Results tagged ‘ Philadelphia Phillies ’
Today marks the three year anniversary of the passing of the “sound of summer”, Harry Kalas.
We miss you HK.
There were many differences in my experience of yesterday’s Phillies home opener compared to last year’s. Instead of a three-train trek, I was once again charioted down to Citizens Bank Park by my fellow Phantasy Camper/roommate Sam. A quick PATH ride to his home in Jersey City truly beats wading through the throngs of humanity at Penn Station. Plus, I got to actually spend the time having a nice conversation, instead of draining my iPhone battery playing various (fill in the blank) With Friends games.
The weather was about 30 degrees warmer this year, but the early Spring wind returned, transforming the Cit into Candlestick Park East. Sitting on the right-field side, up in the 200 level put us directly in crossfire of the whipping breeze. But the sun was just warm enough to make us forget about our neighbor’s wayward hot dog wrapper slapping us in the face.
The one other difference? The Phillies lost this year.
But hey, lil’ Freddy Galvis got his first major league hit! Really, the only highlight of the entire game.
It was still the home opener. It was a beautiful Spring day. Baseball has returned. Phillies loss? Who cares?
Discussions with Sam and my good friend Tom, who was my game-mate for the day, seemed to focus a lot on our memories of seeing the Phillies at the Vet during our younger years… our very first games, the lean years in the late 80′s and early 90′s, the other-worldly ’93 season, and everything in-between. I don’t know if it was the relative ugliness of this game’s performance, the looming cloud over this team with age and injuries, and the very loud and consistent boo’ing (even after “God Bless America”!), but this sense of nostalgia (even if it was a tad negative) really warmed my heart. I thought of my dad a lot this day. Nothing excited me more as a child than getting in our ’77 Plymouth station wagon, making the 20-30 drive north to the larger-than-life Veterans Stadium. Armed with a cooler stocked with a full lunch supplied by my mom, I would take whatever free promotional gift was given out that Sunday, take our seats and gaze out at that bright green field that seemed about as big as the Atlantic Ocean. I never remembered who won. I didn’t care. I had the best time.
After Chooch’s last at bat, we made our to the Diamond Club for a quick Phantasy Camp reunion. Our attention was drawn to the incredible painting called the “Dream Scene” by Jamie Cooper that adorns the wall above the stairs leading down to the Club.
Everyone’s gaze was stuck on this incredible image.
We just stared and smiled at all the memories. It’s a wonderful selection of all the most important Phillies players and personalities. Easily, the best little tribute in the whole painting came in the form of the small vase with the single rose, standing on the table in front of Dallas Green… He may not be painted in to the scene, but he’s still there.
Tom and I made our way down to the Club and went outside to check out the view of the grounds crew taking care of the field. I’m 36 years old, but still feel like a little kid, completely surrounded by the echos of a professional baseball game.
I took him over to the other end of the Club to show him the window that looks down on the Phillies batting cages. We had just missed Placido Polanco taking some post-game swings. The sea of baseballs strewn all over the cage proved work definitely still needs to be done to get this offense kicked in to gear.
Phantasy Camp stalwarts Larry Andersen and Scott Palmer made an appearance to greet us Campers. After that game, I’m sure L.A. could have used a drink.
Our reunion was brief, but was still able to speak with fellow Campers and discuss our desire to return once again. But what made my afternoon was being approached by a woman named Sumi, the wife of Craig Gerhart. Campers from this past January (and readers of my diary) know Craig as easily THE happiest man in the world. His infectious child-like, positive attitude and never-ending smile was absolutely incredible. Sumi had come over to tell me how much she loved this blog and how happy Craig was to be mentioned. She told me he signed up for next year right before the game. Not at all shocking. Craig is exactly what Phantasy Camp is and should be all about: Being a kid.
We made our way back to our respective cars, taking in the beautiful weather. We stopped to snap some pictures of another one of our childhood baseball icons.
