Results tagged ‘ Kevin Stocker ’

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.

1/19/12 – Day Two of the 2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

My father always preached to me that if you have consumed a decent amount of alcohol in a given night, in addition to drinking a lot of water, ALWAYS take two aspirin before your head hits the pillow to prevent any morning uneasiness. It never fails. Thus, my morning started out great… other than the fact it was 6:30 AM.

A good breakfast and incredible weather got the day off on the right foot. As I waited to board the bus, I ran out to the back of the hotel to catch the sun rising.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I exited the lobby and was greeted by this automobile. I was really hoping this was the “veteran bus”.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Even though it’s been a year since last Camp, the bus ride over to the Carpenter Complex was as familiar to me as the back of my hand. The veteran bus I rode on pulled in to the parking lot and I immediately got chills. The sun rising over Mike Schmidt Field every single morning, casting the most beautiful shadows over immaculate diamonds is a nothing short of miracle.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

As we came off the bus, a sandwich board directed us to the other entrance to the clubhouse. We would not be experiencing the pomp and circumstance like the rookies, but that’s OK. This is THEIR moment.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

As the rookies were listening to Scott Palmer’s emotional speech and the voice of Dan Baker reading off their names outside, I made my way to my locker and found my brand new uniform. I’m so happy this moment did not lose any of it’s luster. I still got goosebumps seeing that crisp and perfect jersey.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I had some time to take a breath and get ready to greet the rookies when they entered. I started hearing laughing and went to investigate. Ike Reese’s locker had already been targeted for some good old-fashioned hazing.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I was then instructed to take my place and welcome the rookies. The looks on their faces as we clapped and cheered for them… I know that very well. That gave me so much joy to be a part this special moment for them. Every single one of them looked like little kids. I’ll never forget entering that clubhouse for the first time. I hope they don’t either.

Ike Reese made his way in, filming the moment on his smartphone. I heard his howling laughter when he came to his locker.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ike Reese

In the middle of chatting with some familiar faces from last year, and talking with the new guys, I got myself suited up for our first Kangaroo Court session.

I made a point to get out to Bright House Field a little early to snap some photos, maybe even catch some current Phillies doing some morning workouts, just like last year. There were rumblings of a Vance Worley sighting, but no dice. No bother. The weather was absolutely stunning, so much warmer than last year. I just took it all in.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Kangaroo Court was ready. The judges’ garb was laid out. Let’s get blue!

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Scott Palmer spoke first, laying out the day’s events, where to go, when to go, etc. A few words from the head photographer, ESF folks, and the crew chief for the umpires (complete with day’s first F-bomb)… then came the judges. Larry Andersen, John Kruk, and Ricky Bottalico took their spots on the bench, along with Mickey Morandini as the court-appointed defender. The F-bomb count immediately surpassed 100 within the first 10 minutes. That was fast.

The very first person called up was Dave Steel. I had met Dave the night before at dinner. His father, who I remembered from last year, had given his son the Camp as a gift, and they would both be on our team this go round. Dave, as I would come to find out throughout the entire week, is a renaissance man. Steely Dave had been charged in the case of “premature cupulation”. He apparently wore his cup from the hotel to the clubhouse, then later went looking for it, as he thought it was missing. This was definitely a sign of things to come with big Dave.

More laughs ensued as case upon case was heard, usually followed by Morandini’s catchphrase, “I got nothing”. Ike Reese would be the last victim of the day, charged with skipping Milt Thompson’s hitting clinic the day before.

We made our way back to the fields where we got our pictures taken with the Legends. Afterwards, I returned to the clubhouse to change in to the red batting practice jersey, as to separate the veterans from the rookies. After some group stretching, the rookies were summoned to their various stations for specific drills (hitting, outfield, infield, pitching, and base-running). Us veterans shagged flies, took grounders, and split up for a quick pick-up game to get us loose. This was much more relaxing than the constant rotating around the complex that the rookies were going through.

Standing out in the green of the outfield, taking in the warm Florida sun, hearing the sounds of fungo bats, just me and a fly ball… pure baseball heaven.

