Results tagged ‘ Scott Eyre ’

Phillies Insider Legend Interviews

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

1/23/11 – FINAL DAY of Phillies Phantasy Camp

I woke up just as the sun started to make its slow rise over the horizon and envelop Clearwater Harbor with its warm orange glow. This was the perfect way to start out my last morning at Phantasy Camp.

Packed and checked out, I headed to breakfast in the ballroom. My calf muscle in my left leg felt fantastic, like nothing had happened to it the day before. No hobbling down the buffet line for me. This was good because I needed the support to hold up the massive amount of bacon that I just shoveled on to my plate. No need to eat healthy today. This was going to be a party.

I sat down at an empty table and was soon joined by Scott Palmer. He wished me a good morning, asked how I was, and asked about my experience at Camp He was thrilled to hear all my exaltations. While I had him there, I had to speak to him about Cliff Lee…

I watched the Cliff Lee press conference live on the MLB Network and the first thing I noticed was Palmer’s introduction of Lee and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. Palmer was not just a Public Affairs Director this day, he was a fan like all the rest of us.  I remarked to Scott how overjoyed he looked and sounded, like he could not believe he was actually there, introducing Lee BACK to the Phillies. The same went for Amaro Jr. The both of them had the widest smiles. Scott shook his head and told me that was such an incredible day and everyone in the organization felt the same way: over the moon. He went on to tell me about the night he found out Lee was returning to the Phillies.

The Phillies were hosting a charity event that Palmer MC’ing. Dave Montgomery, the owner, president and C.E.O. of the Phillies, who takes his involvement with charities very seriously, was suspicious absent for the good part of the evening. Every now and then, Dave would come in, looking very tense and pensive, and then quickly disappear again. Scott knew that the Phillies had recently become a major player in the Lee sweepstakes, and he was their number one priority. Throughout the night, Dave would come and go, but finally, he returned with a very similar wide grin, sat down, crossed his legs, took a huge a breath and put his arms on each chair next to him. Scott knew right then the Phillies had just landed Lee. It wasn’t until later that night while he was driving home did he hear the confirmation on the radio. Fantastic.

A teammate of mine, Harry Sharpe, joined us at the table. Harry had incredible energy, a great sense of humor, and was a joy to be around. He and his wife own a bed & breakfast in Tunkhannok, PA, which he promised all of us discounted rates if we came and stayed there. I’m holding you to that Harry!

Scott told us another story about Phantasy Camp that gave me such a bad case of goosebumps. Syd Fluck had been a regular down in Clearwater, but over the years, he started developing early stages of Alzheimer’s. In what turned out to be his last year attending Camp, his son had joined him for the first time. Palmer recalled a sad, but very touching moment when the older Fluck was batting in a game at Bright House. Syd had struck out, but thought he actually walked. He started his way down the line to take his base. His son met him on the line and gently whispered in to his ear that he actually struck out. His son put his arm his dad’s shoulders and walked him back to the dugout. EVERYONE on the field, in the dugout, and in the stands, gave him a rousing, standing ovation. My eyes are welling up just typing this. Like I said before, this is what this Camp is all about.

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I loaded all my luggage into the bus and said goodbye to the Marriot.  Since the Drillers finished in 8th place, our game against the Legends would not be until the early afternoon, so we did not need to be at the Complex until a little later. That extra hour was so nice, although, we did kind of wish we would finish 9th or 10th just so we could get two extra hours. Also, as a consolation, the 9th and 10th place teams played their final game the day before at Bright House Field.

Sometimes, it’s good to lose one every now and then.

We pulled in to the Complex one last time. This morning routine of ours quickly became so familiar, like we had done this for years. That was a really comforting feeling. It felt great to take our time this day, stroll in to the clubhouse, and not have to rush about getting ready for our morning briefings. We all were able to leisurely sit around, chat with our surrounding locker buddies and teammates, and fully take in this final and very exciting day.

Before I left, another Camper stopped me, and for the fourth time in the past couple of days, was told I resemble a sports celebrity. This time, my apparent doppelganger was not a baseball player. Nope, I got a NASCAR driver this time. Who? Tony Stewart….

That’s still SO much better than Kruk (just kidding big guy!)

I slowly made my way from the clubhouse to Bright House Field. I wanted to really take in that particular walk one last time. The weather was gorgeous. It was still very cool, but the winds had completely subsided and the sun just seemed extra brighter today. Very fitting.

When I arrived, the atmosphere was so joyous. Everyone had their family and friends around with them, taking pictures of their favorite Camper and all the Legends, congregated and playing on the field. This was also a great chance for everyone to raid the Phillies Clubhouse store. I honestly thought I would have left with half the store, but I resisted the urge and surprisingly did not purchase one item. However, I did purchase a photo CD courtesy of the professional photographers who roamed the fields every single day, Northeast Photography. They had every proof laid out for the Campers to pick and choose. I found a good number of photos with me in various action and not-so-action-filled shots. All I have to say is, by the time the August reunion at Citizens Bank Park rolls around, I am losing some pounds. Looking like that in front of 200 people is one thing. 45,000? Yeah, maybe I should cut back on that bacon.

