Results tagged ‘ Carpenter Complex ’

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!

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.

1/20/12 – Day Three of the 2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

My legs feel about 300 pounds. I’m developing a really nasty bruise on my right thigh from a pitched ball. My left hand, specifically my thumb, is not happy with me.

But I could not be in better spirits. It’s another stunning day in Clearwater, projected to be in the mid-70′s. My team is coming off of an impressive opening-day win, and all of a sudden, we are thinking “championship game”.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

The training room has already grown a large appendage from it’s door, full of moaning Campers. I must say though, this year I saw much less people take their place in line to get wrapped, rubbed, iced, and dunked. There seemed to be a lot less (serious) injuries. Everyone was in much better physical condition.

I asked my lockermate how his hand was this morning. Yesterday afternoon, his throwing hand had an unfortunate encounter with a line drive, causing his thumb area to swell up and turn a very interesting shade of blue. He was worried about his status for the rest of the Camp. In more than an hour, I would truly find out how he was faring.

We head to Bright House Field for our second Kangaroo Court session. Can Steely Dave make it a sweep?!

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Before the judges were introduced, and after the morning announcements, awards were given. The Camp likes to recognize the “Gamers”, the most outstanding performances of the previous day, and the “Gomers”, the not-so-outstanding. Last year, the Drillers were the first team to get a collective Gomer Award for our drubbing on day one. I distinctly remember that game, as I was thrust into catching after a layoff of about 30 years, which coincidentally felt like how long the game lasted.

Well, to keep the tradition alive, even in our moment of triumph, veteran Driller Joe Stackhouse was given the dubious prize for a particular run-down play. Now, I must dispute this because honestly, I don’t think it was his fault, but damn, it sure was funny. Joe was caught between third base and home. The catcher, running him back to third, threw to the fielder covering. The throw, I thought, went low and plunked him in the helmet. It was almost like a classic Three Stooges moment. It felt like they all stood there in disbelief as the ball made a comic “doink” sound off of his helmet. Now, clearly this was not under Joe’s control. Others disagreed. What “officials” saw was Joe reverting back to his soccer days, and lean his head into the ball, as if he trying to get the ball past a goalie. So, poor Stack was given the unfortunate award.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Scott Palmer

This wasn’t the end for other members of the Drillers. For a second day in a row, the first Camper called up for Kangaroo Court was John Ashcom, our player of the game. During his hitting drills in the morning in the batting cages, John faced live pitching. He wanted to try hitting from both sides of the plate. So they decided to turn on the pitching machine. He then asked if the machine had to be turned around. What he meant to ask was if the protective screen for the pitcher had to be turned around as those favor right or left-handers. Clearly an honest mistake, something I most likely would have said. Ah, but any little mental misstep in this Camp will be caught and used against you. So for the rest of the Camp, poor Ash was the victim of many-a-”switch-hitting” joke, mostly from Larry Andersen.

This wasn’t the end for us though. Our GM Rick was also called up. Everyone knew this was coming. Rick was being chastised for the bottle of wine incident the night before at the Bull Session. Rick told them he would gladly buy Larry a case of whatever beer he would like and have it sent to the radio booth during the season. This just got him into more trouble as he was only offering beer, not wine. His trial did end on an unjustly opinion by Ricky Bo, calling the one bottle he gave them “horrible”. He claimed it was pure sugar. Apparently Ricky has never heard of dessert wine. The next time, Rick should just give him a nice aged bottle of Ripple or Thunderbird. It’ll be cheaper. Then he and I can then share in the good stuff.

It was off to Robin Roberts field for the first of two games today. Spirits were high. We were loose. Let’s get this going!

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mike Lieberthal

I would be starting today at DH with Dave Mongeluzi getting the call behind the plate to catch his friend and veteran Driller, Jim Roberto. Howie would later finish off at catcher, making it the only game where I did not have to put on the gear.

Immediately, I started liking our chances. The Bay Sox ran into some pitching issues the game before and had to resort to using their one Legend coach, Von Hayes, to pitch a couple innings. Today? The lockermate with the swollen hand was taking the mound. In my head I assumed this could potentially lead to our second win with a pitcher who was not 100%. What happens when you assume?…

We came right out of the box and staked a 2-0 lead, yada yada yada, it was time for lunch.