We passed the various statues that adorned the ramps at the old Vet. They acted as official greeters to our own Roman Coliseum… when we were kids and just being at a baseball game was everything.
When we didn’t care who won or lost.
No, not the running-towards-the-exit-of-the-Polo-Grounds/over-the-head Willie Mays catch… but my Defensive Play Of The Game-earning catch from the first game of Day Four from Phillies Phantasy Camp.
Now where do I pick up my Gold Glove Mr. Selig?
They have arrived. I’m extremely excited. Just like last year’s home opener, I will be sitting with fellow Phantasy Campers and enjoying an after-game reception in the Diamond Club at Citizens Bank Park. This will be the first of two reunions for us Campers. The next will be in late August where once again, I will be introduced on the field before the game (in addition to a little batting practice… which may not happen since I may pass out from pure excitement… or embarrassment).
Just like this year’s Phantasy Camp, I’m hoping there will be much better weather. Based on what the Northeast is experiencing right now, it should be glorious.
Delaware lawyer and fellow Phantasy Camp, David Finocchiaro, was featured last month in a piece for the Smyrna-Clayton Sun Times. You can read all about it here.
Thinking about going to Phillies Phantasy Camp in 2013? Check out their open house at Citizens Bank Park on March 20th!
MLB.com’s Blog Central released their January 2012 leaders, and the diary cracked the top 30 at #29.
That’s right, I’m rocking The Krukker’s number this month!
So in honor of one of the best Legends to take the field at Phantasy Camp, please enjoy this little John Kruk medley…
I have been receiving some very complimentary words about my photographs. If you would like to see all my images from Phantasy Camp, please visit my Flickr collection here.
I want to thank everyone who has stopped by to read this blog, and has taken the time to leave a comment or send an email. It truly means the world to me.
Now let’s resume counting down to when the REAL players hit the field!
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!
I think of my parents every single day. It’s been more than 20 years since my mother passed away. For my father, only two.
I am an only child, so his death had an especially profound effect on me. Last year, Phantasy Camp was not just a baseball experience. It was therapy. It was redemption. It was a tribute. It was the happy ending to a tragic tale, and at the same time, the perfect beginning to the new, ever-expanding story of my life.
This year, Camp has had a very different feel to it. I’ve come down to Florida knowing what to expect… physically and emotionally. I needed his support last year to let go and enjoy the moment. Now, he’s just hanging out on the bench, playfully making fun of my hitting, having a few beers, retelling the same old jokes over and over (laughing at himself before he even gets to the punchline), and making friends with every single person in Clearwater.
I miss him so much.
And in these last two days of Camp, those feelings couldn’t have been any stronger.
This is starting to get old. Another beautiful day on tap. Another day full of baseball.
Fellow Campers are showing each other pictures on their phones of snow-covered neighborhoods, sent from their loved ones in the Philadelphia area. My wife follows suit and shares with me the now white taxis speeding down second avenue.
I love snow in the winter. I love New York City. Currently I have sunburn on my neck and face. I’m wearing shorts at 7 AM. For right now, I’ll take this.
Ricky Jordan replaced Ricky Bottalico on the bench at this morning’s Kangaroo Court. No one asked why. It was probably for the best.
After the daily awards were given out, our GM, Rick, approached the bench and presented the judges with several bottles of wine in response to the last two days-worth of vino-related infractions. The Cutler men are my type of guys. They love their food. They love their wine. And they love sharing it.
Luckily, no Drillers were called up to stand trial today, however, my friend and Camp roommate was not immune. Sam looked perplexed as he approached the stand and was read the case. Then it dawned on him midway through.
Clearwater Air Park sits right down the road from the Carpenter Complex. Yesterday was a busy day for the air park, as there were a steady stream of large, low-flying cargo planes coming and going over the complex all day. Sam stepped to the plate yesterday as the first batter to start the game. He then called time and stepped out of the box. One of the cargo planes was straight ahead, distracting him. When asked by the umpire, Sam said the plane was “in his line of sight”. Well, this caused befuddled looks from all three judges, prompting Larry Andersen to ask, “are you a couple thousand feet tall?” Sam did not hear the end of this for the rest of the Camp. Every time a plane flew overhead, people jokingly called for time.