With a good amount of time on my hands, I made my way around Bright House Field to take photos.  Much like every new ballpark that has debuted in the last 10 or so years, Bright House has the distinctive feature of a seamless walkway, encircling the entire field.  Two days before, an ESF employee spotted me taking pictures and told me that I could climb up to the perch in centerfield where the TV cameras are positioned. I took his advice, and made my out there. On this crystal clear day, the field’s colors looked extra vibrant. The grass was greener and the sky was bluer.

Around the stadium I went. I was all alone standing beyond the outfield fences. I all I heard was the faint crack of a bat and a few muffled cheers. That near silence was broken with the echoes of the PA announcer calling out the next batter and the score. It was so peaceful back amongst the palm trees.

I settled in to the seats along the first base side, right behind the Legends dugout. Twenty minutes ago, they were the size of ants. Now, they were all lined up in front of me, larger than life.

For the first time today, I was able to sit down and take in one of these games. This would be a good time to explain the rules of our matchups against the Legends…

1. Games are only three innings long. The Legends are the home team, which really means, the games are actually only two and a half innings. I believe it only happened once ever in Camp history where the Legends needed their last at bat’s to finish the game.

2. We are allowed to field an entire team at once. Yes, we had five outfielders. We regressed beyond Little League. We went to Tee Ball.

3. If by the third inning, if everyone on the team had not batted, but we reached three outs, the inning would still continue until everyone had a turn at the plate.

4. The Legends are only allowed to score a maximum of two runs per inning. If they reached the two run limit, but still have less than three outs, the inning is still over.

Not only do these rules benefit the Campers in that we all get to participate and have fun, but to try and limit the time on the field of the Legends. Not every Legend played, which meant a lot of these guys were logging a lot of time on the field this day (almost five hours).

It was a something else seeing a lot of the Legends switching around and playing positions you would have never seen them man in their heydays. Mitch Williams at first, Scott Eyre at third, Mickey Morandini pitching…

It was also great seeing these guys in playing action for the first time this Camp. Being able to see those sweet left-handed swings of Milt Thompson and Von Hayes, those distinctive batting stances of Kruk, Ricky Jordan, Mike Lieberthal, the power windup of Ricky Bottalico, Kevin Stocker and Dave Hollins fluidly and flawlessly turning a double play, Juan Samuel gracefully taking a double… truly awe-inspiring. Yes, they are all older and they were not playing at 100% of their physical ability, but you could just see how innate their talent is. Everything they do on the field is second nature to them. It’s like brushing your teeth or tying your shoes. You don’t have to think about it. That’s what the sport is like for them, and that will always be something I’ll never get my mind around. Just incredible.

After a few innings, I made my way back towards the tent in left field for a well-deserved lunch. Sitting around and taking photographs is exhausting. I sat with a lot of my teammates and we had a wonderful last meal together. Just like in the clubhouse, it was kind of sad that this would be the last time we would be eating together. I finished my extremely nutritious slab of cheesecake and made my way back to the stands to watch some more games. The Ravens and Sky Chiefs would be playing soon and I wanted to say hi to my friends before they hit the field.

As our time drew nearer, my team started congregating in left field. No one was really hitting the ball that deep, so all the teams would start warming up a couple games before theirs.

During the Sky Chiefs game, we made our way to the dugout to get ourselves ready so as to have a smooth and quick transition to our game. Now it was starting to hit me; sitting in that dugout again and watching all these great ex-Phillies on the field and knowing I would be stepping up to the plate and looking out at all of them. Wow.

The game finished and we stood around, getting ready to run out on the field. I got a few more pictures and videos. One of my friend’s had asked me to get an autograph of Kevin Stocker for her as he was her favorite player on that 1993 team. I decided that would be too boring, so Stock obliged me with a quick video message to my friend. In true Stocker fashion, he got a quick dig in, calling my play on the field, “unbelievably bad”. Thanks. Now I’m not going to buy one of your smoothies. What do you think of that hot shot? But seriously, it was a great gesture. The night of the Bull Session, he did a very similar thing. When asked if he would speak to a Camper’s daughter on the phone, he obliged. He truly loved interacting with everyone.

I also got one more quick video. This was one of the big moments I was waiting for.

Wow. Dan Baker, calling out my name and number, with my big goofy smile projected on the scoreboard. What a moment.

Stock and Lieby called us in for a quick huddle. Their only instructions were, once we finished our at-bats, to go out to any position we wanted and to just have fun. Yep, we had regressed to Tee Ball.

The Legend that we drew as our opposing pitcher was a great one. We actually got to face the newbie and last minute addition in Scott Eyre. So, not only did we get to face a real pitcher (some teams had former position players throwing at them), but we would be batting against a man who was only one season removed from pitching in the World Series against the Yankess AND two seasons removed from winning the World Championship. That was mind-blowing.

