Results tagged ‘ Florida ’

Phillies Phantasy Camp Video

I put together a video montage of my photographs from Phillies Phantasy Camp from both 2011 and 2012. Enjoy!

Phillies Phantasy Camp from Bryan Sargent on Vimeo.

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.

1/18/12 – Day One of the 2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

After going through the usual rigmarole of checking in baggage, shuffling through security, removing my belt, shoes, etc., then putting back on said belt, shoes, etc., I finally was able to relax and get something to eat inside the JetBlue terminal at J.F.K.. The first thing I notice is the song playing over the speakers in the food court: John Fogerty’s “Centerfield”. Last year when I arrived at Tampa International, I had a similar experience with The Verve’s “Lucky Man”. That really set the tone for that particular Camp: emotional, sentimental, and a sense of life returning to normal with Camp being the perfect end to my year.

This time, “Centerfield” couldn’t have been any more appropriate. I was returning to my team. I wouldn’t be looking around like a little kid in rightfield, taking in the wonder of standing on the same fields that many great current players have taken their positions on (well, not quite as much).

I was ready to play.

As if I wasn’t already in a good mood this morning. That made it even better.

While in flight, I decided to take a break from my book (nothing will put you more in the mood for sunny Florida like a story about a zombie apocalypse), I put on my headphones and kept the baseball music theme going with the amazing soundtrack to the movie “Moneyball”. I don’t want to sidetrack here, but Mychael Danna’s compositions (as well as songs by This Will Destroy You and Kerris Dorsey) are absolutely beautiful compliments to that fantastic movie.

Anyway, let’s return.

After a thankfully uneventful flight, I made my way to the luggage claim, and was greeted with this sight.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Why thank you. And top billing I see. Very nice. I’m sure they would have put us at the bottom if they knew my prowess (or lack thereof) at the plate.

I had some time to kill before I met up for the shuttle to the hotel. So back to the zombies!

I made my way over to the rendezvous point. There they were; Phillies hats, shirts, jackets, and duffle bags. Now it’s finally hit me. That perpetual smile I will have for the next five days appears. I see a fellow camper, John, whom I met last year. He comes over and we exchange all sorts of pleasantries and he tells me how much he can’t wait to read my take on this year’s Camp. I then meet another John from Connecticut. John signed up right for Camp after Christmas, so he never got to experience orientation. He really did not know what to expect. I was more than happy to fill him in. We spoke of our love of the Phillies, having to live amongst Yankees and Mets fans, and our excitement for Camp.

We sat next to each other on the bus and continued our conversation. He told me a very funny story about a time in 1995 when he was driving his family and came across a rebroadcast of a 1966 Phillies game on the radio. He mentioned how he remembered this specific game and thought he’d have fun with his one son. He woke him at the moment before a grand slam was about to hit. “I bet you he hits a grand slam right now”. Whack! Later, when By Saam announced Tony Gonzalez to the plate, his son inquired about this player. John’s response? “We must have picked him up on the waiver wire.” John proceeds to predict another home run, which miraculously happens. His son, or course, is in disbelief. He eventually admits his deception. Classic.

We arrive to the Marriott Suites on Sand Key. Deja vu all over again. The lobby is decked out exactly the same with banners and balloons. The Marriott staff are all sporting Phillies caps. They take our luggage away, and off to the check-in tables I go. “Welcome back”s and “Great to see you again”s from everyone at ESF. I grab all my stuff and head to the room, past Jim Eisenreich and Ricky Bottalico, who was making his way to the Carpenter Complex for one of the various pre-camp clinics.

I wind down a bit in the room. My roommate Sam arrives not too long after me. I met Sam last Camp. Since he lives just across the river from NYC, we’ve had a couple car rides to and from Citizens Bank Park in the last year. He settles in and we make our way to the tiki bar to quickly dispose of our two complimentary drink tickets.