Once again, this proves you ALWAYS have to watch what you do or say at Phantasy Camp… or else.
Back to the action on the field. The Drillers entered the day with a record of 2-1. We still had a shot at playing for the Championship Game. It was very simple and obvious: we had to win this morning’s game for any chance.
But first things first. We had to warm up.
All the kinks were worked out. Let’s play two!
As was the case in our first game, I would be catching our staff ace, Steely Dave. Unlike last time, the both of us would be in there for the full seven innings. But just like game one, we left the field victorious.
We played the Ravens, coached by Bob Boone and Jim Eisenreich. Their first batter? Sam. I promised myself to make no jokes about planes. Although, as I started to become more comfortable behind the plate, I was contemplating using a little strategy not unlike John Candy in this clip. (NSFW)
We had a great pitching duel going against the Ravens pitcher, and longtime Camp veteran Bill Rodebaugh. Like most every pitcher, he was successful against me, sending me down on strikes twice.
For me personally, this game was all about my defense. Early in the game, I was a half a step short of catching a foul ball behind the plate. After already making a play in front of the plate in the first game, I was determined to add a foul ball to my catching “bucket list”. I had come close last year and was determined to get one this year.
My dad knew my strength in baseball was my defense, and not my offense. We spent countless hours in the backyard after he got home from work. He’d hurl the ball as high as he could into the fading sunlight, not caring what obstacles I had to avoid… a nasty hill, large rocks, etc. This is why I patrolled the outfield for most of my playing days. I could catch anything that came my way. Catching one foul ball behind the plate would be my gift.
I had told the ump after I returned that wanted to get one so bad. Very encouragingly, he told me I would.
Later in the game, another one skyrockets above me. I can hear it was hit very well, so I may have time to get my bearings, locate the ball, and catch it. I threw off my mask and spun around two full turns. I may have even added another half. I could not find the ball. All I can hear is people yelling, “up! up! up!” Where the hell was it? It’s clearly in range.
With my back to the mound, the ball dropped a couple feet in front of me. How did I miss this? Usually, when a foul ball is hit, it travels upwards. I was not looking that way. For some reason, I kept my head straight ahead.
As the inning ended, I strolled back to the dugout and found my coach, Mike Lieberthal smiling and laughing, all while shaking his head is utter disbelief. He didn’t have to say anything. But he did. He just kept asking why I wasn’t looking up. I could not give a valid reason. As if that wasn’t bad enough, while I was taking off my gear, Bob Boone, who was making his way to coach first base, took a detour and heading towards my direction. With a huge smile on his face, he reached out and put a hand on my shoulder. I immediately started to laugh because I knew what was coming. “The first rule in catching is to always look up when there is a foul ball. You’ll never go wrong if you follow that.” Two of the greatest, longest-tenured catchers in Phillies history. Gold Glove winners. All-Stars. In the space of one minute, I was teased about my catching “skills” by both men. My game-winnng double the day before was definitely my top highlight of the Camp so far. This may have just tied it.
The game moved along. We were ahead, but it was still tight.
Steely Dave was pitching a great game. As another pitch arrived, another foul ball was hit. Third time was a charm. There it was, easy as pie. My first foul ball. Absolutely satisfying.
Surprisingly, I would quickly forget about that one.
Another inning passed. Another pop foul. This time, hugging the third base line. I immediately spotted and locked in on the ball. As I got closer, I heard my teammates yelling “Dave! Dave!” I knew right then that Steely Dave was also hurdling towards the ball. I never took my eyes off the prize, but I heard his footsteps. I knew this could be disastrous. The ball was Earthbound. My arm was stretched out, and my glove was open, getting ready to catch the ball. Just as it was about to land, I see out of the corner of my eye, Steely Dave, diving headfirst at my feet, as to avoid the full-on collision. I toppled over him, on to my back, forming a lumpy pile of humanity. I quickly looked in to my glove. Just like something out of Bad News Bears, I gazed in awe and what just happened. I caught it. I raised up my glove to show the ump.
