My husband Paul and I just got back from a trip to Randy Hundley's Fantasy Camp in Mesa, AZ. I sent him as a 25th anniversary gift. Since we have two kids in college, the timing wasn't the best for something like this, but I am so glad I was able to talk him into going. He surprised me by letting me tag along for the second part of the week. It was a fantastic experience for both of us. He said he felt like he was 12 again and that he was so involved with the games he didn't think of work at all. It was an absolute thrill for me to finally get to see him play. He had to quit playing when he was 15, a couple years before we met, so I had never seen him play. Sorry for the length of the post. I also see that VegasCubFan beat me to it, so sorry that much of this is repetition.
Paul got to Mesa on Sunday. They had a welcome banquet in the evening where they divided the campers into teams and assigned their coaches. There were about 80 campers divided into 8 teams of 10 players. Paul was on Keith Moreland and Ron Coomer's team. Other teams were coached by:
Rick Reuschel/ Glenn Beckert
Lee Smith/ Jody Davis
Ed Lynch/ Bob Dernier
Larry Biitner/ Joe Pepitone was there early in the week but had to leave early for personal reasons
Jose Cardenal/ Pete LaCock-they coached what we nicknamed "Team Hollywood" with Chelios, Cusack and Vedder
Todd Hundley/ Willie Wilson
Carmen Fanzone/ Fergie Jenkins the first couple days and Billy Williams later in the week
After getting dressed in the locker room (Paul's locker was right next to Ron Jr. and Jeff Santo who were also campers), they start the day with a morning meeting which mainly consisted of the coaches joking around with each other, giving each other a hard time and telling funny stories from their playing days. The kangaroo court fines them a few bucks for infractions like not wearing their helmet. The money goes to JDRF. One day they brought in some of the minor leaguers and players to talk. Many have been there since November 1st. Some of these were Matt Szczur, Steve Clevenger, Chris Carpenter, Ryan Dempster and Tony Campana. If the meeting didn't run too long the teams took turns having batting practice and shagging fly balls.
They play two seven inning games a day at Fitch facing each team once. In between games they have lunch in the clubhouse or in the case of Wednesday they got dinner because the had a twi-night doubleheader. They also faced the Giant's fantasy campers for two games on Thursday-one at home and one at the Giants' camp. To keep it a little easier on the guys they have pitching machines do the pitching, there is no stealing, passed balls, dropped 3rd strikes or wild pitches and the 10th player is in the outfield. There is only one umpire calling balls and strikes. The catcher helps with calls down the line. When they faced the Giants, they had live pitching and had about 3 pages of different rules.
I got there late Wednesday afternoon in time for the night game as Ryan Dempster was walking by with a stack of pizzas. Didn't bother him though because he was talking to a couple of little boys (which was so nice to see). As I said, it was a thrill to finally see my husband in uniform. Considering he hasn't played in 32 years, Paul did remarkably well. He was catcher. I don't know about other teams, but most of the guys on Paul's team had either played more recently or they were currently playing either 12" softball or on vintage teams. They seemed to do their best at splitting the teams equally in regards to talent. Some of the guys have done the camp before. Some many times.
On Thursday they played the Giants at their ST version of Fitch (I believe it's called Indian School Park) in Scottsdale. Hate to say it, but this park was a lot nicer than Fitch. More diamonds and the grass was like on a golf course. It just looked better. They didn't have bleachers like they do at Fitch though, so it wasn't as easy to watch as a "fan." At least not on the diamond Paul played. The Giants run their camp a little differently than the Cubs' camp. The Giants' camp is way more serious. It's actually almost to the point of being over the top like a boot camp. They have live pitching in every game rather than pitching machines and do a draft of their players. It definitely was geared toward a different type of camper. Someone with less baseball experience like my husband probably wouldn't have wanted to do it. The coach for the Giants was Vida Blue. Paul was able to get his autograph which was cool. They lost the first game. They got even by winning the second game back at Fitch.
Thursday night was a barbecue at the hotel. The coaches do the grilling. That was a lot of fun. It's unbelievable how accessible the coaches/ players actually are. It's to the point where it's just natural and you don't feel starstruck at all. Everyone is just hanging out together.
Friday was an emotional day for me. I got to see Paul taking BP and shagging fly balls. I know that doesn't sound like much, but watching him do this was a big part of why I wanted him to go to camp, so that made me extremely happy. It's the little things.
Then as I mentioned in a fanshot the other day, Paul got hurt towards the end of the 2nd to the last game. This after catching two games a day all week. At one point he caught 4 games in less than 24 hours because they had 2 night games followed by 2 day games. Yes, I'm bragging. As his biggest fan I have every right to. He caught several pop fouls too during the course of the week. He was awesome. Well, as luck would have it, I picked that one particular at bat where he got hurt to film him. He got a single. In the background you can hear Keith yelling "GO, GO, GO!" as he's running. By this time all the guys were exhausted and running rather slow...if they could run at all. They let someone else run for guys that can't. The next player moved him to second with a single. Then as he's running to third on the next hit, he sort of had to jump over the ball and ended up limping off the field. The tape cuts off with Ron Coomer yelling "TRAINER!" BTW-they had 6-8 professional trainers hanging around at all times. Paul had to be helped across the field. The other team had a priest playing for them and they offered Paul last rites if needed. Seeing him taken away to the clubhouse by the trainer wasn't fun. At this point I must thank Mayday (one of Paul's teammates) for checking on him for me and letting me know how he was doing. It ended up being just a calf strain, but it was kind of him to keep me posted and ease my mind.