The heavy rain that followed us from the airport had finally subsided which meant we could enjoy our drinks al fresco.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

In addition to some seagulls who joined us at the bar, three porpoises also made their presence known in the waters next to the hotel. Really, I can skip the actual baseball part of this trip. I’ll just stay here.

The rookies went in for their introductory meeting, most likely filled with countless jokes and threats of Kangaroo Court from Larry Andersen. The veterans met separately for a quick pow-wow. We were given white t-shirts with “Phillies Phantasy Camp Alumni” written on them. We would be wearing these as we welcomed in the rookies tomorrow morning in the clubhouse. As the rookie meeting was winding down, the veterans were introduced along with all the Phillies Legends.

John Kruk was late.

Unfortunately, the rain earlier in the day caused the welcome reception/luau to be moved indoors. It was still a great time to connect with old teammates and campers from last year, and finally meet, in person, folks who I had been speaking to via email who were going to Camp for the first time.

Before I made my way to the hotel bar, I headed back to the room to drop off my t-shirt. Von Hayes got in to the elevator and commented on my new maroon Adidas sneakers. Just as he was finishing telling me how he like the color, Mickey Morandini gets on and immediately repeats Von’s sentiment. Mickey then turns to Von and says, “that color was from your era”. Von responds by saying how much he hated those uniforms and how he had such problem lining up the stripes from the jersey to the pants.

It’s stuff like this that truly makes this Camp worth coming down for. Fashion talk with two former Phillies.

I returned to the bar, yada yada yada, I was asleep in my bed.

Ah, but this time, I learned from my rookie mistake from last year. Mind the booze and take aspirin before bed, because this is what I have to look forward to tomorrow morning…

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

You don’t want a hangover ruining this. I’m ready to play.

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

The Only Gloves We’ll Need In Florida…

…are batting gloves and mitts.

This is what the weather is like on this fine Sunday morning in New York City.

And this is what Clearwater is looking like right now.

So far, the weather forecast is looking fantastic in Florida… highs in the 70’s, little or no rain. If this continues, this will be much more pleasant than last year. Even though we only had one day with rain, it was definitely on the chilly side. Knock on wood, AKA my big noggin, this will be perfect.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines.

From the Facebook page for the Clearwater Threshers:

That would be the ticket office for Bright House Field on this fine January morning. Yes… Spring Training tickets have gone on sale.

We’ll break that field in for you guys!

A Kiwi in the Sun

When I first started this Phillies Phantasy Camp Diary, one of the first comments I received was from a fellow who attended the Camp back in 2007. What immediately struck me was the fact that he was from Australia. I could not believe someone from a country where you are more likely to swing a cricket bat rather than a Louisville Slugger, traveled such a long distance to play baseball in Florida.

Cut to the Rookie Meeting during the first night of Camp. The emcee, Scott Palmer, spotlighted a few campers that were quite noteworthy, including Luis Liceaga, who was attending his 11th straight Camp. One Camper who was given a special mention was a guy named Mike Macdonald, who made a very similar trek as the Aussie Phillie back in ’07. Mike came to Clearwater all the way from Auckland, New Zealand.

———————

On the night of the Awards Banquet, Mike’s incredible experience was about to get more special. He was given the “Maje McDonnell Award” for being the one player at Camp who “has personality and is a class act both on and off the field”. This garnered a huge response from the appreciative crowd.

Unfortunately, since the Drillers never played his team, the Sea Dogs, I never had a chance to meet and chat with Mike while we were down in Clearwater.

But thanks to the power of the Internet, specifically, Facebook, I have finally been able to speak with Mike on a regular basis. Our conversations range from New York City, to cricket, to the two of us being fellow drummers. (Check out Mike’s former band, The Warners). I recently asked Mike if he would be interested in answering a
few questions for the blog and he was more than willing to share every wonderful memory of his Camp experience.

Sarge: When and how did you come about becoming a Phillies/baseball fan?