Fine…

Well, we did have another impressive offensive showing, putting up seven runs. The problem? The Bay Sox easily surpassed that number… by ten. The final was 17-7. And just like that, our Championship Game hopes took a turn for the worse. We still had a chance, but any tie-breakers would come down to “runs allowed”.

Oops.

So how did I do? Well, I can proudly say I did not strike out. I actually contributed to our offense, going 1-3 with a double and an RBI on ground out that I can only describe as being very similar to Willie Mays Hayes’ “hot shot towards the hole”. In fact, mine was also to the second baseman, but I didn’t leg it out. I do believe I also said “oops”. (FYI, this video is NSFW)

In the field, I patrolled left. My defensive line showed one putout and two run-towards-the-warning-track-because-the-ball-is-easily-over-your-head plays. That pretty much summed up the game.

Oh well, you have to dust yourself off and forget about it. It’s baseball. Have fun.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mike Lieberthal and Kevin Stocker

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mike Lieberthal

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Most importantly, it was now lunchtime.

———–

Our next game was at Joe DiMaggio field, which is situated just outside of the Carpenter Complex. Last year, due to rain the night before, the field was unplayable, so we were forced to play at Bright House. Life is tough. Of course, this was also the site of our Gomer Award-worthy game.

Let’s move on.

We boarded a bus for the quick ride over. This was the perfect time to recharge.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

During warmups, a race between Kevin Stocker and Stack’s son around the bases took place. It was a photo finish, and I think that photo is still being developed.

After Little Stack lead everyone in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, it was time to redeem ourselves against the Lookouts, coached by Milt Thompson and Scott Eyre. This would also be the first time I would play against Martha Eyerly. Like last year, Martha was the only female player in Camp. Her and I had struck up many conversations, but never had the chance to face her in a game. As she had already been beaned by a couple pitches this year, I feared she would take revenge on our squad.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Kevin Stocker

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Milt Thompson

Just like the last game, we came right out and scored four quick runs. Our offense again was clicking on all cylinders, with hard hits from Dave Horowitz and Stack. Ash knocked in the first run and Mongeluzi ripped a hot shot down the third base line, plating two more. The tide was turning.

Ash was our starting pitcher and threw one helluva game, but the Lookouts offense was not to be outdone. In the bottom of the 6th, we had fallen behind 8-6. Things were looking grim again and the Lookouts were showing swagger.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Kevin Stocker and Mike Lieberthal

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Milt Thompson

Then the wheels started falling off. Their pitcher lost his control. Walk after walk lead to us evening up the score and eight apiece. I strolled up to the plate with two outs, and bases loaded. Just then, they brought in a new pitcher. As I went back to the dugout to let the reliever warm up, Mongeluzi, easily the most positive and vocal voice for the team, kept encouraging me for this upcoming at-bat, even throwing in a “this would make a great story for the blog”. Trust me, it was definitely in the back of my head as well Dave.

The best aspect about a situation like this is, you still have an inning to go if you don’t score. You’ve already made a huge move by tying it up. Really, the pressure is quite low. I took that attitude up to plate with me and it worked like a charm. After working the count, I got a hold of one and sent it flying over the leftfielder’s head. I didn’t even reach first before I started pumping my fist in the air. A two run-scoring double. Without a doubt my best hit of the entire camp. Nothing but the sweet spot. I could strike out every at bat for the rest of Camp and I would not care. I had this.

Steely Dave was brought in to close the game and I finished off behind the plate where I took over midway through the game. We shut the door and left the field on top.

Whether in victory or defeat, Stock and Lieby always award a game ball to someone on the team. For the first time in two years, I finally got it.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Man, that felt good.

So for the second day in a row, we headed to the clubhouse on an extremely high note. We were 2-1, currently tied for second place. There was only one 3-0 team, and two with 2-1 records. We still had a shot.

