Results tagged ‘ Maje McDonnell ’

A Kiwi in the Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S: What was your motivation to attend Phantasy Camp?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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S: Will you return to Camp some day?

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

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

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

11/16/10 – Orientation


When I first inquired about Phantasy Camp way back in March, I was told an orientation meeting would be held sometime in November. That seemed like an eternity, especially since the baseball season hadn’t even begun. Well, the World Series has ended, the weather is colder, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s November already. Only two months to go until camp, and after last night’s orientation, it has finally sunk in. Months and months of emails, letters, research, speculation and anticipation came to a head yesterday, one floor below Citizens Bank Park. I haven’t even stepped foot onto the field in Florida and I know this will be one of the greatest experiences of my life.

The weather was lousy. Rainy, windy, and chilly. Citizens Bank Park looked like an ominous monster when I exited the subway station. None of the lights were on, save for a few small points of illumination. No cars in the parking lots. As I got closer, I saw a huge banner in the final stages of being hung above the third base entrance, celebrating Roy Halladay’s Cy Young Award that he won only a couple hours before my arrival. Of course, that award was well-deserved. Yes, he didn’t achieve the predicted Herculean stats like 30+ wins and a ’68 Bob Gibson-esque ERA, but he gave us a season the likes Phillies fans haven’t seen since “Lefty”, Steve Carlton.

When I arrived at the south entrance on Pattison Avenue, I met a gentleman and his wife who were making their way in as well. We entered the lobby, going past some impressive memorabilia (game-used bats, balls, the lineup card from Halladay’s NLDS no-hitter against the Reds, etc.). We took the elevator down. The gentleman, Gene, asked me if I was playing or just going as a “Phan” (the camp offers packages for players to bring down family members and friends to accompany them, and will provide them with fun excursions and of course, seats at all the games). I told him I was playing and he gave me a funny, “uh oh”. It became immediately obvious that I am definitely one of the youngest players. Little do they know, they can probably run laps around me. This was also Gene’s first time at camp and he and his wife were very excited about this whole experience, as to be expected.

We came off the elevator and walked right in to the Phillies media room. Other than the army of camp employees manned at numerous locations, a table of food, and balloons, the first thing that caught my eye was the oh-too-familar backdrop and podium everyone sees when the Phillies hold a press conference to introduce new players, coaches, etc. This is when it truly hit me.

I checked in and finally got to meet Joanne LeVeque, the wonderful enrollment coordinator I have been speaking to on and off for the past eight months. She and the other women checking campers in were like rays of sunshine. A perfect way to start the night. From there I went on a Phantasy Camp conveyor belt, going from table to table to meet other employees who were in charge of different aspects of the experience. At each table, every single person gave the widest of smiles, welcoming me to camp, asking me if I was excited, and telling me how much fun I will have. If you have ever been on a cruise, then you know how enthusiastic the crew is toward you and your fellow passengers. Now, turn it up to 11 and you have these folks. Yet, since this is a relatively small group of people, and not a boat full of 1,000 people, you are truly made to feel like a king.

In addition to to all the various paperwork, receiving very cool, customized luggage tags, and a huge gym bag with an embroidered Phantasy Camp logo AND my requested uniform number, 31 (my favorite Phillie, Garry Maddox… yes!), I was given a form to fill out asking me if I have another fantasy I would like the players to fulfill for me. The women said they have done things in the past where players can recreate certain game scenarios (bottom of the 9th, game seven of the World Series, bases loaded…). I found a chair and sat down to gather my thoughts and calm down. At this point, I felt like a seven-year old in Disney World for the first time. My brain was going in a million different happy directions. I grabbed some food to help me stop my head from spinning, although those cookies probably didn’t help.

I sat with a clipboard, checking over my player bio that they will be putting in to a media guide. After that, I started looking at my fantasy request form. I was drawing a complete blank. How much more could they possibly do for me other than bringing down the entire 2010 team for me to have beers with? As I was pondering this, another couple came and sat next to me. I hear the gentleman say to me, “can’t figure out what to write, huh?” I laughed and said, “this whole thing IS fulfilling my fantasy.” The man introduced himself, and as it normally goes, I immediately forgot his name. He asked me if this was my first trip down and I said yes. He told me this will be his fifth year in a row and that it never ever gets old. I told him how thrilled I was to be doing this and had a feeling I would be signing up for it again as soon as I arrive back home. He closed his eyes and gave me a slow nod. He then paused, gave me a serious, yet comforting look, dropped his voice a few decibels, inched a little closer to me and said, “you will have the time of your life.” Unlike everyone else who had been rep
eating that phrase over and over to me, this time, I actually felt that statement reverberate in my bones. He was like some wise sage who knew the secrets of the universe. He also had a particular look in his eye that I have definitely seen before…

An old co-worker of mine named Mike attended the New York Mets fantasy camp a couple years ago. I remember him coming over to my desk to talk about his experience after he returned. His face told it all. He couldn’t stop smiling. It was one of those grins that is purely honest and true. He was like a little boy, not being able to talk fast enough to get all his thoughts and stories out. I also play softball with him on one of my teams. Whenever we had a chance, it’s all we ever talked about while sitting on the bench. I’ve always wanted to attend a fantasy camp, but he definitely was a catalyst in getting me to seriously start entertaining the idea.