Before the morning session ended, there were rumblings coming from two different fields. On the Richie Ashburn, cheers were overheard as Ike Reese, taking batting practice from Ricky Bottalico, parked one over the rightfield fence. No offense to Ike, but he had a horrible-looking swing. But… he was a professional athlete. He’s a VERY strong man. If you are in shape the way Ike is, it doesn’t matter how bad you look at the plate, you are bound to get a hold of one and muscle it out of the park.

Here’s Ricky Bo giving Ike some post-AB tips.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ricky Bottalico and Ike Reese

Over on the Mike Schmidt field, an extra special Phillies guest was making the rounds. There he was… one of the greatest Phillies ever… Dick Allen.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Dick Allen

Unfortunately, Allen had retired a year after I was born, so I never got to see him play. Oh, but I have read enough about him and heard plenty of stories from my father about his skills to know he was THE man. It was amazing to hear all the Campers saying how Allen was their favorite player when they were growing up. This was their Mike Schmidt.

Plus, how can anyone NOT love this?

After that, it was back to Bright House for lunch. Seriously, this is tough work.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Scott Palmer got on the microphone and announced the teams. It was finally time to get down to business. I knew three of my teammates would be returning, so I chose to once again, play for the Drillers, coached by Kevin Stocker and Mike Lieberthal. I had been contemplating a switch to a new team, just for the experience of having new Phillies Legends as my coaches, but I had such a blast with Stock and Lieby, and knowing the stellar guys that would be coming back, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

During the draft, Ike Reese was sitting next to me. He was chosen for the Sky Chiefs, coached by Greg Luzinski and Terry Harmon. Luckily, we would get to face them later in the Camp.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ike Reese

So it was off to Steve Carlton field to get ready for our first game against the Mud Hens. We were greeted by our player representative, Joe. He was the Drillers’ rep last year and I was so happy to have him back. This year, the Drillers added a General Manager to the mix. Folks who sign up as GM’s at Camp are given the opportunity to help draft players and be a part of the team-building experience. Our GM this year was a lovely man named Rick. As it turned out, his son Howie would also be playing with us. This now made two father-son combos that would be on the team. I was absolutely thrilled to be a part of this, to see the joy in each other’s faces… but at the same time, not surprisingly, I experienced moments of sadness.

This is what my dad and I should have been doing.

———-

As to be expected, I started the game at catcher. Before the lunch break, I saw Lieby who said to me, “Sarge, you ready to catch?!” I had a feeling even before Camp started I would be tabbed to take the spot behind home plate. Even though that’s not my first, or even 7th choice, I was actually looking forward to it. To be completely honest, the only thing I don’t like about catching is all the damn gear! Other than that, it’s a pretty great position… well, there is the constant strain on your knees and legs, the foul balls off you various body parts, the everlasting pain on your catching hand… OK seriously, who in their right mind says, “I want to be a catcher”?

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Kevin Stocker

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Kevin Stocker and Mike Lieberthal

Our opening day starting pitcher was Steely Dave. He had really nice velocity and occasionally threw a fork or drop-arm. As the game went on, we found ourselves in a pitcher’s duel. That is until the 4th inning. We pulled ahead 2-1, and in the 5th, broke out the whoopin’ sticks. Five runs on eight hits. Our star of the game, John “The Mailman” Ashcom, delivered with a big single. The floodgates opened. Five consecutive singles. The Mud Hens retaliated with one run, but we returned the favor with one of our own, courtesy of Ashy’s double. Steely Dave ran in to some trouble and was relieved by veteran Driller, Dave Mongeluzi. Dave closed the game and we started out the Camp on a high note, winning 8-4 with 14 hits. Definitely a huge improvement over last year. All of a sudden, we had the Championship Game on our minds!

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

How did I do? Let’s just say, I had fun watching my team win. I caught four innings and patrolled rightfield at the end. I pulled out my best Carlos Ruiz impression by fielding a squibber in front of home plate, and throwing a perfect strike to first. I didn’t have the new hockey-style masks, but the traditional backwards batting helmet/mask combo, so I’m hoping my whipping-off of the mask looked pretty cool… I’m sure it’s didn’t, but I’d like to think so.