———-

It was another ride back to the hotel, and another miraculous sunset greeted us over the Clearwater Memorial Causeway.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

This evening’s event would be a dinner outing with our team. Again, we went to the Island Way Grille, a really fine place to eat, even for this jaded New Yorker. Last year I sat next to Lieby and got to speak to him about, well, everything. He recounted the day he was drafted and all the excitement and craziness of that moment. This time, I sat near Kevin, and like Mike, told us of that fateful day when he got the call from the Phillies’ Lee Thomas. Just fascinating. We spoke of his other ventures post-MLB, including his annual TV announcing of the college world series, and all the details about his preparation leading up to a game. Do you know he sleeps through half the game?! It’s mostly pre-recorded.

I’m kidding.

Anyways, we had a fantastic meal, topped off with some extra sushi courtesy of Howie. Now I am a sushi hound and this… was incredible sushi. The spicy tuna roll? VERY spicy. Domo arigato Island Way!

We got back to the hotel relatively late, and, well you know now how this day ends.

Big day tomorrow! Will we turn our franchise around and make the championship game? Will I learn to properly use my catcher’s mitt and stop dropping pitches? Will I carry over my success at the plate and stop whiffing? Will I NOT end my night at the bar? The suspense must be killing you.

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

Space: The Phinal Phrontier.

Courtesy of the great blog Tug Haines: Casual Fan, comes this photo from Google Earth:

cc.jpg
Back on Earth…
DSC_4857.jpg
Either way, it’s heaven.

1/20/11 – Day Two of Phillies Phantasy Camp - afternoon


 

“You Are Here… on your way to lunch”

 As I started typing this, I realized I omitted a couple items from the morning workout and drills. Along with the infield, outfield, pitching and batting drills, there was a baserunning workout with the new third base coach for the Phillies, Juan Samuel. Ashburn Field was not quite up to par for the groundskeeper’s standards, and they wanted to save it until the afternoon games. So our baserunning clinic involved us rooks huddling around Sammy at home plate. He spoke about the basics of running starting from home plate and moving from station to station. Baserunning just seems natural: run straight. If the ball went further than you expected, turn at the next base and run straight again. Repeat and rinse if necessary. OK, obviously there is much more to that, but it’s incredible to hear it from an expert who ruled the base paths in the ’80′s. For the rest of the camp, when I did find myself hustling down the line, I found myself recalling Sammy’s tips, and most importantly, actually stayed on feet.

Right before Scott Palmer announced that lunch was served, we had a quick BP/fly ball-shagging session on Schmidt field.  I met a great fellow named John in rightfield. He had told me he had been really enjoying reading the blog. We stood and chatted for a while before I headed in for a couple swings. After a few hacks, one of the many player representatives stepped up next to the cage and simply said, “Shorten your stride”. Next pitch, I hit the ball square on the barrel and sent it screaming in to leftfield. It’s like these people know what they are talking about or something.

I made my way to Bright House Field for lunch. The buffet was situated under the same tent where Kangaroo Court was held a couple hours before. Since everyone ended the drills and workouts at the same time, there was quite a long line that extended past the bar of Frenchy’s. However, this provided me with front row seats to the small parking lot below. Why would this be exciting? Well, you’d be excited too if you got the nice surprise of seeing Ryan Howard strolling to the main batting cages located directly underneath where we were standing. I already knew this, and saying it will be redundant, but man… he is a big dude.

I promptly replaced all the calories I burned missing and overthrowing baseballs in the morning. Scott Palmer appeared to announce the teams. The Legends and GMs had conferred and made their selections. I felt like I was back on the playground being chosen for a pickup baseball game, except the kids are ex-Major Leaguers.

Amazing.

My name was finally read off. I selected for a team called the Drillers, coached by Kevin Stocker and Mike Lieberthal. That really jazzed me up. Those two were easily some of my favorite Phillies. These two West Coasters were famous for their laid back and friendly personalities. I was excited to get this started. I made my way to Ashburn Field to meet my team, my player rep, my two new coaches, and to finally get ready to play some games. We huddled around outside our dugout. Stocker came right out and introduced himself and within a minute, I knew this was going to be a blast. Stock seemed to get the idea of this camp experience down pat. We were here to play baseball, get advice from ex-Major Leaguers, but most importantly, we were here to have fun. Lieby was not quite as vocal; more chilled, but still had that same loose attitude. This was Mike’s first year participating as a Legend at Phantasy Camp, so my impression was that he was probably still trying to feel everything out.  Stock informed us that we were the only team out of ten that were completely full of rookies. Images of the Bad News Bears started creeping in to my mind.  Kevin read off the lineup, which he assured us, was filled out at random. Positions were set, but they let us know that if we want to switch with someone else, we could do it at any time. If we wanted to come out, no problem. If we wanted to go back in, not a problem. This had all the seriousness of a family reunion whiffle ball game.