I eventually filled out and turned in my fantasy request form (I’ll let you all know later if this actually happens). Now it was off for my uniform fitting. A few other campers and I were led through the maze-like hallways of Citizens Bank Park on our way to the clubhouse. On the way, our guide gave us a little tour of the area, pointing out certain rooms and lounges, including the lockers of the Phillie Phanatic and the umpires. The funniest moment of the night came at the expense of the said umpires. Our guide pointed out that the signs for every door also has a braille translation. The signs not to have braille imprinted on them? The ones to the umpire lockers and lounges. Goodnight, don’t forget to tip your waitress.

As we made our way closer to the clubhouse, we arrived at the batting cages used by the players. I particularly liked the Charlie Manuel Observation Windows on the left.

We came to an intersection. Left took us to the Phillies dugout and the field. Right took us to the clubhouse. I’ll be making that left come next August at Phantasy Camp reunion.

We made our way to the clubhouse, passing by the mailboxes for all the players and coaching staff. Funny enough, the first box I noticed was for Davey Lopes. No forwarding address has been given yet I guess.

Just like when I walked in to the media room just a half hour or so before, the reality of this experience hit me for a second time. Another platoon of camp employees were set up at different stations around the side of the clubhouse. We were first brought to a display table showing us all the different awards we can win while at camp. These would be given out at the awards banquet on the last night of our trip. These include Most Valuable Player, Gold Glove, Batting Champion (the trophy is a bat signed by all the Phillies Legends), Cy Young, “Charlie Hustle” for the “spark plug” of the team, an impressive ring for the World Series-winning team, including being etched into the Phantasy Camp Championship Trophy, and a “Maje McDonnell” Award, named after the Philadelphia sports staple, given to the player with the best personality and class on and off the field. Also, daily “Gamer Award” pins will be given out for on-the-field excellence. Once again, this is just another aspect of this experience to make the camper feel incredibly special.

While our guide was telling us about these great awards, I couldn’t help turning my head back and forth to look at all the different lockers. I was standing in the clubhouse of my favorite baseball team. This is where the Phillies have had numerous champagne and Bud Light showers for the past four seasons. Now I know that being able to visit everything I just mentioned is not that unique. Anyone can sign up for tours of the park and see what I just saw. My nine-year old nephew this past summer got to take a very similar tour when he attended his own youth Phillies camp. But you know what? I’ve never seen it, so damnit, I’m going to act like a little kid!

Next up was my hat fitting (oh man, Chase Utley’s locker). Luckily, I just got a haircut, so they didn’t have to send in the oversized Phillies cap they use to put on William Penn’s head on top of City Hall. With my hat and a jersey, I was now getting my picture taken for the media guide. You didn’t have to tell me to smile.

Before going over for my uniform sizing, the organizers softened the blow of how awkward I will look in stretch pants. The camp brought in three folks who will be sharing the five days with us. Down the line, I got the opportunity to shake hands and converse with Marty Bystrom, our own ’10 San Francisco Giants-style save-the-day rookie sensation, Scott Palmer, a sports anchor staple in Philadelphia, now the director of public affairs for the Phillies, and Dickie Noles, easily the one Phil I had the most baseball cards of. I swear I think all the card companies had a mandate that a Dickie Noles should be placed in every other pack. I’m glad that I finally got to meet the real thing and not have to keep looking at 36 duplicate ‘82 Topps cards. All three of them were absolutely charming, telling me how much fun I will have. Again, I could see it in their faces. They LOVE doing this.

Behind the red curtain I went to get fitted. I was brought over to a chair, situated right in front of Roy Halladay’s locker. The next thing I know, I was standing in my underwear… in Roy Halladay’s locker… the guy who just won the Cy Young Award earlier in the day….

Well, I just got my money’s worth. I can go home now. Thank you very much.

When I emerged, I was given a complimentary Dick Perez print commemorating Halladay’s perfect game earlier in the season. The women said that would be it and I can go back to the media room with a guide… or I can stick around and take pictures. I of course, chose the latter. The first thing I had to do was text message my wife from Carlos Ruiz’s locker. That got exactly the reaction I was hoping for from her. I went around the horn, snapping photos of everyone’s lockers… Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth…

I begrudgingly decided to leave, going with the same guide I came in with. On the way back we passed an impressive mural of photographs from the 2008 season, including a massive panoramic shot right after Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske. Directly across from this was a series of window box frames with the jerseys of all the Phillies players who have had their number retired by the club, including the great Jackie Robinson.

Everything was in order and was cleared to go. I stopped by the front desk to say goodbye to Joanne and thank her again for all her help. “See you in Florida” she said. And that was that. I waited eight months for orientation. I only have two months more to go.

I left the park and headed back up Pattison Avenue to the subway for the first step of my multi-stage trip back to New York. The weather was still lousy, but nothing could have brought me down at that moment.

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