Mike: I first went to the U.S. in 1986, to be in a summer camp counselor in Raymond, Maine. The locals were, of course, totally obsessed with the Red Sox, and talked all day about the games. Camp was late June through August, and the Sox were going well that year. So I started getting hooked into the game as their enthusiasm rubbed off onto me. But when I came back home, there was no baseball, so I forgot about it. In 1993, I got pay TV, and they had baseball on their sports channel. It
was September that I got the service, and I started watching the games, and we only got two a week, but of course it was a good year for the Phillies, so we got to see them a few times, and then thru the World Series. Looking at the other teams, they were all like super athletes who went out to WIN WIN WIN. The Phillies looked more like a bunch of guys who turned up on the day, didn’t shave, didn’t comb their hair, and just woke up. I thought if I was a baseball player, that was the sort of team I’d want to play on, and they always looked like they were having fun, win or lose. And more than any John Kruk always looked and acted like I think I would, if I was there. I also liked the way Lenny Dykstra played.

S: How do your friends and family react to your devotion to baseball?

M: The people down here don’t get baseball at all, and they are not sure why I like it. Rugby is our biggest game, and the true fans of it don’t talk to me when they know I don’t like their game. But to each their own. Our national game is played in the rain and the cold of winter, and it’s a group of guys rolling around in the mud. I
went to see Phillies versus Mets at Shea on a perfect hot sunny Sunday in the summer. I know which conditions I like to watch a game.

S: What was your motivation to attend Phantasy Camp?

M: Watching baseball on TV is always so much fun, so I thought it must be better to play, but its the chance to play with the pros that made me want to go to Camp. I don’t really have motivation to want to play it every week, and wouldn’t really have the time to do it. There is a little bit of baseball down here, and maybe it’s growing, but you can’t compare it to the experience of the Phantasy Camp. Of course there was going to be great players at the Camp, but I figured there would be a lot of guys like me, so wasn’t worried about my skill level. I was more worried that I don’t know the game and ex-pros like the rest of the Campers.

S: Did you ever play any sort of organized baseball in New Zealand?

M: I played lunchtime softball at school, but had never played baseball until Phantasy Camp. My last hit at softball would have been 1980 I guess.

S: Which Legend did you most want to meet at Camp?

M: I wanted to meet John Kruk, as I saw so much of me in him, and his attitude. I mean, he’s 110% professional, as much as they joked around at Camp, they can’t help but be good at what they were paid to do, and loved doing every day. They will always be ball players. I also wanted to meet the other ’93 Phillies, as they were the first players that I watched play and made me want to be a Phillies fan.

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S: How was it to win the “Maje McDonnell Award”?

M: I was blown away when I won the award. I didn’t know the story behind the man, apart from the stories from L.A. (Larry Andersen) and the video clip of Maje that we saw, but the fact that they picked me as the winner means that I must have left a mark in their minds. I talked a few times to L.A. and Scott Palmer, and they, like so many others, were just blown away by the fact that someone would come halfway round the world to be at the Camp, and that I knew about the Phillies, have been to
games, and wanted to be part of it. And then L.A. asked me to give a little speech… I don’t really remember what I said, but I seemed to say the right things, and my speech was enjoyed by everyone. Some asked me afterwards if I knew I was getting the award, as they thought I had pre-written the speech. But no, I was stunned when L.A. said I had won. I knew I wasn’t going to get an award for my playing, but to be picked out of everyone was incredible.

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S: What were your favorite and most memorable moments at Camp?

M: So many great memories, but I guess getting my first ever base hit in our third game was probably the top, as it showed me that I could play, and it felt so great to run the bases. Pity I never got a run, but was only three steps away from home plate before being thrown out, so I almost made it. Also hitting Ricky Bo’s (Bottalico)
pitch in the Legends game was great. I got thrown out at first, but to be put out by John Kruk was not a bad thing. And L.A. had heard that I wanted to meet Kruk, but was never near John to say “hi”, so at the end of the second day of camp, L.A. took me to the pro’s locker room, where I spent about 10 minutes talking one-on-one to Kruk and Dave Hollins. John and Bull (Greg Luzinski) signed a ball for me, and spoke to Kruk a couple more times after that. He didn’t know what to say when I said that I was a Phillies fan and at the Camp mainly because of him. Dave Hollins suggested that maybe I was insane. The interaction of the pros was great to see. Just like when Ricky Bo was telling me how to run home form third as soon as the ball was hit in our game when I was on base. The opposing Legends said he was full of sh!t, and what the hell does a pitcher know about running… great stuff.

