Results tagged ‘ John Kruk ’

It’s John Kruk Month!

MLB.com’s Blog Central released their January 2012 leaders, and the diary cracked the top 30 at #29.

That’s right, I’m rocking The Krukker’s number this month!

So in honor of one of the best Legends to take the field at Phantasy Camp, please enjoy this little John Kruk medley…

I have been receiving some very complimentary words about my photographs. If you would like to see all my images from Phantasy Camp, please visit my Flickr collection here.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp
Photo by Louise DiBiase

I want to thank everyone who has stopped by to read this blog, and has taken the time to leave a comment or send an email. It truly means the world to me.

Now let’s resume counting down to when the REAL players hit the field!

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.

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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.

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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!

“An Endless Game Of Repeated Summers”

Last month I posted a video about one of the great father-son duos at Phantasy Camp, Rocky and Chris Wright.

Several days ago, Chris contacted me and sent along a couple of his own videos. He was very gracious to let me share them on this website.

The first was a segment from “Behind The Pinstripes” back in April, hosted by Scott Palmer, public affairs director for the Phillies, and one of the many Phantasy Camp gurus. The show did a piece on the Wright’s Camp experience together in Clearwater last January.

The other was a very nice photo compilation of both he and his father (complete with a soundtrack supplied by a band who is fronted by one of my favorite personalities in rock).

Needless to say, Chris’s videos and his wonderful messages were quite timely…

This week marks the second anniversary of my dad’s passing (as well as the 21st for my mother).

“…for baseball is continuous, like nothing else among American things, an endless game of repeated summers, joining the long generations of all fathers and all sons.”

Donald Hall “Fathers Playing Catch With Sons”

John Kruk: Phantasy Legend. Phillies Legend.

It’s safe to say that one of the most entertaining Legends in Phillies Phantasy Camp this past January was the one and only, John Kruk.

This past weekend, Kruk got his due when he was officially given a rightful spot on the illustrious Phillies Wall of Fame.

- Phillies.com’s coverage of Saturday’s induction.

- Phillies.com’s photo gallery.

- Larry Shenk’s memories on his Phillies Insider blog.

———-

Thanks to my friend Tom, I now have an incredible collection of DVD containing his VHS-transferred Phillies “Home Companion” videos. Not only were these a fantastic flashbacks to a time when I started to really come in to my own as a Phillies fan, but also made me look at these players in a completely different light. Practically every single Phantasy Camp Legend made an appearance in these wonderful baseball time capsules.

Needless to say, the vast quantity and quality of classic Kruk moments were boundless. I tried my best and compiled some of my favorite moments. Here’s to you Krukker!

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.

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


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

Then this happened…

PaulRingoNYC_JLiverani148.jpg

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

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

But first, I had some games to play.

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

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

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

Me: “Yes, it’s my birthday.”

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

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

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

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








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

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

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

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

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

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

Check’s in the mail L.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Did I really just say that?)

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

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

It would all be worth it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have Fun”

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

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

This is what I wanted to experience with my father.

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

“Have Fun”

 

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

What kind of person would maliciously set my alarm for 5:15 AM? Oh the evil that resides in the heart of men…

No, I thought it would be prudent to wake up before sunrise and join some of my fellow campers for an organized early stretch in the hotel. Rookie mistake.

Right before I left for Florida, I felt that I was fighting off the early stages of a cold, or something along those lines. Last time I checked, five hours of sleep after being up for close to 20, flying for three hours, and partaking in some late afternoon-into-night imbibing is not quite the best way to stave off a little bout of illness. The stretching was very helpful, I admit. It also helped that we were situated right next to the breakfast buffet line. Nothing says “motivation” like the smell of cooked sausage. Larry Andersen joined in on the stretch and provided much needed color commentary. I felt better… as better as I could get. Pounding headache and froggy throat aside, I hit up the buffet line and took a seat in the ballroom where we had our Rookie Meeting the night before. On the tables were “Phantasy Update” newsletters. Very similar to what you would see on a cruise, it gave the highlights from yesterday’s events as well as the schedule for that day, the weather forecast, and any other pertinent information.  I was in such a haze, I couldn’t remember if I had even spoken to anybody. I apologize to anyone right now if I forgot our early morning conversation. I finished up and still had 45 minutes to kill before the first bus left for the Carpenter Complex at 7:30. Guess who was going to be setting his alarm MUCH later tomorrow?

