Results tagged ‘ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I leisurely made my way to the dugout area to relax, chat, and take in the early games.
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…
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.
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*
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I stayed to watch the next game in which Sam was playing and take some more pictures.
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.
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!
Last month I posted a video about one of the great father-son duos at Phantasy Camp, Rocky and Chris Wright.
Several days ago, Chris contacted me and sent along a couple of his own videos. He was very gracious to let me share them on this website.
The first was a segment from “Behind The Pinstripes” back in April, hosted by Scott Palmer, public affairs director for the Phillies, and one of the many Phantasy Camp gurus. The show did a piece on the Wright’s Camp experience together in Clearwater last January.
The other was a very nice photo compilation of both he and his father (complete with a soundtrack supplied by a band who is fronted by one of my favorite personalities in rock).
Needless to say, Chris’s videos and his wonderful messages were quite timely…
This week marks the second anniversary of my dad’s passing (as well as the 21st for my mother).
“…for baseball is continuous, like nothing else among American things, an endless game of repeated summers, joining the long generations of all fathers and all sons.”
There were a couple father-son combos at Phantasy Camp last January. This video highlights one of them.
All of the people that get to attend Phantasy Camp are truly very lucky individuals. These particular guys had the best luck of all.
Playing baseball, or even just having a simple catch with someone, is pure joy. But doing that with your father? Indescribable.
I was waiting for this one. A fellow Camper had a video camera attached to a helmet that he wore pretty much all through Camp. Below is the final result.
This just nails it.
For the past several months, I have run today’s scheduled activities in my head every single day.
My early morning departure from Penn Station. My cab ride to Citizens Bank Park. Walking through the clubhouse to prepare for morning batting practice. Making that emotional first step on to the diamond. Most likely embarrassing myself in the batting cage. Wandering around the field, occasionally shagging a fly ball or dodging a line drive because of my lack of attention. Returning to the clubhouse. Lunch. Tour of Citizens Bank Park. Watching batting practice of the real players. Looking like a fool with all my cameras. Seeing all my fellow Campers. Getting ready to be introduced on to the field before the game. My friends and family in attendance…
Hurricane Irene has promptly disrupted all weekend plans for 20% of the U.S. population. This includes me.
No batting practice. No on-field introduction. No reunion. No game.
Come on Irene!
My selfish, inner 12-year old got over it. This is a serious storm. Millions of people will be severely effected by the weather. My little day in the sun is meaningless.
My batting practice will be rescheduled. The reunion/on-field introductions have been moved to September 15th. It’s a small price to pay for being safe.
Until then, I’ll keep playing the day in my head as I hunker down this weekend with my wife. I’ll always have this tide me over…
Best to all…
When I stepped up to the plate to take my first at-bat in Camp, the umpire asked me if I was the guy with “the blog”. I smiled and said “yes”. I then proceeded to watch the first pitch go right by me. I recall looking back and saying, “wow, that was fast”.
After Camp, I uploaded my photos from Northeast Photography to my Flickr. I received a message from a man named Esteban Miguel. It turns out that one of those photos featured him during that exact game.
Luckily, it is one of my favorites.
We exchanged some messages and he mentioned how he was thinking of starting his own blog, chronicling his experiences umpiring. Before he gets that incredibly appealing endeavor off the ground, he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for my blog and give me some great insight in to the mind of a baseball umpire.
Sarge: What motivated you to become an umpire? That pressure, people constantly questioning your every decision and move, getting yelled at… that’s something people aren’t eagerly lining up for.