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S: Will you return to Camp some day?

M: I would love to go back to Camp. For me, just like going to the August reunion, it’s simply a cost factor that’s stopping me. My Camp experience was well in excess of twice the costs of everyone else, with the extra flights to get to America and over to Florida, as well as our exchange rate of around 75 cents to your dollar, and going to Camp means it will be a few more years until I can afford to go back and watch the Phillies play at home.

S: Finally, how will the Phillies do this year?

M: Some good wins at Spring Training, but I am reading a few stories about Chase Utley, and some others with broken bones (Domonic Brown)… so who knows. Its a long season (I don’t know how they do it every year), but we all want to see another win, so I’ll pick good things for 2011… as I’m sure we all are.

1/23/11 – FINAL DAY of Phillies Phantasy Camp

I woke up just as the sun started to make its slow rise over the horizon and envelop Clearwater Harbor with its warm orange glow. This was the perfect way to start out my last morning at Phantasy Camp.

Packed and checked out, I headed to breakfast in the ballroom. My calf muscle in my left leg felt fantastic, like nothing had happened to it the day before. No hobbling down the buffet line for me. This was good because I needed the support to hold up the massive amount of bacon that I just shoveled on to my plate. No need to eat healthy today. This was going to be a party.

I sat down at an empty table and was soon joined by Scott Palmer. He wished me a good morning, asked how I was, and asked about my experience at Camp He was thrilled to hear all my exaltations. While I had him there, I had to speak to him about Cliff Lee…

I watched the Cliff Lee press conference live on the MLB Network and the first thing I noticed was Palmer’s introduction of Lee and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. Palmer was not just a Public Affairs Director this day, he was a fan like all the rest of us.  I remarked to Scott how overjoyed he looked and sounded, like he could not believe he was actually there, introducing Lee BACK to the Phillies. The same went for Amaro Jr. The both of them had the widest smiles. Scott shook his head and told me that was such an incredible day and everyone in the organization felt the same way: over the moon. He went on to tell me about the night he found out Lee was returning to the Phillies.

The Phillies were hosting a charity event that Palmer MC’ing. Dave Montgomery, the owner, president and C.E.O. of the Phillies, who takes his involvement with charities very seriously, was suspicious absent for the good part of the evening. Every now and then, Dave would come in, looking very tense and pensive, and then quickly disappear again. Scott knew that the Phillies had recently become a major player in the Lee sweepstakes, and he was their number one priority. Throughout the night, Dave would come and go, but finally, he returned with a very similar wide grin, sat down, crossed his legs, took a huge a breath and put his arms on each chair next to him. Scott knew right then the Phillies had just landed Lee. It wasn’t until later that night while he was driving home did he hear the confirmation on the radio. Fantastic.

A teammate of mine, Harry Sharpe, joined us at the table. Harry had incredible energy, a great sense of humor, and was a joy to be around. He and his wife own a bed & breakfast in Tunkhannok, PA, which he promised all of us discounted rates if we came and stayed there. I’m holding you to that Harry!

Scott told us another story about Phantasy Camp that gave me such a bad case of goosebumps. Syd Fluck had been a regular down in Clearwater, but over the years, he started developing early stages of Alzheimer’s. In what turned out to be his last year attending Camp, his son had joined him for the first time. Palmer recalled a sad, but very touching moment when the older Fluck was batting in a game at Bright House. Syd had struck out, but thought he actually walked. He started his way down the line to take his base. His son met him on the line and gently whispered in to his ear that he actually struck out. His son put his arm his dad’s shoulders and walked him back to the dugout. EVERYONE on the field, in the dugout, and in the stands, gave him a rousing, standing ovation. My eyes are welling up just typing this. Like I said before, this is what this Camp is all about.