At the plate? It wouldn’t be one of my patented batting performances if I didn’t start out the Camp with two strike outs. The first looking, of course. The third was a “broken bat” grounder to second base. Later I started taking pictures of the bat, to which Stocker threw out one of his hundreds of little sarcastic comments, this one about my “massivly shattered bat”. Yes, it really was just a tiny crack, but I don’t care.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

As if the day couldn’t have ended better, we followed the most amazing sunset all the way back to the hotel. Unlike last year, the warmer weather and clear skies created absolutely stunning scenes of natural beauty each day on our return trip. Every night looked like a painting filled with the most vibrant of reds and oranges. I wanted to take pictures on the bus, but this was the one time I just wanted to take it all in. I waited until I got back to the hotel to capture the last moments of the day.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

The night ended with the Bull Session. All the Legends gathered, took questions from the audience, and told stories of their playing days. This is just another opportunity for some good-naturing ribbing on each other. Rick, our team’s GM, got up to ask a question, but before he could, made a nice gesture that would end up backfiring on him. He had procured himself a couple bottles of wine from the Phan wine and cheese tasting a couple hours before. Rick, who is a big lover of wine, had opened a bottle for us at dinner. He told Larry Andersen that he would like to give him some as he knew he loved wine. The problem was, there about a half a glass left. He brought up the red and an unopened bottle of white dessert wine. Well this just caused all sorts of “you got to be kidding me?!”-type of responses. Larry proceeded to down the remaining wine like the champ that he is.

Rick was sure to be called up tomorrow morning in Kangaroo Court.

There were many great quotes from the Legends, but my two favorite came from, not surprisingly, members of the ’93 Phillies. A Camper had asked Terry Harmon about playing in Connie Mack Stadium, as he was the only Phillie there to do so. John Kruk blurted out, “He played when the managers wore suits!” Classic.

The last came from Mickey Mornadini, who ended the session with a story about former Phillies pitching coach and Brooklyn Dodger, Johnny Podres. In 1993, Danny Jackson was pitching in Cincinnati. Jackson was giving up a lot of homeruns, and in turn, the stadium would set off fireworks. Needless to say, it was like the 4th of July. Podres walks out to talk to Jackson. When Danny asked Johnny, “What the hell are you doing here?”, Podres responded, “I’m just giving time for the fireworks guy to reload.”

And with that, we retired to the bar, yada yada yada, it was a helluva day.

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

Opening Day Memories

It’s the most/wonderful time/of the year…

Phillies.com recently spoke with former players and asked them about their favorite Opening Day memories. Below are the moments from the Phantasy Camp Legends.


Marty Bystrom (RHP, 1980-84): “Watching Mike Ryan catch a ball dropped from a helicopter hovering above Veterans Stadium.”

Jim Eisenreich (OF, 1993-96): “1993, my first season with the Phillies. We opened the season in Houston and I was not in the lineup but since my teammate who was going to start overslept, I was inserted in right field. I remember making a catch down the right field line-it was actually a foul ball-but heard some fan comments about not being bad for an ‘old guy.’ We won the game which was the most important part of the day.”

Tommy Greene (RHP, 1990-95): “One of my best memories of opening day happened in 1993 at the Astrodome in Houston. I arrived at the Astrodome early because of the excitement of the season starting and getting ready early for BP. As soon as I got dressed, I went down to the field, which was a hike at the Astrodome. I was by myself out in front of the dugout watching the Astros’ BP when Jim Fregosi stuck his head out from the tunnel and said ‘Tommy, I need to talk to you upstairs!’ First thought in my mind was that I had been sent down or traded but I thought that I had probably one of the best springs of anybody and why would they send me down. All these thoughts were going through my head all the way up the stairs and back to the clubhouse. When I arrived back to the clubhouse I noticed that everyone else had arrived and for some reason everyone was seating in the chairs facing the center of the clubhouse where a chair was placed. Jim then instructed me to sit down in the chair and I looked at everyone and then back at him and said ‘I am not going to sit there in that chair because I don’t trust anyone in this room and that no one was going to put me in that chair.’ I said that because everyone knew April 6th was my birthday. He finally got me to sit down with some encouraging from Lee Thomas and instructed the clubhouse guys to open the main door. A young lady that was dressed as a nurse entered the room, did a dance for me, bent down a whispered in my ear and said, ‘Happy Birthday from your family at home!’ Everyone got the biggest kick out of that and said I had the best family in the world. I think it really loosened us up and jump started the season. Everyone came down to the field laughing. Best part, we started the season real good.”

