Results tagged ‘ Yankees ’

Another Bryan Hits Fantasy Camp

We are officially at the two-month mark. Luckily, the hustle and bustle of the upcoming holiday season will be a nice distraction from the excitement of my return trip to Clearwater in January. Some folks, however, have been lucky enough to finish off their fantasy camp experience already.

I am not a native to New York City, but for the last 10 years, I have been fortunate to call it home. My wife and I cannot imagine living anywhere else. Of course, this also means I’ve been living amongst the “enemy”. However, I have a much more zen approach to the Philadelphia/New York sports rivalry. It’s such an interesting aspect to my baseball fandom, that I’ve felt to document this relationship in another blog of mine.

(courtesy of yankeeanalysts.com)

In my perusing of off-season news from the local nines in the Bronx and Queens, I came across a series on yankees.com from MLB.com writer, Bryan Hoch.  Bryan followed diehard Yankees fans down to Tampa for the first of two fantasy camps held by the club.

You can read his great daily recaps below… but I think my fellow Phillies fans would rather hear from this particular Bryan *points to self*

Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four

Last Day

12/14/10 – Cliff Lee


I eagerly woke up this morning to watch the MLB Network’s coverage of last night’s absolutely shocking signing of Cliff Lee by the Phillies. Instead, I was treated to a replay of Game 1 of the 2009 World Series… the game that solidified Lee’s folk hero status in Philadelphia. Because of the circumstances that revolved around this World Series with my father passing away the morning of the last game (and the fact the Phillies lost the Series), I have refused to watch any of the games again. This time, it was completely different. When I turned on the TV, the game was in the third inning, Phillies up, no score, Chase Utley at bat. Home run. All the excitement and emotion from that night came flooding back. Lee’s complete domination that night, combined with his cool-as-a-cucumber demeanor, brought such incredible hope to every fan. We could win our second World Series in a row. Even better, we could do it against the Yankees.

As was the routine, my dad and I called each other as soon as the game finished. Just like he did to every Phillies fan, Lee won over my dad almost instantly. In fact, I don’t think there was ever another Phillie my dad was so thrilled about to don the red and white pinstripes. He LOVED Cliff Lee. On this night, my dad’s voice had as much excitement in it as he had after Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. We could not stop lauding his performance that night.

——————–

A little more than a month after my father’s passing, the Phillies traded away Cliff Lee in a three-team deal that brought Roy Halladay to Philadelphia… the original plan for the ’09 trade deadline. This was easily THE most bittersweet deal any Philadelphia sports team had manufactured. I was thrilled to have Halladay, but my baseball heart was absolutely broken over the departure of Lee. I thought about my dad and how deeply disappointed he would have been over this move. I was able to hear every word of his hypothetical tirade. Even with Halladay living up to every dream of Phillies fans, I know my dad would still be watching Cliff Lee’s progress with the Seattle Mariners, and later the Texas Rangers. And I know his performance in the postseason with the Rangers, who went further than the Phillies, would get him cracking open a couple extra cans of Coors Light to ease the pain.

——————-

What happened last night was magical. 

A week ago, the Phillies were the victim of a free agent signing that rocked the GM Winter Meetings. Jayson Werth left an incredible situation in Philadelphia to simply go where the money was… his sole intention. The Washington Nationals’ massive contract to Werth was eye-opening. Werth’s decision to commit to a less-than-stellar baseball club was head-shaking (I had plenty of opinions about this, so I’m not going to bother wasting more time on that subject).

Last night, the Phillies were involved in an even more Earth-shattering transaction… something practically no one saw coming. At the 11th hour, Cliff Lee gracefully declined the two extremely generous offers given to him from the Rangers and Yankees, both considered the favorites and only two teams in the running, and signed with a “mystery team” that spun the rumor mill to dangerous speeds. That team? The Philadelphia Phillies. 

Unlike Werth, he chose a team that he wanted to play for, not who gave him the most lucrative contract. Lee and his family adored Philadelphia during his first stint with the club, and he made it very clear that he was disappointed he was being shipped out. Now he had the chance to return and he took it. Yes, he still got paid very handsomely (5 years/$100 million with a 6th year option. Total: $120 million). However he left upwards of $41 million on the table by not accepting either of the offers from the Rangers or Yankees. This was not completely about the money. This was simply about being happy. Cliff Lee was already a legend to Phillies fans. This decision just upgraded him to “mythical god” status. 

Apart from the obvious thrill that comes from this reacquisition, what is really making this move emotional for me is knowing that somewhere, my dad is jumping up and down in joy. His favorite player has returned to the Phillies. And he returned for all the right reasons. 

Now I can watch Game 1 again… not with sadness, but with eternal hope and a very warm heart.

Welcome back Cliff.

9/19/10 – Closer

It is now officially four months until camp. This has gone by quicker than I imagined. I’m sure as it gets closer and closer, it’ll get excruciating. 

As of this morning, the Phillies are leading the NL East by three games over the Atlanta Braves. They have the best record in the National League and only two wins behind the Yankees for best in the Majors. They have a very good shot at posting a better record than their 2008 and 2009 counterparts. And as has been the case since 2007, they have saved their best baseball of the regular season for September. I think I can speak for all Phillies fans when I say that I truly cannot believe what this team has done, and is continuing to do. Back in June, I had come to terms with the fact that a postseason appearance quite possibly wasn’t in the cards for this team. Oh, how things have changed.

The weather is getting cooler, the nights are getting shorter… 

I am very excited.