I exited the hotel in to glorious early morning weather. It was still quite cool out, but the sun told me it was going to be a perfect day for baseball. I loaded my company-issued Phantasy Camp gym bag in to the belly of the bus, made my way inside, and plopped down in a window seat. To get us in the mood as we made the 20 minute-or-so ride to the complex, the 2010 video yearbook of the Phillies, “Great Expectations” was playing on the hanging TV screens. The video started with some highlights from the year, then proceeded to show them arriving and working out for Spring Training… right where we were going, and where we would be spending the next four days at. I have never come down to Florida to see Spring Training games (another excursion my dad and I never got to do).  This was all going to be very new to me. I was definitely that kid going to Disneyworld for the very first time.

We pulled up into the narrow parking lot, flanked by two of the most beautiful, pristine ball fields I think I have ever seen, except in a Major League park of course. There are not too many things more beautiful in this world than an untouched, perfectly manicured baseball field with the early morning sun shining on it like a warm, glowing spotlight.

The rookies congregated in front of the main entrance to the clubhouse, situated between Ashburn and Carlton Fields. In addition to Bright House Field, the main stage for Phillies Spring Training games as well as home to the Clearwater Threshers, there are four smaller fields in the complex, all named after Phillies Hall of Famers: Mike Schmidt, Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, and Richie Ashburn. There is also a field outside of the complex, named after the Yankee great Joe DiMaggio, which it also utilized by the Phillies. As we waited to be let inside, over the loudspeaker came the familiar voice of Dan Baker, the long time public address announcer for the Phillies and Eagles. He read off the uniform number and name of every camper in attendance. As he continued, Scott Palmer emerged and spoke over Baker’s announcements. I wanted him to stop so that I could hear my name! Scott, I love ya, but quit yapping for two minutes! But, as soon as he broke in to his speech, the undertone of Baker’s lineup really set up the moment so beautifully. Palmer’s voice dropped a few steps and he gave us a very brief, but emotional speech that emphasized this common dream we have an are about to live out and how special this moment will be… one that many people will never get to experience. He ended it with a simple, “welcome”.

As we funneled in to the clubhouse, Dan Baker’s lineup announcement was still echoing through the complex. Just like me leaving the airport to the Verve’s “Lucky Man”, this made me feel like I was in a movie. Dan Baker was the voice of God calling us all in to heaven.

Baker’s voice was quickly drowned out by the sound of cheering and clapping. Veterans, clubhouse personnel, Camp representatives, etc. were all there to enthusiastically greet us and direct us to our locker. Photographers and videographers were capturing every step as we looked in at amazement. As it was alphabetical, my locker was situated near the last row. On my way there I would look down the other rows and see everyone else’s reaction to their beautiful new uniforms. It was a sight to behold.

I finally arrived at my row. It was a tight fit. Most everyone had found their locker and were already taking pictures and marveling at their surroundings. I really wanted to savor the moment and take my time. With the amount of people I had to maneuver through, this wouldn’t be a problem. I finally arrived. There it was, on the left-hand side. The whitest, crispest, most stunning uniform I have ever seen. Sargent. 31. I have never seen the color red so solid and pure in my life. It was like the Phillies organization had used the most exotic and expensive dyes in the world just for my name and number. Also hanging in the locker was a pair of red pinstripe pants and belt, a personalized red batting practice jersey (our “away” top), a short-sleeved Phillies red t-shirt and a long-sleeve mock turtleneck with the Phillies logo on front of the neck. In the back of the locker was a “laundry loop”. That was to be used for all items that weren’t part of the main uniform. The clubhouse guys came around to show us how to use it and attach our clothing items on them. It was way too early for us to deal with such complicated technol
ogy like elastic bands and plastic clips.  Much like the room full of monkeys on typewriters, we eventually figured out “The Loop”.

After I squeezed myself into my uniform, dotted my “I’s” and crossed my “T’s”, I took a quick tour of the clubhouse to get my surroundings… the bathroom, the shower, the trainer’s room (see you guys soon!), and the huge snack/break room with a couple large TV’s, beverage dispensers for water and two kinds of Powerade, and buckets upon buckets of David sunflower seeds and Double Bubble gum. Before I headed out, I stopped to have a formal photograph taken of me in my poor excuse of a batting stance.