———————–

I loaded all my luggage into the bus and said goodbye to the Marriot.  Since the Drillers finished in 8th place, our game against the Legends would not be until the early afternoon, so we did not need to be at the Complex until a little later. That extra hour was so nice, although, we did kind of wish we would finish 9th or 10th just so we could get two extra hours. Also, as a consolation, the 9th and 10th place teams played their final game the day before at Bright House Field.

Sometimes, it’s good to lose one every now and then.

We pulled in to the Complex one last time. This morning routine of ours quickly became so familiar, like we had done this for years. That was a really comforting feeling. It felt great to take our time this day, stroll in to the clubhouse, and not have to rush about getting ready for our morning briefings. We all were able to leisurely sit around, chat with our surrounding locker buddies and teammates, and fully take in this final and very exciting day.

Before I left, another Camper stopped me, and for the fourth time in the past couple of days, was told I resemble a sports celebrity. This time, my apparent doppelganger was not a baseball player. Nope, I got a NASCAR driver this time. Who? Tony Stewart….

That’s still SO much better than Kruk (just kidding big guy!)

I slowly made my way from the clubhouse to Bright House Field. I wanted to really take in that particular walk one last time. The weather was gorgeous. It was still very cool, but the winds had completely subsided and the sun just seemed extra brighter today. Very fitting.

When I arrived, the atmosphere was so joyous. Everyone had their family and friends around with them, taking pictures of their favorite Camper and all the Legends, congregated and playing on the field. This was also a great chance for everyone to raid the Phillies Clubhouse store. I honestly thought I would have left with half the store, but I resisted the urge and surprisingly did not purchase one item. However, I did purchase a photo CD courtesy of the professional photographers who roamed the fields every single day, Northeast Photography. They had every proof laid out for the Campers to pick and choose. I found a good number of photos with me in various action and not-so-action-filled shots. All I have to say is, by the time the August reunion at Citizens Bank Park rolls around, I am losing some pounds. Looking like that in front of 200 people is one thing. 45,000? Yeah, maybe I should cut back on that bacon.

With a good amount of time on my hands, I made my way around Bright House Field to take photos.  Much like every new ballpark that has debuted in the last 10 or so years, Bright House has the distinctive feature of a seamless walkway, encircling the entire field.  Two days before, an ESF employee spotted me taking pictures and told me that I could climb up to the perch in centerfield where the TV cameras are positioned. I took his advice, and made my out there. On this crystal clear day, the field’s colors looked extra vibrant. The grass was greener and the sky was bluer.

Around the stadium I went. I was all alone standing beyond the outfield fences. I all I heard was the faint crack of a bat and a few muffled cheers. That near silence was broken with the echoes of the PA announcer calling out the next batter and the score. It was so peaceful back amongst the palm trees.

I settled in to the seats along the first base side, right behind the Legends dugout. Twenty minutes ago, they were the size of ants. Now, they were all lined up in front of me, larger than life.

For the first time today, I was able to sit down and take in one of these games. This would be a good time to explain the rules of our matchups against the Legends…

1. Games are only three innings long. The Legends are the home team, which really means, the games are actually only two and a half innings. I believe it only happened once ever in Camp history where the Legends needed their last at bat’s to finish the game.

2. We are allowed to field an entire team at once. Yes, we had five outfielders. We regressed beyond Little League. We went to Tee Ball.

3. If by the third inning, if everyone on the team had not batted, but we reached three outs, the inning would still continue until everyone had a turn at the plate.

4. The Legends are only allowed to score a maximum of two runs per inning. If they reached the two run limit, but still have less than three outs, the inning is still over.

Not only do these rules benefit the Campers in that we all get to participate and have fun, but to try and limit the time on the field of the Legends. Not every Legend played, which meant a lot of these guys were logging a lot of time on the field this day (almost five hours).