——————-

One of my dad’s more classic moments happened on a beach in North Carolina during a marathon session of whiffle ball. At one point during a game, someone made a diving catch, which resulted in a dramatic end-over-end tumble. Later in the game, I was facing my dad and hit a line drive right back to him. He didn’t move or react. He stood there, cool as a cucumber, and snagged the ball nonchalantly. He waited a couple seconds, then dove to the ground and rolled on the sand, pretending he just made a highlight reel-worthy catch. We could not stop laughing for the rest of the day. I still smile when I think about that.

——————–

So out I ran to take my position in leftfield. I only had one fielding opportunity when a seeing-eye single came my way. I quickly realized that I probably wouldn’t be getting many more chances this game. Our man on the mound, Pete Wichterman, was a captain and starting pitcher for LaSalle University, and our opponents, the Red Barons, were getting mowed down one by one. Unfortunately, we were facing another buzz saw in Tony Carfagno. Tony, as I came to find out, had won the Camp’s Cy Young award the previous two years. Wonderful.

In typical Bryan Sargent-style, I struck out swinging at my first at bat. I was just sizing him up… yeah. The rest of the game was a fantastic pitcher’s duel. Because of this, and the fact that all 14 members of the team bats, no matter if they are in the field, my number of trips to the plate were limited. I eventually moved to third base. As I took my position, I had another one of those “where am I?” moments. Juan Samuel, one of the two Legends coaching for the Red Barons, along with Ricky Jordan, was standing there coaching third. I gave him a tip of the cap, said “hello Juan” and turned my attention back to the game, shaking my head in disbelief. Again, no fielding chances. That was probably best for the team’s success.

The Red Barons got us for t
wo runs at the top of the last inning. I took my second at bat against Carfagno, and I am proud to say, hit a solid line drive over the shortstop’s head for a single. If I don’t get another hit for the rest of the Camp, I’ll be happy knowing I got a knock off the best pitcher in Camp. We couldn’t manufacture a comeback and lost our first game. Did it really matter? Hell no. Stock and Lieby drove that message home in their post-game talk. They showered nothing but compliments, and maybe a few good-natured ribbings that we all quickly learned was Stock’s calling card.

Due to an impending rainstorm, another game was added to the schedule in case games had to be cancelled the next day. Our second game was supposed to be on Joe DiMaggio Field across from the complex, but because it’s condition was not optimal for playing on, we were “forced” to move our game to Bright House Field. Normally, this does not happen until the Legends game on the last day. So this was an incredible treat. It was only day two, and I was going to be stepping foot on to the same field where the Phillies play their Spring Training games. Sorry, I believe that’s my jaw on the ground. Let me get that out of your way.

With one game now under my belt, there was something else that really warmed my heart and brought me back to my childhood: playing baseball with a wooden bat. I learned how to play baseball with a wooden bat. We only used wooden bats in my first couple of years of Little League. This is a small aspect of the game I truly miss. Nothing feels or sounds sexier than a baseball hitting a wooden bat. Speaking of which…

On our way to Bright House, the sound of what my friend Sam referred to as a “howlitzer”, was blasting from the underbelly of the stadium. I deduced that this must be Ryan Howard taking batting practice (it was confirmed later that it was indeed Howard, as well as rookie prospect Domonic Brown). Now, the echoes of the tunnel did amplify his hits, but still… the “authority” of that sound, again from Sam, was overwhelming.  Like I said before, there is a regular person hitting a baseball… then there is a Major Leaguer. Just awe-inspiring.

Now, an issue arose right before our first game. It seemed that we had no catchers on our team. All the players who had “catcher” as their preferred position were snatched up in the draft. Thus, it was like pulling teeth to get folks to volunteer for the position.  We arrived to our dugout at Bright House. Stock came over to me and asked if I could be catcher for this game. As much as I wanted to run away screaming, I figured this was going to be problem for the duration of the Camp. I was sure I would eventually have to catch at some point anyway, so I might as well get it over with.

