Results tagged ‘ Mickey Morandini ’

1/22/12 – Day Five of the 2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

For the second year in a row, I woke up with a bit of sadness knowing I would have to leave Camp by day’s end. But I had to keep telling myself that this was going to be the perfect way to end the trip… hanging out at Bright House Field all day, soaking up the warm January sun in Florida, taking the field and playing against ex-Phillies player… this would be one helluva birthday.

All packed up and ready to go, I made my way down for an early breakfast. As per the Camp schedule, the four teams that ended in the top of the standings had to take the first bus to the Carpenter Complex.  This not only meant I would get to see the Complex one more time in all it’s early morning glory, but our team would be facing a Legends team at full strength.

These guys have to play 10 teams, at three innings a piece. That’s 30 innings of baseball. Sure, they aren’t really breaking a sweat against us Campers, but still, that’s a lot of baseball. And by the time 2-3:00 rolls around, you can see it. Some just don’t play at all due to past injuries, some leave a little early, some take themselves out midway through the day.  The Drillers were scheduled to play fourth, so the Legends should be nice and loose by the time we got on the field.

I decided to forgo the normal t-shirt that I wore underneath my jersey everyday, and sport this little number (from Philavania.com) that I got for Christmas, courtesy of my best friends. This was definitely getting laughs around the locker room.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

A few last minute pictures and several “well, if I don’t see you later, it was great meeting/seeing you again” moments.

On my way over to Bright House Field, I walked with my teammate Paul Kirsch and Scott Eyre. Scott was telling us how much fun he had and how happy he was when ESF asked him back. He brought his young son once again, and they both had a blast.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Instead of walking up to the left field pavilion like we did every morning, we were allowed to enter the park through the batting tunnels, underneath the stands, and onto leftfield. As we reached the entrance to the tunnels, we came across two large ice storage bins. Scott stopped us and told us of a story about a time when he came down to Clearwater for a couple rehab games in August when he was with the Phillies. The weather was brutal; easily near 100 degrees with an equal amount of humidity. He was done for the day and couldn’t take it any more. He opened the door to the ice container, and proceeded to put his entire body inside. The fans on the stairway above were howling with laughter.

It’s stories like that that make me wish Scott was a Phillie lifer, and not a journeyman who only spent two years with the club. His myth would be legendary. Either way, his kindness and energy are exactly what the Camp strives for, so it doesn’t matter how long he was with the Phils. He’s perfect.

Past the batting tunnels and under the stands we went.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Scott Eyre

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

There is definitely a joke in this last picture somewhere.

I let Paul and Scott continue on to the field so I could take in this little moment of solitude. It was like something out of a movie or beer commercial. I’ve seen similar images a million times, but to experience this person… it’s baseball heaven.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I let myself have a little two-second fantasy, pretending I was some rookie getting called up for my first game in the show, entering the park for early-morning batting practice…

*cue dramatic music*

That was nice.

The entrance let me out in the foul territory next to leftfield.

Again, I’m all by myself. I hear faint voices coming from the infield and the occasional echoing crack of a bat.

People love to fall asleep to CD’s filled with gentle nature sounds like rain or waterfalls. I would have this on repeat all night.

Just beautiful.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I leisurely made my way to the dugout area to relax, chat, and take in the early games.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mike Lieberthal

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ricky Jordan and John Kruk

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Jim Eisenreich

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mickey Morandini

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - John Kruk

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ricky Bottalico

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Milt Thompson

This day is extra special because Campers will bring their families in to the park, hang out on the field and dugout, and get autographs and pictures taken with all the ex-Phillies players.  It’s the last, fun-filled hurrah before we all fade in to that baseball sunset.

And once again, I am reminded of the power of baseball and family… the Cutler men sitting together in the stands, taking in the scenery.  The dugout filled with Norman Rockwellian moments…  my teammate Ed and his son, Greg, side by side.  Sam showing his boy the benefits of being a left-hander, the Mongeluzis in a sweet embrace…

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

There was nothing I wanted more at that moment than to have my dad there with me to enjoy this day.

———

The third game was coming to an end, so it was time for us to get ourselves ready. Larry Andersen joined in for some catch with some of my teammates.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Larry Andersen

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ricky Bottalico, Greg Luzinski, and Larry Andersen

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Larry Andersen

We would be batting first, so let’s go to the big board for the introductions by longtime Phillies P.A. announcer, Dan Baker!

Well, they got my new number correct, but they still used my old #31 in addition to last year’s photo. I’m surprised the board didn’t break with my face being up there for so long. And even though Stack was not there in attendance, his picture was not shown. And where was Steely Dave, our MVP?! I wonder if the person running the video board was that same guy I saw doing tequila shots the night before at the hotel bar?

At least the lineup card would be fine. Wait a minute, is my name spelled wrong?  *sigh*

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

We would be facing Ricky Bottalico today. Oh boy.

