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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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