Greg Luzinski (OF, 1970-80): “Hitting a home run in the 1980 home opener against the Expos at the Vet. Little did we know at the time what was in store for us that October.”

Mickey Morandini (2B, 1990-97; 2000): “Has to be seeing Mike Ryan catch a ball dropped from a helicopter. I know I couldn’t have done that.”

Kevin Stocker (SS, 1993-97): “My most memorable moment wasn’t on opening day but my very first game in the big leagues. We beat the Dodgers in 20 innings at the Vet.”

More Phillies Phantasy Camp Photographs

I was very excited to come home today to a package from the professional photographers at Northeast Photography who were trailing our every move in Clearwater. Inside was the photo CD I ordered on the last day at Phantasy Camp. So without further ado…

1/20/11 – Day Two, morning

Of all the photos I received of myself, this was easily my favorite. My facial expression while entering the clubhouse for the very first time could be described as a combination of a “deer caught in the headlights” and a “get the hell out of my way” Wookiee. In front of me is the famous Gene Mattioni. In case you forgot about Gene…

I have to admit a secret. The baseball hat I’m wearing is actually a 1963 replica Baltimore Orioles cap. I felt a little guilty about this, but as you can see from the clock on the wall, it’s 8:10. I can not be responsible for any fashion choices this early in the morning.

As soon as we got our uniforms on, we posed for our Phillies Phantasy Camp “yearbook picture”. I was voted “Most Likely To Not Be Able To Keep A Cleanly Shaven Face For More Than Two Minutes.”

You’d think I would look a little more excited about our very first Kangaroo Court Session.

You’d think.

1/20/11 – Day Two, afternoon

Here I am warming up in-between innings during our first game against the eventual Camp champions, the Red Barons. This was my only inning manning the hot corner. Luckily for the team, I had no defensive opportunities.

*whiff*

I look like I’m swinging a cricket bat here. No “six” for me.

Not only is this my solid single off of the eventual Camp Cy Young Award winner, Tony Carfagno, but I couldn’t help notice the similarity in this Mike Schmidt poster that used to adorn my bedroom wall:

Obviously there are a LOT of differences in these two shots. The biggest one of course is Schmidt is wearing a blue, away uniform. I am wearing the home, red pinstripe uni. Everything else is very minor.

Mike Lieberthal gives me the big high five for my single and hopefully starting the rally to break through to the pitching clinic we were suffering through. 

The pitcher won.

Here’s my attempt at being an Allen & Ginter baseball card

Later at Bright House Field…

Advancing to second base on a single after my walk. 

Among the plethora of memories from Camp, there was one that, to most people, would seem very mundane, but struck me oddly compelling. During my first at-bat at Bright House Field, I fouled a ball over the backstop into the sea of empty blue seats. The ball clanged around like a Plinko disc. I got such a kick out of that. You go to a Major League game and see foul balls all the time landing into the throngs of fans. The throngs of fans were obviously not in attendance, but I just hit a foul ball into a spot that any number of Major Leaguers have also done. Call me crazy, but I thought that was pretty cool.

“crazy”

Fine, let’s continue…

Leading off of second…

…and forced out.

1/21/11 – Day Three, Kangaroo Court

Because of our devastating 18-0 loss against the Bay Sox at Bright House Field, the Drillers earned the first ever “Gomer Award” given to an entire team. Scott Palmer laughs along with us as Kevin Stocker tries to justify our play on the field.

It didn’t work.

1/22/11 – Day Four, afternoon

Here I am going for the force out in our third game of the day against the Sky Chiefs. I’m actually not really remembering this play. I don’t recall if the out was made, but I do know there was no throwing error. Trust me, I remember my errors. And here is the sequence of my most dunderheaded miscue of the Camp, later in the game…

(Here is my excuse: I mentioned that it was extremely windy this day. Check out the palm tree directly behind me. And which way am I running? I rest, your honor.)

It’s looking good…

Nope.

I picked up the ball and wildly hurled it towards first. I dropped to my knees in utter disbelief. Two errors in one play. Beautiful.

I got it this time!

*phew*

I’m in the middle of a drop-to-the-knee Jayson Werth swing here, minus the power. My facial expression? Even I can’t figure this one out.

This hit resulted in a fielder’s choice. 6-4 if you are scoring at home.