Of all the Legends at Camp, he definitely comes to the filed with the intention of winning. He gives us a REAL Major League Baseball experience. We take our first at-bats and Ricky Bo is throwing gas.

And just like that, we take our positions in the field. Before I go any further, let me explain the rules to these games:

-       Games are three innings.

-       Legends are only allowed to score two runs maximum in a given inning, no matter how many outs there are.

-       Campers can field their entire team at once. That means multiple outfielders.

-       If, by the last inning, a Camper has not batted, the inning continues until everyone has had a chance, no matter how many outs there are.

Howie and I agree to split the catching duties. He said he’ll take the first and I’ll come in for the second inning. I told him that I’ll also be catching the third since we WILL be holding the Legends going in to the bottom of the third. He smiles and gives me a “hell yeah!”

John Ashcom takes the mound and I run out to my normal softball position, right-centerfield. I have another little moment, taking in my incredible surroundings. I’m playing on Bright House Field!  This is not getting old. At all.

First up is The Krukker. And like he somehow knew I was wearing a t-shirt bearing his image, he sends a fly ball directly at me. Putout.  I’ve never been so nervous setting up to catch a ball. I did NOT want to drop this one.

Ash made it a 1-2-3 inning as he got Jim Eisenreich and Mickey Mornadini to ground out to Dave Mongeluzi at first base for two consecutive, unassisted outs. Dave looked like Keith Hernandez, complete with impeccable trimmed facial hair, smoothly fielding both shots by the ex-Phillies.

We were unable to knock in a run in the top of the second, however, the highlight was easily Howie’s at-bat. Rick had asked me to document his son’s time at the plate, and he did not disappoint. He ripped a shot down the first base line for a triple. My camera caught ever step of the way. After Howie got a congratulatory high five from Tommy Greene, he tossed the ball in to the dugout for prosperity. What a thrill for the Cutlers.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mickey Morandini and Dave Hollins

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Tommy Greene

It was my turn to don the catcher’s gear. Now it felt like a dream. There I am, situated next to former Phillies, catching pitches thrown to them as they try and defeat my team. Seriously, where am I?! The last time I was in this situation, I was in my backyard about 25 years ago with a few friends from grade school. The Phillies were there… in spirit.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - John Kruk

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Just like the first, we get out of the inning leaving the Legends scoreless. My overly optimistic prediction had come true. I would be catching the third inning. The Legends were against the ropes!

Fellow New Yorker, Dave Horowitz, starts off the inning with a single. Everybody hits woo hoo! He quickly breaks Camp rules and swipes second. Our excitement is overflowing. The Legends let it go and leave him be on second. Eventually my spot in the lineup comes up.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Ricky Bo ‘s pitches come in fast, but nice and straight. I work two balls, but hell if I’m going to walk in this game. I start thinking of the advice imparted to me before I went up to bat. David Mongeluzi, Dave’s son, had once again approached me to help me with my swing. This time, he told me to position myself towards the back of the plate. I told him it probably isn’t going to matter.

I was right. I could have been sitting back 70 feet 6 inches and I still would have been late on these pitches. Whiff. Thanks for the advice David, but I have no chance against 80+ MPH pitches. Like I always love to say, you can’t polish a turd.

That’s OK, I was looking more towards the bottom of the third. Could the Drillers join a very elite group of teams to finish the Legends game in a tie?

Ricky Bo leads off the inning and, like every one of his at-bats, he wants to crush the ball. He rips a single, and, not to be outdone, promptly steals second base. Tit for tat. I can respect that.

Legend after Legend comes to the plate. Eventually Ricky Bo makes it to third, but does not score. Dave Horowitz fielded a ground ball at third, looked Ricky back and threw to first. Ricky did not budge.

The inning reaches its dramatic apex. Bases are loaded. One out. Mickey Morandini at the dish. A single or sacrifice fly will end this game. We needed a double play, or at least a strike out. Since that would be a sure-fire impossibility, we would have to depend on our gloves to end the game. Mickey works the count, then hits a grounder to Steely Dave who is now playing first. I immediately take my position at home. He throws a strike to me. One out.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mickey Morandini

Now I had to make another very tough throw down the line, back to Steely Dave to complete the 3-2-3 double play. Unlike my play from the first game, this throw went off target. I saw it go wide, but he stretched out with all his might. The ball hit his glove, but it tipped out. He quickly gathered it up and tagged the base just before Mickey’s foot hit the bag. Two outs. Game over.

We did it. Not only did we tie the Legends, but we held them to no runs. We gathered around each other in the infield and celebrated like we just won the World Series.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

We came back to the dugout. Mike Lieberthal, Kevin Stocker, and our player rep Joe were beaming, giving us high fives, telling us what a great job we all did. It was a truly special moment.