As far as I can remember, I have only caught twice in my life. Luckily, both instances were documented on film.

When I was three years old, my dad decided I should try and catch in our house. To make the experience authentic, he equipped me with his black glove and a beach toy to sift sand, attached to a baseball cap with a piece of twine for my mask. He lobbed a large plastic baseball to me in our living room. Baseball-reference.com doesn’t seem to have any statistics from that performance.

The other time was during my first year in Little League in Claymont, DE in 1982. According to my dad, it was the longest game he ever sat through. Apparently I didn’t do a very good job actually catching the baseball. I would just let the ball go to the backstop, get up, retrieve it, then throw it back to the pitcher. Repeat and rinse. I believe I was sent down to the minors after that game. Bless your soul dad.

I suited up and got a few tips from Lieberthal. Then I realized: I’m getting advice from a two-time All-Star and Gold Glove-winning catcher! Wow. I waddled out to home plate, got my bearings (holy sh!t, I’m catching at Bright House), and introduced myself to the umpire. He also gave me a few pointers, most likely more for his protection. Can’t say I didn’t blame him. He must get his fair share of bruises and knocks calling these games at Camp. Lucky for him, I was going contribute a few more war wounds to his collection!

The game ended before it even started. Our opponents, the Bay Sox, led by Marty Bystrom and Von Hayes, were a force to be reckoned with. They exploded for six runs in the first and eight runs in the second inning.  If I wasn’t feeling any pain earlier, I was feeling it now. After the first inning, I came back to the dugout. Stock greeted me very encouraging words. Mike stopped me, and with a big smile said, “you did a great job back there!” I smiled back, glowing in the fact this famed catcher just complimented me on my play behind the plate, thanked him very much, then asked, “how the hell did you do this sh!t?!

Even though I was playing baseball in these glorious surroundings, enveloped in a warm, late afternoon sun in the middle of January, the whole game was a complete blur. I was bumped up to cleanup in the batting lineup. I went 0 for 1 with a walk and strikeout. But to be honest, I don’t even really remember those at bats. My goal was to finish out the game the best I could behind the plate. I wasn’t that adept with a catcher’s mitt, so there were many instances of me completely missing the pitch and immediately hearing a loud “whack” followed by a painful “ungh!” I felt so bad after awhile. He kept reassuring me it was OK, but still. In between watching balls flying out past our outfielders and having baserunners pass me at home, I experienced my first foul ball-tip-straight-in-to-my-helmet. Luckily, there isn’t much up there to get injured
, so all was good. I also came very close to making a decent play catching a foul ball. Again, I do not know how catchers are able to pull off that move. The disorientation factor is through the roof.  During the second inning, there was a dispute about the number of outs. Some coaches had one. The umpire had two. I joked with him that I had three and the inning was over.

After the dust settled, the Drillers were once again shut out, this time by the score of 18-0. It wasn’t even close. Eh, what are you going to do? It was still a lot of fun. The twenty or so people in the crowd made me feel like I was playing for the Florida Marlins. This Camp thought of everything to make this a true Major League experience!

I headed back to the clubhouse, very sore and very tired. I groaned as I peeled off layer upon layer of my uniform. Playing baseball never hurt so good.

1/19/11 – Day One of Phillies Phantasy Camp



The first and only other time I flew in to the Tampa International Airport was almost ten years ago. For two weeks, my dad had rented a beachside condo in a town south of Clearwater called Indian Rocks Beach. I was only coming for several days. He was already there and met me at the airport. As a surprise, he greeted me with a large sign that said, “Famous NYC Drummer…Sarge”. I was never so joyfully embarrassed in my life.

This day, on my way to the baggage claim, I came across that familiar waiting area. It seemed eerily empty, especially considering how incredibly excited I was at the moment. I felt like he should have been there.

As I rode the escalator down to baggage claim, I heard music playing through their sound system. My luggage came out miraculously quick and as soon as I picked up my bag, the song “Lucky Man” by the Verve started blaring through the room… one of my absolute favorite songs. Such a fitting moment. I immediately felt like I was in a movie, moving in slow motion through the airport, with this tune providing the emotional soundtrack. The song faded out as I exited into the Florida sun.