I returned to the plate, the ump waiting for me with a congratulatory fist bump. OK, that just topped everything.
We took our turns at the plate and broke through the wall. We plated run after run. I even found myself working a walk, finally improving my On Base Percentage. It was over.
This was, without a doubt, our most impressive win. Every single player contributed. Stock and Lieby admitted that this was the toughest game ball decision they had to make, so they gave more than one. Steely Dave got one for his stellar pitching performance. As for the hitting star, it could have been anyone… well, except me. But this time, it went to Ed Keith. We all thought poor Ed was going to be sidelined after hurting his hamstring in the very first game, but he roughed it out every single game. He was playing come hell or high water. This game, he came through with a couple huge, run-scoring hits. Everyone agreed on that one. Ah, but then Lieby added one more. There would be a ball given for the “defensive play of the game”.
Two in a row.
Dad, this one has your name all over it. Thank you.
It was back to clubhouse before lunch. Like I said before, I’m not a catcher. I’m used to big gloves to help catch fly balls in the outfield, not beefy, stout catcher’s mitts. My left hand begged me for a little relief. I made my first trip to the trainer’s room. I walked in and saw Sam, laying on the table getting his ankle wrapped. During our game, he got caught in a rundown between second and third base. He slid awkwardly towards third, and it took him some time to finally get on his feet. He finished the game, and the rest of the Camp, but that ankle swelled up like a San Francisco Giants outfielder’s head. I got my hand wrapped up and numbed it with ice. I took a photo of him on the table. He returned the favor.
While in the clubhouse, we learned that the 3-0 Clippers were upset in their morning game, which meant there was a three-way tie for first place. We would be in the running for the Championship Game! Ah, but all hopes were quickly dashed as the tie-breaker would be determined by runs allowed. That 17-run debacle the day before would be our undoing. We would be playing for third place. Even though we gave up a lot of runs, we also scored the most runs out of any team in the Camp. So basically we were a classic American League team.
So our last game would be purely for fun. Of course ALL the games are fun, but this had no pressure involved. We could take it relatively easy and be ready and healthy for the big three-inning matchup against the Legends tomorrow. However, this game did have a little something “extra” to it. We would be facing the Sky Chiefs, coached by Greg Luzinski and Terry Harmon. What was so special about a fourth place team? This team featured former Philadelphia Eagle, Ike Reese.
We headed over to Richie Ashburn field for our last regular game of the Camp.
The guys got warmed up. We were loose and relaxed. Let’s have fun.
Dave Mongeluzi took the mound and my platoon-mate, Howie Cutler, assumed catching duties. The first batter Dave faced was none other that Ike Reese.
Ike hit a slow dribbler down the first base line. Pretty much everyone in the Camp would have be thrown out in that situation. However, Ike is a professional athlete. I think he got to first base in about seven steps. Everyone on the bench just “oohed” and “awed”. There ain’t nothing you can do about that.
To be completely and totally honest, I really don’t remember too many specifics about the game. I know we lost, but I don’t even remember the score. I was having too much fun talking with my teammates and our roving cheering section, which included Dave and Jim Roberto’s children.
David (Dave’s son) had been recruited to be our new batboy, after Joe Stackhouse left the Camp early to attend a special award ceremony for his son, thus leaving an open position. After my first at-bat which resulted in a strike out, he approached me, and with the manners of the politest young man, started giving me pointers about what I was doing wrong. He told me he was working with a hitting coach back home and remembered a lot of his advice. David told me to stand further up in the plate. My positioning in the back was causing me to swing late. I listened very attentively and told him if I got on base next time, he was getting a special mention in my diary.
OK, he was going to be mentioned anyway, but I had to sweeten the deal somehow.