In all my years of playing sports, this was easily the greatest couple days of my baseball “career”.  And to think my defense would come in to the play to end the game… my dad would have been so proud.

———-

Now it was time to relax in the dugout and have fun.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I stayed to watch the next game in which Sam was playing and take some more pictures.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Bob Boone

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Afterwards I headed to lunch with Dave Horowitz, then back to the clubhouse to get myself cleaned up. I would have plenty of time before the first shuttle to the airport, so I returned to the stands to watch more of the games.

I came across rookie Camper Ron DiBiase. Ron’s brother-in-law had attended Phantasy Camp in the past, so he had an idea what to expect. However, he did stumble upon my blog earlier in the year. We struck up an ongoing conversation on email. This fellow drummer had also recently lost his father and was having very similar feelings about Camp. We bonded about our losses, but also reveled in the excitement of the upcoming Camp. His entire family joined him for the award banquet and the Legends game. I have a feeling I looked like Ron last year. Every day I saw him, he had the widest of smiles and a look of complete awe.  He just could not believe what was gong on around him. I spoke to him after lunch and he could not stop talking about how much fun he had. I’m also considering hiring Ron as my P.R. man, as he had no problem telling anyone in earshot about my blog. I think he knows the details better than I do!

I turned my attention back to the games.

I happened to catch the previous night’s Maje McDonnell Award winner, Craig Gerhart take his at-bat. I was really looking forward to this moment. The award Craig won was for “the player who has the personality, plus is a class both on and off the field”. If Ron was the epitome of a happy Phantasy Camper, Craig probably should have been tested for an illegal amount of performance-enhancing giddiness.  His daughter had given the Camp experience to her father as a gift for thanking him for all the love and care he had given to her mother during her bout with breast cancer. He was on cloud nine for the entire Camp. He said hello to every single Camper, asking them if they were having fun, while proudly showing off his glove… the same one he used as a child over 50 years ago.  His enthusiasm and love for life was infectious. Larry Andersen kept tabs on him, constantly marveling at his happiness, almost to the point of annoyance. Of course, he was kidding.

Craig came up to plate against Andersen. He sent a shot over the second basemen’s head, and the purposeful slow play in the field allowed Craig to move up a base for a double. He jumped up and down like a little boy. He hugged L.A.. He gave high fives to anyone within reach. That smile never faded.

I regret not taking a portrait of Craig during Camp. Craig, if you read this, I still want that photograph!

Later on, I got to see Martha Eyerly, the lone female player of the Camp, take her swings. She also got hold of one and sent it in to the outfield. Like with Craig, the Legends moved a little slow, “misplaying” the ball, throwing it away at each base. As Martha rounded third, L.A. then purposely threw the ball into the dugout. Martha made a big slide into home, plating two runs. The Legends “lost” this game, 2-1.

That’s what Phantasy Camp is all about.

———

And with that, I walked to the bus that would take me to the airport. Once again, I would leave with all my baseball fantasies realized, and go home to the loving arms of my wife.

Baseball is not just a child’s game. It can do wonders for one’s soul.  I came out of this Camp filled with absolute joy.

My dad was truly with me again.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

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

———-

Like last year, this blog is not finished. There will be plenty of updates, including interviews with Campers, and two reunion events including the big one in August where I will take the field at Citizens Bank Park before the Phillies game that evening. So keep checking back  and thank you much for reading!

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

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

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

I was ready to play.

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

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

Anyway, let’s return.

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

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

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

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

John Kruk was late.

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

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

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

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.”

The MLBPAA 2011 Baseball for Kids Legends Game

A selection of 2011 Phillies Phantasy Camp Legends will be taking part in a charity game this Sunday, March 13th, at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL. Click HERE to purchase tickets.

legendsgame.jpg

Mickey Morandini’s Journey Back to the Minors

image_php_563235.jpg



Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia
Inquirer has a piece today about Legend Mickey Morandini and his first go round
at coaching at the Minor League level for the Phillies’ short-season
Williamsport affiliate.
 

“‘I’m
very intense when I coach,’ Morandini said. ‘It’s not to the point where I’m
screaming and yelling, but I’m really into the game. You’ll see me pacing a
lot. I have a lot of nervous energy.’”

Anyone who attended Camp can easily attest to this
statement. Mickey may be the only Legend coach to almost be tossed from a game
for arguing with the umpire. 

All the best to Mickey. Welcome back to the
organization!

Phillies Insider Legend Interviews

I had the pleasure of briefly meeting John Brazer, the Director of Publicity for the Phillies, while I was at Phantasy Camp last month. John recently filled in for Larry Shenk, the VP of Alumni Relatons, over at the MLBlog Phillies Insider, and posted several quick interviews with some of the Legends while in Clearwater. Below are the links to all his conversations…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————–

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunchtime.