It was perfect weather. The air had that feeling of spring finally arriving with that first warm day of the year. I rode the cab the whole way with the window down and a cemented smile on my face. As we got closer to the coast, a mysterious fog came rolling in and blanketed Clearwater Beach. My perfect scenario of relaxing by the tiki bar outside in the warm Florida sun would have to be altered a bit.

The taxi pulled up to the hotel and then it all truly hit me. The massive windows in the front revealed the entire lobby, which was filled with people in Phillies paraphernalia, Phillies pennants, and a huge banner welcoming everybody to Phantasy Camp. A porter in a Phillies cap came out and whisked my bag away before I could say “Chooch”. Just like Orientation, an army of Camp workers greeted me. A canopy of red, white and blue balloons led you to the assembly line of friendly folks ready to get the experience off on the right foot… room keys, a folder filled with every piece of information we will need for the next five days, our oh-so-important V.I.P. pass to be worn at all times, and credit card info so that we don’t need to fumble with cash when the bar closes. Convenient and dangerous.

I entered my 7th-floor room and made a beeline for the deck. Me, and every other guest were treated to a stunning view of Clearwater Harbor.  Beautiful. Of course, the true majesty of the harbor would have to wait, as the fog was getting progressively worse. After getting my wits together, I made a call to my new friends, Gene and Marie Mattioni, the first people I met at Orientation and since, have been conversing with consistently on email. I met them both at the tiki bar by the pool. Gene “The Machine” couldn’t stay, as he was getting ready to go over to the Carpenter Complex to participate in the fielding clinic given by Kevin Stocker and Mickey Morandini. So while Gene hit the field, Marie and I hit the bar. During our conversation, we had our first Legend sighting. Across the way, pitcher Tommy Greene was placing his beer order. A couple guys behind us said out loud what I thought at the same exact moment: “He’s a BIG dude”. Not only was he tall, but also he was fit as a racehorse.  They asked him how well he was able to pitch, fearing a matchup during the Legends game on Sunday. He calmed everybody’s nerves by saying he only throws off-speed stuff now to save his arm. I’m quite sure whatever he would throw would somehow make it past my flailing bat. The guy DID throw a no-hitter.

I then met John Mentzer, whom I made contact with through a Facebook page dedicated to Phantasy Camp alumni.  I met some of his buddies and decided I would go back to the room to rest a bit before the night’s festivities. Before I got back to the room, I caught a glimpse of Greg Luzinski and John Kruk shaking hands in the lobby. I shook my head waiting for the elevator. I still could not believe this was all happening.

Feeling as rejuvenated as possible, I made my way back to the tiki bar for a quick drink before heading to the Rookie Players’ Meeting in the hotel. As I sauntered up to the bar, I was greeted to image of John and his friends arriving with cold cases of beer, secured from another bar up the way from the hotel, accessed by a semi-secret boardwalk in the back. John and I gave a quick toast to our fathers before cracking in to his case of beer… welcome to Phantasy Camp!

I entered the ballroom in the hotel and went for an empty seat up front to hopefully get some good photos. The official Countdown Clock hit all zeroes. It was time to get down to business. Scott Palmer was the first to the podium and enthusiastically welcomed everyone to Camp. That same familiar message was driven home once again: We will have the time of our lives. After some basic information, Commissioner Larry Andersen took the microphone and gave his do’s-and-don’ts in typical L.A.-style. Most of his advice centered around the uniform, and how to properly wear it. Any infraction would most certainly earn you a round trip ticket to the next morning’s Kangaroo Court.

The microphone was passed around to everyone in the room to introduce themselves… our name, where we were from, preferred position(s), and our favorite Phillie. My answer of Garry Maddox elicited a response from Palmer of “The Secretary of Defense!” Out of about 90 rookies, only me and one other camper mentioned Maddox. All the usual suspects were chosen as favorite players, but Michael Jack Schmidt was hands-down the clear winner. Schmidty technically could have been my choice, but Maddox was the first one to truly have a direct influence on my style of play. I couldn’t play third base or hit the ball with power and authority; so needless to say, I had no connection to Schmidt on the field.