1-2-3 we went.

I made a beeline out for left field. There was no way I was playing infield against these guys. Plus, they had no problem driving the ball out, so I figured there would be a great chance for me to field a ball hit out. Lee Sorenson took his spot next to me in the new “middle left field” position. For those scoring at home, that would be “11”. I yelled over to Lee and joked with him that we needed to take this seriously and that we would be the first team to beat the Legends. He got in to the spirit and barked back that this is the last stronghold and to hold our positions. Very funny.

The first Legend to bat was Ricky Bottalico. Ricky Bo was most definitely taking these games seriously; from his metal spikes, to his quick glove work at third, to his powerful bat. He was there to play. After his first at-bat, it all seemed like a blur. One after another these guys would rake the ball. They quickly reached their two run limit. The highlight of the first inning though was Von Hayes hitting an opposite-field shot down the line towards me. Unfortunately, between the photographer who was stationed near me on the field, and another team warming up near the sidelines, I could not field the ball as cleanly as I wanted to. It bounced off several people and I had to quickly change my course. I finally retrieved the ball and made a nice clean throw to the cut-off man. There was another highlight: fielding a Von Hayes double. Awesome.

1-2-3 once again. I felt that our chances were looking very slim at this point.

Bottom of the second and another blur of hits and scoring… Ricky Jordan, Juan Samuel, John Kruk, Dave Hollins, Tyler Green, Ryan Howard… just kidding. The score was now 4-0 and we came up for our final at-bats, which meant I would finally get my chance.

There I went, strolling up to home plate to face Scott Eyre. The PA announcer called out my name and I got chills down my spine. Eyre clearly had dialed it down for us Campers. He did not throw any off-speed or breaking balls. Every single pitch was right down the middle, straight, and much slower than he could possibly throw. I would say he was around the low to mid-70’s. It was great to see him start out his windup with that little shoulder shrug he does before every pitch. Unlike what I normally do, I took the first pitch just to see what I would be facing. It was like a pitching machine. Straight and perfect. The second came in exactly the same and I swung. Yep, not even close. After
that, I may have taken a ball (I can’t really remember, but it’s very possible I did not. Patient at the play I am not.) Scott threw his next, identical pitch in and I got around on it, hitting a very solid line drive towards second base… right in to the glove of Dickie Noles. No matter. If I had one ultimate goal in this Camp, it was to NOT strike out against a Legend, and just make contact. That was all. And I did. For once, I did not go down because of my flailing bat. My dad would have absolutely over the moon. For a man who witnessed his son swing at many-a-horrible pitch in his life, any sort of solid contact made him extremely proud. That one was for you dad.

I came back to the dugout with a big grin on my face, Stock, Lieby, and the rest of my teammates all came over to tell me how solid of a hit that was. What a great feeling. Our MVP Pete was not able to play due to a nagging injury, but did find the energy to get an at-bat. As they did for players who were having a hard time running, a pinch runner was used, stationed behind the umpire. This time, they used the young son of my teammate Joe Stackhouse. Pete got a hold of Eyre’s pitch and drove it in between right and center field. Ricky Jordan, who was patrolling center, pulled up a bit and let it fall as to give Joe’s son the opportunity to run the bases.  Stocker, who was coaching first, got in to the spirit and told Joe’s son to try and steal after Eyre released the ball. In the Camp, one rule was that there was no stealing allowed, so of course, this garnered a lot of laughs, especially from Eyre.

We made our last out and that was that. My days on the Phantasy Camp were officially over. We lined up to shake the hands of all the Legends and give our final goodbyes. One after another, “good game, thank you, take care, great to meet you, etc.” Then came Dave Hollins. “Great game Inky!”

———————–

Back to the clubhouse… what no Yuengling today?! Yeesh. I slowly packed up everything from my locker; all the uniform accoutrements, the customized magnetic name plate, etc. For those who were not going to be taking the bus the airport, we all said our goodbyes. We traded our business cards, numbers, emails, and most importantly, our heartfelt exchanges of letting the other person know that it was an absolute pleasure to have met and shared this incredible experience with them.

Before I left, I did have one small piece of business to attend to. I brought down a one of my favorite pictures of my dad and I, taken before a Phillies game in July of 2004, the first year of Citizen Bank Park. I blew it up and wrote a personal note on the back. I folded it up tightly and placed it in the far back of the safe in my locker. I’m sure it was quickly found by the clubhouse staff after we all left, but it was my way of giving my dad a small taste of being in Clearwater with me, living out this lifelong dream together, in spirit.

And that… was what this Camp was all about to me.

Dad, this was for you. I love you.

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This does not mean this diary is finished. Not by a long shot. There will be much more to come… more pictures, links, and follow-up stories. There will also be two Phantasy Camp reunions at Citizens Bank Park during the upcoming baseball season, including the big one during alumni weekend on the last weekend in August. So please keep stopping by!

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”

 

1/19/11 – 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.


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