Results tagged ‘ Mitch Williams ’

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 – 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.


1/13/11 – Under a week to go!

The Phantasy Camp folks sure do know how to build excitement. I got another email yesterday giving the official “seven days until Camp” proclamation. This message included last minute stretching tips and such so we can “beat out that throw to first by Stocker”. In the last email they had a “Meet the Legends” section, highlighting two Legends who will be in camp. The first two were Larry Andersen and Scott Palmer. They gave a quick bio of each and what we can expect from them at Camp. Andersen’s of course needed no explanation. I think the Campers know exactly what we are in store for from Larry.

Yesterday they featured Greg Luzinski and John Kruk. At the end of Kruk’s description, it ended with, “A staple at Phillies Phantasy Camp, John Kruk will provide expert advice in batting and fielding but will show his true supremacy as a Kangaroo Court Judge each day”. Luckily, I have no problem making fun of myself, so I think I’m pretty prepared for any good ribbings these guys may give to me, but still. This is John Kruk. The man traded his uniform number, #28, to Mitch Williams for two cases of beer. Who does that?… OK, I could see myself doing that, but that’s besides the point. 

Here’s another picture from Photo Day back on June 3rd, 1989. Kruk was traded the day before from the San Diego Padres along with Randy Ready for Chris James. Nothing like showing up for your first day of work at your new office and having to parade yourself. I’d probably want two cases of beer too. Here you can see him behind Dickie Thon with the first of his four uniform numbers, #11.

This is why the Phillies Camp is one the most popular in all the Majors. I can’t imagine a better cast of characters to play baseball with, share stories, and joke around with. It is going to be something else.

12/16/10 – “We’d like to introduce…”

At three 0’clock yesterday afternoon, I got very excited. At 3:01, I had the chills. Cliff Lee was back, wearing a Phillies uniform again. This time, for good. At the end, I became a giddy schoolboy. I don’t think I’ve been this excited for an upcoming baseball season… and this is after four straight years of baseball nirvana. Excellence on the diamond has almost become old hat for the Phillies, but with the addition of Lee, this just turns it up to 11.

You could see it everyone’s faces. The moderator, Phillies Public Affairs Director Scott Palmer, stood in front of the podium to introduce Ruben Amaro Jr. and Cliff Lee. Scott has a very distinctive smile, one that all Philadelphians know from his days on Channel 6. I saw that smile firsthand the night of the Phantasy Camp Orientation. It’s a truly genuine smile…. So there he stood, in the corner of the press room… the same room I started my Orientation in… and beamed. He beamed like a little kid on Christmas morning. His joy over the return of Cliff was clearly obvious.

Ruben spoke first and had the exact same smile. This was more than just landing a big free agent. This was bringing pure elation to a loving and devoted fanbase. Amaro has been a Phillie from birth: From his father, a former Phillie, to growing up in the area, to having two tours with the team as a player, to working his way up through the front office to General Manager… today, he was simply a fan.

After the press conference was over and Amaro had handed Cliff his old number 33, MLB Network’s Matt Yallof and Phantasy Camp Legend Mitch Williams (both Comcast Philadelphia alumni) interviewed Lee. Mitch, who makes no bones about the fact he is still a tried and true Phillies fan, also fell under Lee’s spell. As comfortable he was questioning him and being as objective as possible, you could see how excited he was about his return… the whispering, the joking around… A truly special time in the franchise’s history has been taken to a whole new level.

Other than his constant reiterations about how much he wanted to be in Philadelphia and play for this team, the one statement that actually got me to say out loud, by myself, “yes”, came after a question about Lee “leaving money on the table” and not taking the much bigger contracts offered to him by the Yankees and Rangers:

“I guess I did. I mean, I could potentially earn this in a shorter term, so whatever. It’s plenty of money. When you hit a certain point, enough is enough. It’s a matter of where you’re comfortable, where you’re happy, where your family is most comfortable, what team gives you the best chance to win.”

Two hours earlier, about 90 miles south of Citizens Bank Park, Jayson Werth was introduced to the Washington Nationals. If you saw the press conference or have been reading Werth’s comments, you know that the Phillies-Nationals games will be very interesting now.

But my favorite quote of the day from Werth easily had to be this:

“I’ve been to the postseason a lot the past few years, and that’s what it’s all about.”