Kevin Stocker is underwhelmed by my even more underwhelming fielder’s choice. I’m overwhelmed by my lack of oxygen intake running down to first base.

——————-

Speaking of photography, over on my other Phillies blog, The Transplanted Phan, I recently posted a couple links to a gallery by Philly.com staff photographer David Swanson. He’s taken a really great approach to capturing the sights down in Clearwater this year. He’s armed himself with an iPhone and has been documenting Spring Training using the Hipstamatic app and adding a hi-fi/lo-fi approach to traditional documentary photography.

Thoughts of Spring

Every single February, the sights and sounds of players returning to their respective Spring Training homes to prepare for the upcoming season of baseball is pure bliss. It means that one day, very very soon, we will break free of winter’s icy clutches. We’ll be able to break out the shorts, head to the ballpark, eat some deliciously unhealthy food, and bask in the glow of the greatest game in the world. Eventually, we’ll tire of the oppressively hot and humid days and eagerly await the crispness of fall and hopefully… for our team to be playing in such weather. Then we do it all again. Beautiful.

For Phillies fans, especially me, this particular Spring Training is very special. Even after four straight divisional championships, two World Series appearances and one Ring, anticipation for the 2011 campaign could not be any higher. Unless you’ve been living under three feet of snow this winter, you know exactly why.
(Oh, a lot of us have been under three feet of snow… ok, sorry)
We got Cliff Lee back.
But in addition to all the hope I feel as a fan for my team to make another serious run for the World Series, what is really putting the goosebump factor off the charts is the plethora of photographs and videos of these players at the Carpenter Complex; the same Carpenter Complex me and roughly 140 other Phantasy Campers were at only a month ago…
Phillies players stretching and having catches in the outfield of Schmidt Field… just as we did  the very first morning.
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Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt throwing off the pitching mounds… the same ones I threw off of in front of Legends Mitch Williams and Dickie Noles.
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Charlie Manuel and Cliff Lee making their way to the fields from the walkway in back of Bright House Field… the same path us Campers took each and every day.
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(photos by Yong Kim)
I can still feel those fields under my cleats. I can still smell the dirt, grass, and leather. I can still hear the snap of gloves, the crack of bats, and the rustling of the palm trees.
No matter what happens this upcoming season, I will always remember the 2011 Spring Training. I think every Phantasy Camper will…
——————-
This winter, the MLB Network has been running a special focusing on the 20 greatest baseball games ever played in the last 50 years. Yesterday, they broadcast the most recent edition, #14 on their coveted list: Game 6 of the 1993 World Series.
For an hour and a half, hosts Bob Costas and Tom Verducci broke down the game with Mitch Williams, and the ultimate hero, Joe Carter. It was a fantastic analysis of the game, even though I knew how it would ultimately end. What really got me were the replays of each inning, and watching all these Phantasy Camp Legends on the field at the same time, playing in one of the most famous games in baseball history. Eight Phillies on that field were on the same field as me one month ago… Eisenreich, Stocker, Morandini, Hollins, Andersen, Williams, Kruk, Thompson… and who came in for Milt later in the game? 
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This was the first time I had seen these guys in action from there heydays since I left Camp. What an absolute treat. I have watched video upon video of that ’93 crew, but now it took on a whole different light. I shared the diamond with them. I hung out with them. I played against them. I was made fun of by them!

If you told me when I was 17 years old that I would be doing everything I experienced with THOSE guys, I would have told you how insane you sounded.

Well, it wasn’t a dream. It was real… it will always be real.

—————-

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I want to thank the MLBlog Phabulous Phillies Phun for posting this picture of Legend Kevin Stocker in one of the franchise stores for his Emerald City Smoothie company, which he spoke about the night of our Bull Session during Camp. Smooooth…

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…

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

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

But first, I had some games to play.

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

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

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

Me: “Yes, it’s my birthday.”

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

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

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

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








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

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

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

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

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

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

Check’s in the mail L.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Did I really just say that?)

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

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

It would all be worth it.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THAT was a fantastic way to end the night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have Fun”

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

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

This is what I wanted to experience with my father.

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

“Have Fun”

 

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


 

“You Are Here… on your way to lunch”

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

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

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

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

Amazing.

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

——————-

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

——————–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, I’ll be here all week.

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Phantasy Camp!

——————-

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

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

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


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