The highlight of the meeting came next with the introduction of all the Legends. One big surprise was the late-minute addition of Scott Eyre. Eyre was a middle reliever for the Phillies in ’08 and ’09 and instantly became a fan favorite. I guarantee he will be a fixture at Phantasy Camp for years to come. Mitch Williams and Kruk were mysteriously absent from the intros, which of course, caused laughs and conjured up images of where these two were holed up.

As I made my way out of the ballroom after the meeting ended, I was introduced to another camper who had found my blog online. Sam Daley and I have the dubious distinction of the only two attendees who live and work in the New York City area.

Back to the tiki bar we went. This was already becoming a bad trend.  A luau was served poolside amongst tiki torches and ominous fog. While waiting in line to fill up my plate, another person whom I had spoken to via email had introduced himself. Joe Gibley was a returning veteran who hailed from a town not too far from where I was born. We took a seat and chatted. Legend Terry Harmon came over and asked if he could join us. Incredible. Now, I must admit, of all the Legends at Camp, I knew the least about Terry. I know of him from baseball cards, general research and stories from my dad. Within the first five minutes, I knew everything about Terry. He was genuinely interested in our stories. When he was told that I live in New York City, he quickly chimed in about his daughter who lives in Brooklyn. We talked of our careers. He mentioned how he worked for the Philadelphia cable sports channel PRISM back from it’s inception, then moved over to a couple different shopping channels, including QVC. He was very interested in hearing about my photography and this blog. He had such a warm personality and reminded me so much of my uncles on my father’s side. Terry went from virtually unknown in my eyes to becoming my favorite Legend, just like that.

I met back up with Sam at the bar and mulled around, chatting amongst the rest of the Legends who were making the rounds. As the weather got chillier, the crowd slowly filtered inside to the hotel bar. Before we followed suit, we joined a small group huddled around a standing heater, keeping warm while speaking with Jim Eisenreich. This was the one Legend I was very eager to meet.  The discussion ranged from baseball-related topics like former teammates, steroids and Pete Rose, to his career outside of baseball and his children. At this point, just three of us were left outside as they were closing up the bar. Jim, Sam and I were oblivious to the cold and the not-to-subtle message from the hotel staff for us to move it inside.  I finally had the chance to tell Jim one of my favorite stories about my dad.

When I was in 6th grade, my math teacher’s name was Charles Eisenbise. My father was an accountant, so he was most concerned with my grades in math, so he would get to know those teachers the most when parent-teacher conferences rolled around. Now, my dad had a funny and endearing quirk where sometimes he would not be able to pronounce a person’s name correctly, no matter how many times he said it. This was not for a lack of trying or a sign of disrespect, it was just one of those little hiccups of the mind that he could never stop. My dad could never get Mr. Eisenbise’s name right. I heard every permutation: Eisenbisen, Eisenbach, Eisenreichen, Eisen-*trail off*… Cut to my junior year in high school. The ’93 Phillies are in full swing and Jim Eisenreich quickly becomes one of my dad’s favorite players. He loved everything about the man. His quiet demeanor, his work ethic, letting his bat and glove do the talking, his charity, and the odds he constantly had to overcome with his Tourette Syndrome. He was an inspiration to my dad and continues to be to millions of others. The very first time my dad saw him play, he says, “I really like the play of that Jim Eisenbise fella”. That got me a VERY big laugh from Jim.

We decide to finally make our way inside to the hotel lounge. A good portion of the Legends were there, continuing their conversations with us fellow campers. Von Hayes made his way to the bar where Sam promptly bought his a rum and coke. This wasn’t a big deal since there was a “5 for 1″ special on drinks that night.

Thank you, I’ll be here all week.

I pulled out my iPhone to show Von the picture I took of him in 1989 at Photo Day at Veterans Stadium. Von gave me a little head shake followed by an “oh wow”.

The crowd was thinning out and the bar was getting closer to last call. We joined a small group next to Larry Andersen and joined in the conversation. At one point, I turned away. When I turned back L.A. told me to open my hand, and put in to my palm his 1993 NLCS ring and 2008 World Series ring. The ’93 ring was certainly a nice piece of jewelry, but as anyone who has seen a World Series ring in person, especially more recent ones, you know how absolutely monstrous they are. This was no exception. It weighed a ton. And for some reason, he was letting this poor slob handle it.