It was a something else seeing a lot of the Legends switching around and playing positions you would have never seen them man in their heydays. Mitch Williams at first, Scott Eyre at third, Mickey Morandini pitching…

It was also great seeing these guys in playing action for the first time this Camp. Being able to see those sweet left-handed swings of Milt Thompson and Von Hayes, those distinctive batting stances of Kruk, Ricky Jordan, Mike Lieberthal, the power windup of Ricky Bottalico, Kevin Stocker and Dave Hollins fluidly and flawlessly turning a double play, Juan Samuel gracefully taking a double… truly awe-inspiring. Yes, they are all older and they were not playing at 100% of their physical ability, but you could just see how innate their talent is. Everything they do on the field is second nature to them. It’s like brushing your teeth or tying your shoes. You don’t have to think about it. That’s what the sport is like for them, and that will always be something I’ll never get my mind around. Just incredible.

After a few innings, I made my way back towards the tent in left field for a well-deserved lunch. Sitting around and taking photographs is exhausting. I sat with a lot of my teammates and we had a wonderful last meal together. Just like in the clubhouse, it was kind of sad that this would be the last time we would be eating together. I finished my extremely nutritious slab of cheesecake and made my way back to the stands to watch some more games. The Ravens and Sky Chiefs would be playing soon and I wanted to say hi to my friends before they hit the field.

As our time drew nearer, my team started congregating in left field. No one was really hitting the ball that deep, so all the teams would start warming up a couple games before theirs.

During the Sky Chiefs game, we made our way to the dugout to get ourselves ready so as to have a smooth and quick transition to our game. Now it was starting to hit me; sitting in that dugout again and watching all these great ex-Phillies on the field and knowing I would be stepping up to the plate and looking out at all of them. Wow.

The game finished and we stood around, getting ready to run out on the field. I got a few more pictures and videos. One of my friend’s had asked me to get an autograph of Kevin Stocker for her as he was her favorite player on that 1993 team. I decided that would be too boring, so Stock obliged me with a quick video message to my friend. In true Stocker fashion, he got a quick dig in, calling my play on the field, “unbelievably bad”. Thanks. Now I’m not going to buy one of your smoothies. What do you think of that hot shot? But seriously, it was a great gesture. The night of the Bull Session, he did a very similar thing. When asked if he would speak to a Camper’s daughter on the phone, he obliged. He truly loved interacting with everyone.

I also got one more quick video. This was one of the big moments I was waiting for.

Wow. Dan Baker, calling out my name and number, with my big goofy smile projected on the scoreboard. What a moment.

Stock and Lieby called us in for a quick huddle. Their only instructions were, once we finished our at-bats, to go out to any position we wanted and to just have fun. Yep, we had regressed to Tee Ball.

The Legend that we drew as our opposing pitcher was a great one. We actually got to face the newbie and last minute addition in Scott Eyre. So, not only did we get to face a real pitcher (some teams had former position players throwing at them), but we would be batting against a man who was only one season removed from pitching in the World Series against the Yankess AND two seasons removed from winning the World Championship. That was mind-blowing.

1-2-3 we went.

I made a beeline out for left field. There was no way I was playing infield against these guys. Plus, they had no problem driving the ball out, so I figured there would be a great chance for me to field a ball hit out. Lee Sorenson took his spot next to me in the new “middle left field” position. For those scoring at home, that would be “11”. I yelled over to Lee and joked with him that we needed to take this seriously and that we would be the first team to beat the Legends. He got in to the spirit and barked back that this is the last stronghold and to hold our positions. Very funny.

The first Legend to bat was Ricky Bottalico. Ricky Bo was most definitely taking these games seriously; from his metal spikes, to his quick glove work at third, to his powerful bat. He was there to play. After his first at-bat, it all seemed like a blur. One after another these guys would rake the ball. They quickly reached their two run limit. The highlight of the first inning though was Von Hayes hitting an opposite-field shot down the line towards me. Unfortunately, between the photographer who was stationed near me on the field, and another team warming up near the sidelines, I could not field the ball as cleanly as I wanted to. It bounced off several people and I had to quickly change my course. I finally retrieved the ball and made a nice clean throw to the cut-off man. There was another highlight: fielding a Von Hayes double. Awesome.