My next at bat, I got up there and gave him a special look after I took my position in front of the plate. Wouldn’t you know it, I was making contact, hitting foul ball after foul ball. I got the count to 3-2 and ripped a grounder that was misplayed by the third baseman. Sure, it was an E5, but I had a fantastic at bat. I got to first and immediately pointed my finger at David. I gave him a huge smile and nod of my head. He returned the gesture. Best. Bat Boy. Ever.
I was eventually sent in to play centerfield for a couple innings. After a couple hard hit line drives came my way, and a putout, Ike Reese stepped up to the plate. He hadn’t hit the ball hard all game, but he had the power to put a ride in to one. He also was pulling the ball, so I shaded him to right and took a few extra steps back. Well, wouldn’t you know it, he hits a long gapper between the leftfielder, John Ashcom, and I. Our scouting report had too small of a sample size apparently. I tracked the ball down and by the time I squared myself to throw to the cut-off man, he was already a good 3-4 steps to third base. I did mention he was fast.
The throw was made to third to nab him, but it skipped under the glove, and Ike made his move, sliding into home for a “Little League home run”. Or, you can hear it from him yourself. Yes, that centerfielder he speaks of is me.
Well, the outcome didn’t quite favor us, but we became a small footnote to a funny story.
The best part of this particular game though, and the whole Camp for that matter, was watching the interactions of all the fathers with their children. This Camp would soon be over and to watch everyone in the final hours of this experience was touching. Steely Dave and his dad Phil… cheering each other on, giving words of encouragement in-between innings. Rick… beaming like the proud father he is of his son. Howie… thrilled to be sharing this trip with his dad, whom he clearly loves with all his heart. I recall Rick greeting Howie at the dugout after he provided a clutch, run-scoring hit, and gave him a hug and kiss on the cheek. Dave, Jim, and Joe… playing quick games of catch with their wonderful and lovely children right after the conclusion of every single game.
This is more than a fancy trip to play baseball. This is about family. This is about fathers playing catch with their sons when there is no more light to the day. This is what I wanted for my father and I, but never had the chance to do so… but nothing made me happier than to watch others around me relish in the joy of this Camp and their family. That’s what this is all about.
Tonight was the awards banquet, complete with a cocktail hour outside by the tiki bar. This more than made up for the cancelled outdoor luau from the first night.
The weather was gorgeous this night. Couldn’t we just stay outside and receive the awards here? I really didn’t need to go back inside.
As Sam and I made our way up to the bar, we noticed a very familiar face hanging out, signing autographs, and taking pictures with folks. Darren Daulton, the longtime Phillie catcher and member of the famous ’93 Macho Row, had made an appearance. His Hawaiian shirt and deep… deep tan, were unmistakable. I snapped a picture of him with fellow Driller teammate, Paul Kirsch.
We made our way back in to the hotel ballroom for the banquet. Like last year, the table were adorned with the jerseys of our team.
Team MVP’s were first given out. And the award for best Driller goes to… Steely Dave! Our own personal Mark Fidrych, circa 1976, had taken home the prize. His solid pitching on the mound and smooth stroke at the plate made him very worthy of the award. In a very kind gesture, he returned to our tables and thanked every single one of us, saying if it wasn’t for us, he wouldn’t have received it. He said he would loved to chop up the award into 12 individual pieces and mail them to us.
I think my teammates can say, without a doubt, this actually may happen. Dave, you just keep it buddy, you deserved it!
Here is Dave with his proud father and rock at second base, Phil.
The banquet was filled with wonderful moments, including John Kruk receiving a plaque commemorating him for his work with Iraq War veterans. Truly touching.
The Maje McDonnell Award was given to Camper Craig Gerhart. I’m going to save this fellow for my next diary entry…
The banquet ended with a fantastically-produced montage of photos from Camp and hilarious shorts featuring the Legends. I must say, this presentation far exceeded the one shown at last year’s dinner. That ended the banquet on a very high note. So why stop the flow?
Off to the hotel bar for one final night of imbibing and saying goodbye.
Tomorrow will be the best.