The 1993 NLCS Champions Ring
The even bigger 2008 World Series Champions Ring

We didn’t have to go home, but we couldn’t stay there. We left the lounge for our respective rooms. L.A. joined Sam and I in the elevator, but not before he got one loud parting shot to Ricky Bottalico before the doors closed. I believe the term he used was “sh!t for brains”.

Welcome to Phantasy Camp!

——————-

I made my way to my room, swimming through a ridiculous fog that had consumed all of Clearwater Beach. I entered my room and found a little gift left by the Phillies Phantasy Phairy: a note from Michael Rouse, the executive director of Phantasy Camp, welcoming me to camp, a Phillies cap with the Phantasy Camp logo and a rally towel as seen at all postseason games. Why do I have a bad feeling this poor little guy was destined for Game 7 of the NLCS this past season? At least he found a good home with me.

If the rest of the night wasn’t special enough, it was this small little gesture that truly made me feel this was going to be one hell of an experience.

To learn more about Jim Eisenreich’s work with children suffering from Tourette Syndrome, please visit the website of his foundation, The Jim Eisenreich Foundation.


1/17/11 – Final thoughts before Camp

The final email messages from Phillies Phantasy Camp are coming in. More Legend bios… Ricky Bottalico, Ricky Jordan, Juan Samuel, and Dave Hollins. According to his bio, Hollins was inducted to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. This piqued my interest, so I had to see who else from the world of baseball is in this particular Hall of Fame. The first name that popped out to  me was the one and only, Warren Spahn, arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher in history. Also included is the man with easily one of the best nicknames in baseball history, pitcher Sal “The Barber” Maglie. Not bad company Dave! There are some noted inductees with huge ties to the Phillies also on this list… Paul “The Pope” Owens, Danny Ozark, and Jim Konstanty.

In addition to the daily weather update (70′s!), the email started out with this gem:

“The official equipment truck has been unloaded at the Carpenter Complex and setup has begun. The fields are in pristine condition and waiting for you.”

Really, how can you not get a lump in your throat when you read that?

——————–

I truly cannot believe it’s here. Ten months have flown by and Phantasy Camp has suddenly arrived. I really thought I would have demonstrated the patience and mental fortitude of a little kid, which of course, is practically non-existent.  But no, for once, I have acted like an adult. After Orientation, reality finally set in. I was in the home stretch. Now? Well, it still feels like a dream. I still can’t believe I’m packing my bags and preparing for this experience. Again, I don’t think this will truly hit me until I arrive at the hotel on Wednesday.

Before I leave, I want to thank all the people whom I have spoken to about Phantasy Camp… all the folks who either reached out to me after discovering my blog, or the ones whom I contacted. The amount of positivity and well-wishes for a great trip were, and still are, beyond anything I could have imagined. Everyone has fanned the flame. I don’t think my excitement level would be as high as it is without you sharing your experiences with me. I cannot wait to finally get on the diamond with you all.

My friends and family have been outstanding. Their anticipation may be as high as mine. I actually feel bad about rambling on and on about Camp as much as I do, but everyone keeps bringing it up! I sure hope you all aren’t bored talking about this, because you have months and months of me babbling like an idiot ahead of you. You have been warned.

I want to thank my perfect and loving wife. If it wasn’t for her total, undying support of this trip, I would not have this extraordinary sense of elation. She has always been my rock from the first day we met. What transpired in the past year was absolutely devastating, and her astounding mettle and constant pushing of me to move forward and live my life to the fullest has been incredibly awe-inspiring. If anyone is as trilled to be going to Florida as me, it is her. And for that, I will be in debt to her for the rest of my life.

And of course, I want to thank my father. He and I always had thoughts of participating in Phantasy Camp together, but that never came to fruition.

He was, and continues to be, my guardian angel.

He was, and continues to be, my hero.

This experience is for him.

*Note: I will not update the diary while I am down in Florida. As soon as I return on 1/23, I will get out my blog posts as quickly as possible.  Until then, you can snack on some peanuts and Cracker Jack and hum a little tune.


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