1-2-3 once again. I felt that our chances were looking very slim at this point.

Bottom of the second and another blur of hits and scoring… Ricky Jordan, Juan Samuel, John Kruk, Dave Hollins, Tyler Green, Ryan Howard… just kidding. The score was now 4-0 and we came up for our final at-bats, which meant I would finally get my chance.

There I went, strolling up to home plate to face Scott Eyre. The PA announcer called out my name and I got chills down my spine. Eyre clearly had dialed it down for us Campers. He did not throw any off-speed or breaking balls. Every single pitch was right down the middle, straight, and much slower than he could possibly throw. I would say he was around the low to mid-70’s. It was great to see him start out his windup with that little shoulder shrug he does before every pitch. Unlike what I normally do, I took the first pitch just to see what I would be facing. It was like a pitching machine. Straight and perfect. The second came in exactly the same and I swung. Yep, not even close. After
that, I may have taken a ball (I can’t really remember, but it’s very possible I did not. Patient at the play I am not.) Scott threw his next, identical pitch in and I got around on it, hitting a very solid line drive towards second base… right in to the glove of Dickie Noles. No matter. If I had one ultimate goal in this Camp, it was to NOT strike out against a Legend, and just make contact. That was all. And I did. For once, I did not go down because of my flailing bat. My dad would have absolutely over the moon. For a man who witnessed his son swing at many-a-horrible pitch in his life, any sort of solid contact made him extremely proud. That one was for you dad.

I came back to the dugout with a big grin on my face, Stock, Lieby, and the rest of my teammates all came over to tell me how solid of a hit that was. What a great feeling. Our MVP Pete was not able to play due to a nagging injury, but did find the energy to get an at-bat. As they did for players who were having a hard time running, a pinch runner was used, stationed behind the umpire. This time, they used the young son of my teammate Joe Stackhouse. Pete got a hold of Eyre’s pitch and drove it in between right and center field. Ricky Jordan, who was patrolling center, pulled up a bit and let it fall as to give Joe’s son the opportunity to run the bases.  Stocker, who was coaching first, got in to the spirit and told Joe’s son to try and steal after Eyre released the ball. In the Camp, one rule was that there was no stealing allowed, so of course, this garnered a lot of laughs, especially from Eyre.

We made our last out and that was that. My days on the Phantasy Camp were officially over. We lined up to shake the hands of all the Legends and give our final goodbyes. One after another, “good game, thank you, take care, great to meet you, etc.” Then came Dave Hollins. “Great game Inky!”

———————–

Back to the clubhouse… what no Yuengling today?! Yeesh. I slowly packed up everything from my locker; all the uniform accoutrements, the customized magnetic name plate, etc. For those who were not going to be taking the bus the airport, we all said our goodbyes. We traded our business cards, numbers, emails, and most importantly, our heartfelt exchanges of letting the other person know that it was an absolute pleasure to have met and shared this incredible experience with them.

Before I left, I did have one small piece of business to attend to. I brought down a one of my favorite pictures of my dad and I, taken before a Phillies game in July of 2004, the first year of Citizen Bank Park. I blew it up and wrote a personal note on the back. I folded it up tightly and placed it in the far back of the safe in my locker. I’m sure it was quickly found by the clubhouse staff after we all left, but it was my way of giving my dad a small taste of being in Clearwater with me, living out this lifelong dream together, in spirit.

And that… was what this Camp was all about to me.

Dad, this was for you. I love you.

———————–

This does not mean this diary is finished. Not by a long shot. There will be much more to come… more pictures, links, and follow-up stories. There will also be two Phantasy Camp reunions at Citizens Bank Park during the upcoming baseball season, including the big one during alumni weekend on the last weekend in August. So please keep stopping by!

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.

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