A couple fun tidbits about the injury though. When Paul was in the training room he saw Tony Campana and asked him to sign his cap. He told him "I was trying to run like you. That's why I'm in here." Then when he came out of the clubhouse I found him chatting away with Randy Hundley. He was giving Paul a hard time for not wearing his mitt properly and showing him how. Listening to Randy talk was cracking me up. He doesn't swear. Instead he uses words and phrases like "bloomin" and "kiss my fanny."
Paul's team went on to play the Reuschel/ Beckert team for the championship. His team did go on to win. Yay! What a great, fun group of guys. This was bittersweet because although they won, I knew it was killing Paul to be sitting this one out on the bench. At least he got to cheer his team on. And truthfully, we should be grateful he didn't get hurt earlier. There was one guy who had to leave one of the first days. He broke a couple fingers in a way that required surgery and pins. Feel terrible for him. Apparently, the same guy had to leave with a foot or ankle injury last year too. Poor guy.
Speaking of injuries, by the end of the week it looked like almost everyone was limping or aching in some way or another. All I can say is, guys are weird. Why they'd want to put themselves through this I have no idea. I shouldn't say that. It wasn't just guys. There were two women also playing at camp. So ladies, if any of you have ever dreamed of doing this, you can. Definitely not my idea of fun though. I preferred the sidelines being fantasy crank/photographer.
Friday night the team went for dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse to treat the coaches. We sat right across from Ron Coomer. What a nice guy. He seemed to be enjoying himself as much as we were. He's from the south side of Chicago and very down to earth. After dinner we stopped at the bar for a beer and to get some ice for Paul's calf (all the ice machines in the hotel were empty-ha ha). Who do we run into at the bar, but Keith Moreland. That was another highlight for me. We had a great one on one conversation and he bought Paul a beer. Fun night.
Paul noticed how big a deal being in the HOF actually is. The other players/coaches showed much more respect to both Fergie and Billy and it was obvious that they were class all the way just in the way they carried themselves. They really stood out.
Like I said, we weren't very starstruck. As a matter of fact we sort of avoided the hoopla surrounding some of the more famous campers because we were more interested in Paul just playing. However, there was a time or two that it hit me how truly special this was. I'd have a thought like hey, that's Keith Moreland catching with my husband's mitt on! or Randy Hundley who innovated one-handed catching is giving Paul advice on how to chose a woman's falsie for a pad inside his glove! A highlight for Paul was earlier in the week. Fergie Jenkins gave him a ride to Fitch.
Saturday, the campers played at HoHoKam. That was exciting. Each team plays one inning against the coaches. The Championship team gets to play in the first inning. Paul fortunately was able to play. Since it was for only one inning he figured he just had to give it a shot. I was happy he could be there at all, let alone in uniform. Keith brought him up in the morning meeting and asked him to stand, calling him the iron man of the team. Mayday was MVP.
It was beautiful seeing all the guys line up at the park. They each got their names called, waved their caps and stood in line. I was excited to be able to stand on the field to get a couple pictures with some of the other wives. Once all the players and coaches were announced, none other than Wayne Messmer sang the National Anthem. I taped him singing and put it on my ipod. I'll probably play it every time we drive to Wrigley.
Here's where I want to go on a rant for replay review. Paul made his best contact of the entire week off Lee Smith, but the 3rd base ump called it foul. They had a guy run for Paul because of his leg, so he was standing at the plate and thought that it was fair. The ball went pretty far in what would have been a double or even an inside the park home run-for Tony Campana that is.
I was videotaping and wasn't coordinated enough to pan over in time to see where the ball actually landed. Here's my tape, if you'd like to see it. I am terrible at filming, so all you see is sky for most of it, but you can hear the fan's reactions to what seems obviously a bad call. As far as I'm concerned that was a hit...even if I didn't see it. ;-)
They make a movie of this game and give it to all the campers. Maybe that shows whether it's really fair of foul.
Paul also got to catch at HoHoKam. Somehow the pain didn't bother him while catching. Maybe because he enjoyed it so much.
Just before we left we got to see Billy Williams at bat. He got a double. That was exciting to see.
After changing in the locker room at Fitch one last time we realized that now I'd have to wash his dirty uniform. Bummer. They washed all that stuff for the guys every night including their unmentionables. They'd have the uniforms hanging in their lockers ready to go each morning. Sad to leave.
Then at night they had the Gene Oliver Awards Banquet. Everyone on Paul's team got a trophy and all the campers got a ball autographed by all the coaches. Billy told the moving story of getting Ronnie into the HOF. I went up to Wayne Messmer and told him how choked up he got me hearing him sing.
I took well over 500 photos. It's obvious looking at them that I didn't care nearly as much about the coaches or team Hollywood as watching Paul play. Here are a few photos though that I do think you might enjoy.
It was just a great time. I guess what sums it up best for me was when Mayday asked me if that smile was ever going to come off my face. Keep in mind it doesn't take much to amuse me. You should have seen how impressed I was that we could park in the "player's lot." Anyway, I highly recommend the camp to anyone that might be interested. If you read this far, I'm guessing you may have the endurance needed for camp.