I exited the clubhouse and made my way to Bright House Field where we would have the first of our daily morning player briefings and Kangaroo Court sessions. At this point, I left my camera behind in the locker as I was not sure how easy it would be to tote it around from field to field, so unfortunately, the amount of photographs taken this day were low in number.

We all congregated under a large tent set up next to Frenchy’s Tiki Pavilion in right field. Scott Palmer ran through what to expect for the rest of the day and night, and some other basic information. Before he introduced Larry Andersen, John Kruk, and Mitch Williams, the Kangaroo Court judges, he warned us campers, as well as the folks who were there as part of the Phan and General Manager packages, that every morning, these sessions would be very blue. So blue in fact, they did not allow any audio or visual recording. The sign outside of the tent drove it home…

Andersen, Kruk, and Williams entered donning black robes and British-style judicial wigs. Mickey Morandini acted as the public defender for each camper brought before the court. Mickey looked very official in his uniform and clip-on tie. Very classy. I won’t get in to specifics because this blog would be even more excruciatingly long. To sum it up; there was plenty of laughin’, cussin’, roastin’, dippin’, and a health serving of general depravity.  I wouldn’t have expected anything less from this crew.

Now it was off to have our picture taken with all of the Legends. Since it went alphabetically, I had plenty of time on my hands. Until then, a couple player representatives held another organized stretching session and throw-around in the outfield of Schmidt Field.  It was just like you see in clips of Spring Training… just a lot of strolling, stretching, chatting, and goofing around. Where do I sign up for this job?

Finally my turn came to sit with all the ex-Phillies and have our photograph taken.  As I approached, several of the players, almost in unison, yelled out, “Inky!” I knew immediately what they were talking about. For those not familiar with the ’93 Phillies, former Texas Ranger Pete Incaviglia was brought to the team that season for his power at the plate. Like the vast majority of that team, he rocked a mullet/long hair and constant facial scruff.

No facial hair in this one, but it would eventually come…

My appearance had immediately struck a chord with the players and reminded them of their former teammate. Once that name was thrown out, the rest of them laughed. I knew I was going to be in trouble for the rest of the Camp. I noticed Jim Eisenreich was standing right behind the empty space that would be my spot on the bench. Jim looked at me and said, “Hey! It’s me, Jim Eisenbise!”

——————–

Finally, it was time to start actually playing some baseball. I almost forgot that’s what I was there for. To evaluate the rookies, the Camp held four 15-minute drill workouts. Based on these, the Legends and GM’s would make their selections at the lunchtime draft for their respective teams. The first workout for me was for infield. I reported back to Schmidt Field and met with Mickey Morandini and Terry Harmon on the pitchers mound. Mickey caught sight of me, smiled, and said, “Hey there Inky!” Oh man…

Memories of my childhood came flooding back. Just like in Little League, we formed two lines at second base and shortstop. Mickey would hit the shortstop a grounder, throw to second and complete the double play at first, then switch. I was very pleased with myself for consistently making the clean pickup and throw on both ends. I heard the reassuring words of Harmon and thought my plan of playing the outfield would immediately be in jeopardy. But it didn’t matter. It just felt fantastic being out there in the sun, throwing the ball around and hearing the snap of leather.

The next workout revolved around pitching. We reported to the pitching mounds located between Roberts and Schmidt Fields. This should be interesting. I pitched one inning in my life in Little League: two strikeouts and a triple. I made my way up and my goal was jus not make a fool of myself, i.e. no bouncing to the catcher or throwing to the catcher NEXT to mine. The first handful were over the plate, which, in my mind, was a complete success. Can I go now? No? Damn. The more I threw, the more they started straying outside the strike zone. My catcher stopped me before it got worse and someone would eventually get hurt.

As I was waiting to move on to the next workout, we noticed a commotion in the outfield of Schmidt Field. Some poor camper had gone to catch a fly ball and tore his Achilles tendon. A cart had to be brought out. He eventually had to leave Camp and return home. We all felt a pit in our stomach for the guy. He just got there, just like the rest of us. Now he couldn’t even stay and just hang out. I think we all had this underlying fear that could easily happen to any of us. Maybe I will reconsider those early morning stretches.