*thud*

12/2/10 – This Day in Legend History… Mitch Williams


On December 2, 1993, Mitch Williams was traded to the Houston Astros for pitchers Jeff Juden and Doug Jones. The sound of the crack of Joe Carter’s bat did even stop resonating before Williams was shipped out of town… far from Philadelphia. Unfortunately for Mitch, he could not regain his swagger. He appeared in only 52 more games for three different teams before retiring at the age of 32. Like I mentioned before, he has resurfaced to become one of the most insightful and entertaining analysts on the MLB Network.

Coincidentally, yesterday on the show Hot Stove, they ran a segment about the “memorable returns” of players (popular and unpopular) to their former home fields after going to a new team. They preceded to show Williams’ first return to Philadelphia after the trade on May 27, 1994. Funny enough, Williams entered the game and he hit another Legend, Mickey Morandini, square in the back. Oh so fitting.

11/28/10 – Giving Thanks, Looking Back, Looking Forward

My wife and I normally spend our Thanksgiving holiday visiting my in-laws in Florida. This year was no different. Living in the northeast for my entire life, it’s been very interesting these last several years to gather around the dinner table, give thanks, and eat way too much food… all while wearing shorts (luckily, this last Black Friday wasn’t like another Black Friday years ago). In just under two months, I’ll be back in Florida, not only wearing clothing I’m not used to donning in the middle of January, but also sporting a nifty little number supplied by the Philadelphia Phillies.

It’s been a pretty excruciating year for me, my wife, family and friends, but there is a LOT to be thankful for. I am truly a lucky man.

——————–

Now that one major eating and drinking holiday is over, it’s time to get cracking on getting myself into decent shape for four straight days of baseball. From Thanksgiving until my birthday, there is a perfect storm of overindulgence in my life… Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, wedding anniversary, and birthday… I thank the baseball gods for flexible pants. This year, I’ll be extra conscious of what I’m ingesting. Not that I am a total out-of-shape blob, but I could get off my tookus, not take the subway or hail cabs as much, walk a little more, etc. It’s getting cold in NYC and I have no problem just hunkering down and only moving to get another snack. So I’ll pound the pavement, take extra long walks in Central Park, get off at a different subway stop, anything to get my blood pumping a little more. More stretching and some light muscle-building exercises should round out my path to better health nicely. Just in case, I’m still going to Costco and buying a metric ton of Icy Hot and Advil.

What I really need to get cracking on is getting my hitting in order. I plan on making many-a-visit to Manhattan’s Baseball Center to get plenty of swings in. If there is one aspect of my game I have never gotten a handle on is being able to hit a baseball. I’ll run around the outfield ALL day, shagging fly balls, snaring line drives, gunning the ball to the cutoff men, but when I step in to that batter’s box? I believe you have heard the term, “Mendoza Line”?

Anyway, “I’ll start my diet tomorrow”.

——————-

Since I found out which former Phillies will be in attendance at Camp in January, I’ve been scanning through my baseball cards, remembering what each one of these players meant to my fandom (or “Phandom” if you’d like). I decided I would mark some significant days in the Legends’ lives (and ours as fans) as they occur. Since I’m a month late getting to this, these will be retroactive to October 27th, the day I received the email with the official list of Legends…

Mitch Williams – 1994 Topps

November 17th – Mitch Williams’ birthday. I don’t believe any Philadelphia sports figure has had a phoenix-like resurgence as much as The Wild Thing. After that fateful pitch to Joe Carter in the 1993 World Series, Williams was almost immediately run out of town by rioting townsfolk with torches and pitchforks. Years went by and he returned to the Philadelphia area, first as an operator of a New Jersey bowling alley, then as a local on-air personality for 610 WIP AM and Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. He is now on the fantastic MLB Network and has become an incredible and entertaining baseball commentator. Recently, he did coverage for FOX during the 2010 World Series… come on Mitch, we love you, but please do not go down that particular path.

Kevin Stocker – 1994 Topps

November 18, 1997 – Kevin Stocker is traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Bobby Abreu. Stocker
made a splash in 1993, debuting for the Phillies midway through the season. He injected a massive dose of youthful energy into the already popular squad. With a young Desi Relaford waiting in the wings, the Phils pulled the trigger on a deal for a young and unproven outfielder. The Devil Rays had drafted Abreu in the expansion draft and immediately moved him to Philadelphia. Stocker only lasted for two more seasons and Abreu became one of all-time best outfielders in Phillies history. While his career was brief, Stocker’s time with the Phillies will never be forgotten by fans.