3/23/10 – The Call

When I called the Phantasy Camp Headquarters, I got their automated menu system. This was not your run-of-the-mill phone directory prompt. The voice on the other end was “The Voice”. I immediately beamed. I thought to myself, “this is the coolest damn thing I have ever heard in my life”. However, it also saddened me. Harry had passed away that last April before a game against the Nationals in Washington. I had seen the breaking news report on the MLB Network and quickly called my dad. I felt like I was informing him a family member had just passed. He clearly was upset by the news. A voice that was synonymous with generations of Phillies fans was silenced. This was also the voice that first told me about the wonders of this camp. The significance of this did not escape me.

I spoke to a wonderful woman named Joanne LeVeque who was the enrollment coordinator. She was excited at my enthusiasm to want to attend the camp. When I told her I lived in New York City, she immediately asked how I was coping with being surrounded by Yankees and Mets fans. It was a fun conversation and once again, I knew I had made the right decision.

She took all my information and emailed me a couple forms, including the application.  As soon as I started to peruse the application, I immediately became aware what this camp was all about. After asking your name, the second question was, “Nickname you would like to be called at Camp”. This was going to be great.

My nickname? Gary Matthews and I may be duking this out.

Other questions included preferred uniform number and position(s) you would like to play. (Note: the numbers I chose were “31” for Garry Maddox and “47” for the year my father was born. I later realized it was also Larry Andersen‘s number, the crowned ring leader of Phantasy Camp. How fitting). Before the legal agreements and final signature, the application had two mini-essay questions. First they asked you to tell them a little about yourself. The second, “Phulfill Your Phantasy: What is your ultimate phantasy for this experience?”. All of a sudden, I got pangs of anxiety. I didn’t want to botch this question up. I felt like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”, writing his essay to Mrs. Shields justifying his desire for a Red Ryder B.B. Gun. I needed to come up with the best answer I could so they would accept my application. I did NOT want to get a C+ on this one. I pondered what to write in those eight blanks lines. I shook my head to give myself a mental wake-up. I was clearly thinking about this way too much. This was not going to make or break their decision on whether or not they should let me attend. I basically gave them a condensed, eight-line version of the introduction to this diary. That should do it.

Introduction

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2010

I don’t know exactly what age I was when I first learned that my favorite baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies, held an annual “fantasy camp” at their Spring Training facility in Clearwater, FL. According to the “second most important male voice in life at the time”, Harry Kalas, attendees would spend several days playing baseball with other camp-goers and ex-Phillies players.  I looked to my dad to make sure I heard that correctly.  Harry might as well have said the entire Phillies team will come to my house and play nine innings in our backyard. It was that preposterous. Harry wouldn’t lie to me, right? Dad gave me a reassuring smile and told me it was indeed true.

My hopes were immediately dashed though when I found out that you had to be at least 30 years of age to attend. Once again, the powers that be were denying this kid the basic human right to have fun. Thirty?! That’s an eternity! (So goes the thought process for every boy and girl that age).

Years went by and my desire to fib about my age and attend Phantasy Camp had waned. My love of baseball turned to other interests like music and playing drums. My posters of Mike Schmidt and Pete Rose were being replaced with rock stars and Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. In addition to Schmidt, it also did not help that my favorite player, Garry Maddox, had retired. Compound that with the fact that my team went through a pretty long period of less-than-stellar play on the field, save for the statistical outlier that was 1993 (easily one the most fun-filled seasons following the Phillies… although did you have to lose 15-14 at my first ever World Series game? Come on. That was painful).

I moved to New York City in early 2001 and I followed the Phillies with even more fervor.  Baseball was slowly making a comeback in Philadelphia. There were a lot of reasons to get excited about this organization. That season saw them turn around with a winning record, led by new manager and Phillies legend, Larry Bowa. A new ballpark was on the way. Amazing homegrown talent was coming up like Jimmy RollinsRandy Wolf, and Pat Burrell. Catcher Mike Lieberthal was coming in to his own. Outfielder Bobby Abreu became a quiet superstar. Later, free agent Jim Thome graced Philadelphia with his presence. Chase Utley soon followed, along with a first baseman making a lot of noise down in the minor leagues named Ryan Howard.  And as any baseball fan knows, what has become of Philadelphia Phillies baseball in the last half of this decade has been nothing short of pure bliss for their fanbase. Right Harry?

My dad and I outside Citizens Bank Park, July 24, 2004.

In the last several years, my dad and I became even more fanatical about our team. Whenever it was on the phone or face-to-face, our conversations centered round the Phillies.  He and I had always been extremely close. The Phillies made us even closer.

On November 4, 2009, my father passed away.  Apart from the obvious shock, pain and heartache that surrounded me that day, what made it even worse was the fact that it was the same day as Game 6 of the World Series against the Yankees… a game (and Series) the Phillies would lose. I wrote an article for prosportsblogging.com detailing that day.

Once I was able to start focusing again on the things I loved to do, the idea of attending the Phillies Phantasy Camp went off like a light bulb. Why not? I had the time and resources now (I also finally met the age requirement. I would turn 35 during the camp in January 2011… same day as Carlos Ruiz… let’s add in “birthday present to myself” shall we?) I ran the thought by my wife. She didn’t even let me finish my sentence before she gave me a hundred emphatic “yeses”.  Not only would this be a wonderful, exciting, and therapeutic experience for me, but it would be the ultimate tribute to my father: A man, no matter how tired he was after a long day at work, would rush home to have a catch with his son in the backyard before the sun went down and to talk about baseball. A man who used sports as a way to comfort ourselves after my mother passed away when I was 14. A man who made his only child his number one priority.

I called the very next morning. After a 20-minute phone conversation with the enrollment coordinator, I knew I made the right decision.

And I knew I had to document this entire process…

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