Fantastic, I can’t mess that one up.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, I’ll be here all week.

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Phantasy Camp!

——————-

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

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

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


1/11/11 – “Ten! Nine! Eight!… Eight!… Eight!…”

Today I received an email from the folks at Phantasy Camp, just another “in case you forgot, you are going to Phantasy Camp in eight days” reminder. One of the first things it mentions was the “Countdown Clock”. Now, this clock has been on the Camp website for quite awhile now, but I’m not sure if it’s a glitch with my computer or their system, but it has been like this the whole time:

What a tease! At Orientation in November, this clock was on display in the press room and was working properly, so obviously they want to make this wait even more excruciating for me.

The email also mentioned three clinics that offered to Campers the day of our arrival next Wednesday. There is a fielding clinic with Kevin Stocker and Mickey Morandini, a pitching clinic with Dickie Noles, and a hitting clinic with Milt Thompson. When Thompson was fired as hitting coach back in July, I was concerned that his appearance in Florida would be in jeopardy. Luckily, I was wrong.

Another Camper who came across my blog had asked me last week if I would be participating in Milt’s clinic. I told him I wouldn’t as I’m looking forward to taking it easy on Wednesday and not rush right on to the field. I added, “Also, not as a knock to Milt, but I don’t think an hour or two can correct a lifetime of hitting ineptitude”. OK, I’m not that bad, that was a joke, but I don’t want Thompson graciously patting me on the back and escorting me out of the cage. The only thing I’d like to be hitting after a day of travel is the tiki bar.

Finally, the email ends with the best news:

“The weather forecast in Clearwater for today calls for sunny skies with a high reaching into the high sixties (67°). The weather is projected to be in the 70′s during camp so get your short sleeves and sunscreen ready!”

This is fantastic as my area up here in New York City is looking to get socked again with snow. Weatherman Joe Rao of News 12 not only has predicted 10 to 18 inches, but has introduced me an amazing new word: “Bombogenesis”. Just to let everyone know, I call dibs on this word for a potential band name.

According to Rao, “A very dynamic weather situation awaits us during the overnight hours!  A relatively weak coastal storm system now centered near Cape Hatteras, NC will merge with a package of upper atmospheric energy moving in from the Midwest late tonight.   The result will be similar to injecting steroids into the storm; it will explode (what meteorologists refer to as “Bombogenesis”) and become very strong, very fast.  Thunder and lighting may occur as this process occurs . . .”

Man, I can smell that Florida air now…

12/28/10 – This Day in Legend History – Mickey Morandini


In the midst of all the holiday hullabaloo, I forgot to update the diary on December 23rd. On that day in 1997, Phillies second baseman Mickey Morandini was traded to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Doug Glanville. Another popular and important cog in the 1993 machine was shipped to Chicago’s North side. Luckily for Phillies fans, this resulted in the acquisition of another future favorite among the Phaithful.

Glanville was a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania. He was enamored with the city and it’s baseball team. As part of his thesis, Glanville wrote about the feasibility of new ballpark for the Phillies who still called Veterans Stadium home. While manning centerfield, his hard-work ethic, and clean and classy persona quickly drew comparisons to another famous Phillie centerfielder, Garry Maddox. In fact, Glanville won the first ever Garry Maddox Community Service Award for the Phillies in 2000. In that same year, both Morandini and Glanville’s paths passed as Mickey made a return to the Phillies for 91 games before being traded again to the Toronto Blue Jays. Glanville signed as a free agent with the Texas Rangers in 2003 and made a brief return to the Chicago Cubs, the team that originally drafted him in 1991. And like Morandini, Glanville made a brief return to the club in 2004 before retiring the next year.

Glanville is now a successful writer, baseball analyst, businessman, etc etc. You can read all about his accomplishments on his website. When I started this diary, I immediately thought of Doug. His excellent writing and love of the sport of baseball are infectious and I couldn’t think of a better person to share my blog with. I wrote him an email in early October. A couple days later, during Game 2 of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds in fact, I received an incredible response from him:

“Hey Bryan! Thanks for sending this along and of course it really resonates with me because I spend a lot of my time thinking of things my Dad told me, what he would say, what he would feel about being a grandfather if he had the chance. My kids are 2 and 1 years old and they are growing so quickly. Because I understand at such a visceral level, the connection and loss of a father, I try to think about what kind of relationship I want with my son and daugther. All I can say is keep searching and sharing because so many people really do understand what you are going through. That is why writing really was a gift to me. I found the one thing that made me feel like my father was sitting on the shoulder. Giving ideas, chiming in like he always used to do. I understand why he would just walk out of a room just to write a poem, why he needed to write something at a moment. It has been a bonus to see how many people have found that space in my writing. The compassion, the empathy, the humanity in the game.”

Pure class.

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