Now on to my biggest weakness: hitting. We went inside to the batting tunnels, which held four separate netted hitting areas. In three of them, Legends and player reps were switching up and throwing batting practice. Ex-Phillie and hitting coach Milt Thompson was holding a quick evaluation in the fourth cage. If I had any notion that I possessed somewhat of a decent swing, it would have been quickly brought down to Earth in these five minutes. Luckily I don’t, so why get embarrassed? I tried to utilize some pointers he gave out to fellow campers before me. I took a few swings and stopped me. Like everyone else, his mantra was to get us to make our swing rhythmic to the beat of our heart. If that’s the case, then my swing must look like I’m suffering a massive arrhythmia. He asked me to step back and took a swing, demonstrating his method. Now, there’s Joe Schmoe who gets around on a pitch, hits it square on the barrel, and makes that beautiful sound of wood cracking and launching a baseball. They actually may even look pretty decent doing it. Then, there is a Major Leaguer swinging and hitting a baseball.  Night and day. Not even close. Milt Thompson is not a big guy at all. In that split second, he was Superman. I felt like I should have apologized to him for wasting his time and offered to buy him a beer later. Wow. I took a few cuts off of a player rep throwing BP, then moved on to the next and last station.

This was the one I was looking forward to. Back to Schmidt field for the outfield workout with Jim Eisenreich and Von Hayes. We stood at the warning track in centerfield and Eisey would hit one to us. Nothing more than that. The first one he hits to me was an in-betweener, so I let it bounce… past me and to the wall. Beautiful. I’m going back to the infield. I liked my results much better there, thank you very much.

Lunchtime.

Fantastic, I can’t mess that one up.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, I’ll be here all week.

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Phantasy Camp!

——————-

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

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

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


1/15/11 – High Hopes…

In addition to the now daily, “you are going to Phillies Phantasy Camp really soon” email from the ESF folks, I received something else yesterday that really got me in to the spirit… like I need anymore fuel to that particular fire.

A friend of mine from D.C. sent me a DVD released in 2003 called “High Hopes: The Anatomy of a Winner: The Story of the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies”. Enclosed was a note saying how he found this DVD while cleaning his apartment, and thought I would appreciate it and get me in the mood for Camp.  I must say, this was a mighty thoughtful gesture. You are the best, Steve.

I stopped what I was doing and popped the DVD in.  Almost immediately, I started beaming. A 90-minute documentary about my favorite team of all time, narrated by Larry Andersen and John Kruk? This was going to be fun. The only DVD I have relating to this team is the MLB-sanctioned postseason highlight film. It’s not bad, but you don’t get a great sense of what that team was all about. This film… THIS is what I want to see. Anyone who distinctly remembers that season will be instantly transported back to that time, and how much fun it was to follow those characters.

When that season started, I was a junior in high school. I remember watching the first game against the Houston Astros with my dad, marveling at Terry Mulholland’s complete game and newcomers Pete Incaviglia and Jim Eisenreich’s instant impact, knocking in a run each. I didn’t want to hinge the outcome of the entire season on one game, but there was definitely something very different about this team. They looked REALLY good. This movie did such a great job returning me to that particular night.

The rest of the film was perfect. It brought back so many memories. It gave me the chills hearing the radio and TV calls of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn… all the great highlights and stories I will never forget, and some that had completely slipped my mind…

- I totally forgot that poor Jim Eisenreich was called “Jeffrey Dahmer” because of his slight resemblance to the famous serial killer. You KNOW he has a good sense of humor to be able to put up with that.

- Game 6 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves. The Phillies bring in Stephen Gunzenhauser, the music director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, to conduct “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the 7thinning stretch. As he is leaning out of the booth, a fan steals his oversized baton mid-song. He was left there to continue in his nice tux and tails, sans baton. Classic.

But what really makes this DVD special is being able to watch all the in-depth interviews of the players who I will be meeting in five short days. These guys are good old-fashioned ballplayers that every person can easily relate to.

They love the game. They love the camaraderie. They love to have fun. That’s what that team was all about. That’s what baseball should be all about.

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