Bob Boone – 1974 Topps
Dickie Noles - 1982 Topps
Dickie Noles – 1982 Topps

November 19 – Bob Boone and Dickie Noles’ birthday. Also, on this day in 1998, Ricky Bottalico is traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, along with Garrett Stephenson, for Jeff Brantley, Ron Gant and Cliff Politte.

Bob Boone and Dickie Noles are two players that live through my baseball cards, video replays, and memories from my dad. Both left the team after the 1981 season. I was only 5 years old at the time, too young to experience their playing days for the Phillies. Boone is a legend: a home-grown, long-tenured catcher who was a main cog in the late ’70’s playoff teams and 1980 World Champions. Probably one of his most famous plays was actually a dropped foul ball that was scooped up by first baseman Pete Rose in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the ’80 Series. His father was a Major Leaguer. His two sons were Major Leaguers. The name “Boone” is baseball royalty.

As I mentioned in my orientation recap, the player with the dubious distinction of the most doubles of any 1982 Topps baseball card I owned belonged to Mr. Dickie Noles. At least that’s what it seemed like. That curly ‘fro haunted my dreams. Noles only spent a couple years with the Phillies, but was crucial in the relief role in the 1980 World Series, playing some chin music to George Brett of the Kansas City Royals. It was a pleasure meeting him the night of the orientation, especially since his hair is short now.

I’ll be completely honest, Ricky Bottalico’s tenure with the Phils is a bit of a blur to me. He played for the team during a period where the Phillies were not quite a priority for me. The combination of the strike in ’94 and ’95, and the fact the team left something to be desired did not leave a good taste in my mouth. Like Mitch Williams, Bottalico was a very effective and electric reliever, but also a tad bit shaky, causing many-a-grey hair. He was the Phillies only All-Star in 1996, the year Philadelphia hosted the game. Also like The Wild Thing, Ricky now is a fantastic analyst for Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.

Greg Luzinski – 1981 Fleer

November 22 – Greg Luzinski’s birthday. Like Boone and Noles, Luzinski’s time with the Phillies lives on in my imagination. Like the current team, who is made up of home-grown talent and has started their own dynasty, Luzinski came up with other rising stars from the Phillies farm system to form the first dynasty of the organization in the late ’70’s. Luzinski was the big bat behind the equally-sized bat of Mike Schmidt. The Bull has been a fixture in the Phillies organization since his retirement. Currently he rules the roost at arguably the best concession stand at Citizens Bank Park, Bull’s BBQ.

10/27/10 – The Lineup

A very timely email arrived in my inbox today, only a couple hours before the rather disheartening first pitch of the 2010 World Series. From the desk of the Phillies Phantasy Camp folks came a message officially counting down the days until camp in January. A great pick-me-up for my fellow campgoers and Phillies fans.  On the left side of the message was an alphabetical listing of the last names of all the former Phillies players who will be in attendance. I cannot believe I will be spending five days fraternizing with all of these gentlemen.

Larry Andersen
Bob Boone
Ricky Bottalico
Warren Brusstar
Marty Bystrom
Mariano Duncan
Jim Eisenreich
Tyler Green
Tommy Greene
Terry Harmon
Dave Hollins
Ricky Jordan
John Kruk
Mike Lieberthal
Greg Luzinski
Mickey Morandini
Keith Moreland
Dickie Noles
Juan Samuel
Kevin Stocker
Von Hayes
Mitch Williams

Eleven players from the 1993 NL East Championship team. Six players from the 1980 World Championship team. Two of the greatest catchers ever to don a Phillies uniform. One no-hitter. Over 35 years of Phillies history. Wow.

I have such distinct memories of every single one of these players….

My Juan Samuel and Von Hayes Starting Lineup action figures.

My “Fan Photo Day” pictures of Ricky Jordan and John Kruk… his very first day in a Phillies uniform.

Coming home from school and catching the last couple innings of Tommy Greene’s no-hitter against the Montreal Expos.

For the players I was quite too young to remember, I had my baseball cards and stories from my dad to fuel my imagination.

But the one player I am very excited to meet is Mr. Jim Eisenreich. One of my all-time favorite anecdotes about my father involves good ol’ Eisey from back during the 1993 season.

That one I will save for camp.

As I finish typing this, the San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers in Game One of the World Series. All of a sudden, that particular bitter taste has gone away. 

Phillies, you know how to make a guy feel so much better.

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