at Citizens Bank Park, Bull’s BBQ.

10/27/10 – The Lineup

A very timely email arrived in my inbox today, only a couple hours before the rather disheartening first pitch of the 2010 World Series. From the desk of the Phillies Phantasy Camp folks came a message officially counting down the days until camp in January. A great pick-me-up for my fellow campgoers and Phillies fans.  On the left side of the message was an alphabetical listing of the last names of all the former Phillies players who will be in attendance. I cannot believe I will be spending five days fraternizing with all of these gentlemen.

Larry Andersen
Bob Boone
Ricky Bottalico
Warren Brusstar
Marty Bystrom
Mariano Duncan
Jim Eisenreich
Tyler Green
Tommy Greene
Terry Harmon
Dave Hollins
Ricky Jordan
John Kruk
Mike Lieberthal
Greg Luzinski
Mickey Morandini
Keith Moreland
Dickie Noles
Juan Samuel
Kevin Stocker
Von Hayes
Mitch Williams

Eleven players from the 1993 NL East Championship team. Six players from the 1980 World Championship team. Two of the greatest catchers ever to don a Phillies uniform. One no-hitter. Over 35 years of Phillies history. Wow.

I have such distinct memories of every single one of these players….

My Juan Samuel and Von Hayes Starting Lineup action figures.

My “Fan Photo Day” pictures of Ricky Jordan and John Kruk… his very first day in a Phillies uniform.

Coming home from school and catching the last couple innings of Tommy Greene’s no-hitter against the Montreal Expos.

For the players I was quite too young to remember, I had my baseball cards and stories from my dad to fuel my imagination.

But the one player I am very excited to meet is Mr. Jim Eisenreich. One of my all-time favorite anecdotes about my father involves good ol’ Eisey from back during the 1993 season.

That one I will save for camp.

As I finish typing this, the San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers in Game One of the World Series. All of a sudden, that particular bitter taste has gone away. 

Phillies, you know how to make a guy feel so much better.

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