Esteban: Well what motivated me to become an umpire was some extra money. I started umpiring when I was in high school so I could make some money during the summer. After high school I couldn’t play anymore so I just kept going while I worked a regular job. In 2006 I went to the Cooperstown Little League tournament that is held every year. On the first night I was there, an umpire named Dick Wolf, who had been there a bunch of times in the past, gave me a tour. He took me to where the main field was (it was night and the fog under the lights gave me goosebumps). He told me that on championship night, the place is packed with over 3,000 parents, coaches, and players, and that the game is broadcasted through the internet. I promptly told him that I would work the championship game. He laughed and told me that no first year umpire at Cooperstown has ever worked the championship game. I promptly responded with “then I’ll be the first to do it.” He wished me luck and said that it’s a hard road, and that if I had any questions throughout the week, to just ask him. I asked him if he’d come out to see me umpire my first game and evaluate me. He agreed, but I didn’t see him until the next day after my two games. When I saw him, he gave me a list of things I needed to work on and I told him that if he came to see me the following day, that they would all be fixed. That night I worked on the list and made sure I wouldn’t mess up. The next day, he came to see me and told me to see him after my games. When I saw him he told me that only one aspect of my umpiring from the day before was still a problem, but that everything was fixed. He was impressed. Little did I know that he was in the same bunker as the head umpire from Cooperstown, and that he was listening to everything. The head ump came to see me the next day and was impressed. Apparently my name started to spread around. On the night before the championship game, I was cleaning my shoes, getting ready for the next day when the head ump came in asking if I could cover a game that he needed me ASAP. So I got my gear on and hustled out to the field. When I got back to my bunk I saw a list of assignments for all the games the next day. I started at the bottom to see if I got anything for the top 16 teams. Nothing. Top 8? Nothing. Top 4? Nothing. Then I look at the championship game and my name is on the list. I had the right field line. Nothing glorious but I was in the championship game. I made a few phone calls and was congratulated by some of the people in my bunk. The next morning I was at breakfast when the man from the first night, Dick Wolf, came up and handed me a black MLB umpire hat. “One day you’re going to be there.” I had a smile from ear to ear. “You worked hard kid, and if you keep it up, you’ll get there. You’ve impressed a lot of people.” I wore that hat with pride the whole day. Now the championship game is here and the stadium was packed with about 3,000 people like Dick had said. By the way, he was also working the championship game with me. He had first base. When we were about to walk onto the field, I had those goosebumps again and felt like this is what I want to do forever. At that exact moment I realized that I wanted to be a Major League umpire. For about a week, you couldn’t smack the smile off my face.
As far as pressure, getting yelled at, and the constant pressure of people constantly questioning my every decision and move, I tend to ignore what people think they see. 99 percent of the time I’m right. If there’s a close call, I’ll go back and look at the video and check. I’m almost always right. I don’t know how I do it, but I tend to be able to slow everything in my mind and see it more clearly. With the heckling and taunts, I tend to easily ignore them.
S: How long have you been an umpire? Could you give me a timeline of your progress, including umpiring school? What was the highest level you have umpired at?
E: I’ve been umpiring since i was a sophomore in high school (2000). I graduated in 2002, and worked for some local leagues and travel ball teams. The Cooperstown thing was in 2006, and my first time at umpire school was January 2007. I came just short in my first year. Of the 160 students, I was told I was about 43/160. They only take the top 25 students. I figured if I worked hard on everything I learned, and I go back the next year, I could make it. So i spent all summer working really hard and executing everything I learned in Atlanta, GA working perfect game baseball. I went back to school in January of 2008, and once again, I came up just short. I learned from a friend of mine who was in the minor leagues, and friends with an instructor, that I was about five people short from getting to go to the PBUC (Professional Baseball Umpire Corp). So this time I came in at #30 of 180 students. I was crushed. I’ve continued to work hard and have been able to work college and high school games. This year was able to work in two actual Major League games. The first was a Blue Jays Spring Training game in Dunedin, FL I worked second base; it wasn’t a big roll that I played, but it was still a Major League game nonetheless. Two weeks later, another Spring Training game involving the Phillies.
S: How long have you been doing Phillies Phantasy Camp?
E: 2011 was the first time I’ve done the Phillies Phantasy Camp. An umpire friend of mine got me in contact with the man who scheduled all the games, and BAM!, there I was.
S: How did you enjoy Phantasy Camp?
E: I loved it for the four days I was there. Everything was very professional and the players were filled with enthusiasm and excitement. I would definitely go back again anytime.
S: I caught one game, and because the last time I did that, I was in Little League, the poor umpire behind me got hit at least a half-dozen times. Do/did you come away from Camp with a lot of bumps and bruises or was my umpire just really unlucky to have me?
E: I can’t recall getting hit, but the umpire I was with got hit once or twice. Luckily, it was on the chest protector. Most catchers are pretty good as long as the ball doesn’t hit the dirt. When I see that the catcher can’t move well, I’ll make sure I get out of the way so I don’t get pegged all game long. Getting hit is part of the job when you’re behind the plate, though so it’s not all that bad, especially since we have a lot of gear.
S: In the real world of umpiring… the one that doesn’t involve us Campers… who have been, or still are, your favorite players and coaches to deal with on the field… and maybe not so favorite?
E: My favorite players and coaches to deal with are the ones that know that you’re not going to get anywhere by arguing with the umpire. The ones I don’t like are the ones that aren’t as experienced, and feel like they’re the know-it-alls, and they argue with you for something small that doesn’t really effect the outcome of the game. They usually end up getting tossed and fined. Some of them are funny sometimes too; just the things they say because they are ignorant of the rules. Some think I’m trying to “reinvent the game” or say things like, “you called that ball fair cause you hate me.” Yeah, that’s right… I called it fair cause because it didn’t hit your third baseman’s glove five feet in fair territory. I called it fair because I hate you. My favorite is when a wiseass coach comes out with a rulebook. When he does that I toss him right away. That’s total disrespect to me, and they usually don’t read the whole rule before they come out to me, and find out later that I was right.
S: I’m fascinated with the “art” of the coach/player/umpire argument. What is that exact line someone must cross before you send them to the showers? It seems someone can jaw endlessly without being tossed. Has any Camper ever gotten a little too serious and started something with you or your fellow umpire brethren?
E: As far as the line to cross goes, you can go on and on until you make something personal by adding the words “you” or “you’re” or “you all”. When you say that, it’s grounds for automatic ejection. Phantasy Camp is pretty laid back, so I didn’t experience any Campers saying anything. However, Mickey Morandini almost got tossed for arguing balls and strikes, which is another big no-no. I was laid back though, so he got to stay in the game.
They finally arrived.
I feel like Ryan Howard every time the Phillies play in St. Louis. I had a lot of requests for these tickets to the Phantasy Camp reunion on August 27th. It’s going to be an incredible night!
I know all 45,000+ in attendance will be there just to see us Campers, but just in case you need a second reason…
Here’s the link to enter your name to win this very cool promotion.
I’m proud to say I’ve made a return to the MLB Blogs leaders, landing at #49 for the month of June.
Thank you all for your continued readership!
There will be a lot of new pictures and video in late August after the 2011 Phantasy Camp reunion at Citizens Bank Park. And of course, another return to Clearwater in January 2012…
So don’t go turn that dial!
Waiting is the hardest part.
Just like last year at this time, thoughts of the 2012 Phantasy Camp this coming January are constantly hitting me. I feel like Chris Volstad facing Ryan Howard. The reality of the situation is running me over like a freight train… a freight train full of sunshine in the middle of winter, endless buckets of sunflower seeds and Double Bubble, and some of the best damn memories any baseball fan can remember.
Luckily, my 2011 Camp experience is technically not over. Come August, I will have one more huge fantasy come true right before the Phillies take on the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. But I’ll save that until later…
Until then, it’s watching the Phillies lead the pack in the Majors, guiding my softball team (hopefully) to another championship game appearance, and hitting the gym on a regular basis. Yes, hell has indeed frozen over. More trips to the batting cages are definitely on the docket as well. I am NOT embarrassing myself in front of Milt Thompson again.
As it is that time of year when folks are filling out their applications or still trying to decide if that trip to Clearwater is worth it, I thought I would revisit an interview I gave for the Phillies Talk podcast back in February. If you didn’t get a chance to listen, you can click below, or visit the Fightin Phillies website here.