2008-12-12T19:39:08.015-08:00I write this post on Saturday morning, a full four days after taking the mound against the pros. Reentering the real world hasn't been as easy as I thought it would. In any free moment, I play the tapes of our games in my head. Sometimes I replay the good plays, but just as often I go over what I might have done differently.I played a lot of third base this week, and it took a good four or five games to work through the fear - between the ball screaming at you and the long throw (and my previously mentioned tendency to invoke Mackey Sasser), it can be a long day out there. The worst is when you make a nice pick and then throw it away, and I did that a couple of times. My favorite defensive play came while pitching - I came off the mound during the no-hitter to field a little dribbler down the line and made a strong throw to first to just get the runner. That was fun, although my thighs are still mad at me about that one.So on to the pro game. My inning of pitching during the pro game is one that I've played over in my head many times this week because it was so damn much fun.Tradition FieldIn the twenty some odd years they've been doing Mets Fantasy Camp, the pros have played something like four hundred three inning games against the campers, and their record is like the Harlem Globetrotters' - 395-3 or something crazy like that. The realistic goal in the pro game is to emerge with your pride, although a win would be nice.My immediate goal was to emerge with two arms of relatively equal length. You could practically see my pitching arm throbbing, but I was going to go in and tough it out. I had been thinking about pitching in the pro game for over a year now, and I wasn't going to let a sore arm ruin that.So I took the mound and Doug Flynn dug in. A word here about Doug Flynn - this guy, who came over in the Tom Seaver trade, is just an amazing guy. I used to love to watch him play second base as a kid, and it was a thrill to meet him. But like many of the pros here, what stands out is the guy's limitless generosity. Ask him a question on the way to the field, and he'll stop for ten minutes to answer it. He just seemed genuinely pleased to be there - he always had a smile on his face, he'd sign anything you put in front of him, and he really, really knows the game. And as Bobby Wine's assistant on the kangaroo court, he was hilariously funny.So there I am standing in pitching against Doug Flynn, THE Doug Flynn. I was pretty much reduced to throwing sliders because I could no longer locate my fastball, and besides, these guys would hit my fastball back into the locker room. So I threw slider after slider as near to the outside corner as I could, and Dougie reached out at one of them and grounded easily to Chris Berlingo, who made a nifty play at short.Then Tim Bogar stepped in and also hit a playable infield grounder, but he reached on an error. No matter. Art Shamsky grounded to first and Anthony Young popped to center, but it dropped for an unearned run.Then in stepped Steve Henderson, another one of my favorites. Hendu is another one of those guys who seems genuinely glad to see you, always has a smile, and always has something nice to say. I suspect that for the most part, the pros at fantasy camp self select. They enjoy the cameraderie, and they like lacing up the cleats again. They must feed off the energy of us geezers, and they really like teaching, even if what we learn only gets used every year or two.So Hendu says, "are you ready, Brownie, 'cause here it comes," or some such, and digs in in that Steve Henderson way. Hendu used to own the inside corner because he was so strong he could hit a ball off his pinky into the gap in right center. I asked him to go easy on me, and maybe he did, but I hope he didn't because he hit a lazy fly ball to left to end the inning. Line score - one run, no hits, two errors. I had no-hit the pros, and gave them five outs to boot.With Hendu After the GameAnthony Young was pitching for the pros, and it wasn't pretty. He barely broke a sweat, although he was throwing about 80-ish mil[...]
2008-12-12T19:39:08.136-08:00So it was off to the far end of the complex, the optimistically named Tradition Field (perhaps only in Florida can you have a Tradition in a couple of years, but whatever). On the way there, I ran into perhaps my two favorite campers, Lynn Spuler and Wendy Shotsky. Lynn and Wendy are both in their fifties, and are first-time campers. And without getting too Five-People-You-Meet-in-Heaven here, they reminded me yet again that fantasy camp is about challenging yourself to do something difficult and then doing it with gusto.
2007-01-27T08:26:48.534-08:00Day FourThe day began with the awarding of the gold and brown ropes. I received another gold rope nomination for yesterday's win, which was really gratifying. Of course I was so excited about getting to pitch and being able to deliver under pressure felt great.Stearns announced the various brown rope nominations, including one for a guy who was almost picked off second base on an infield fly rule play. It was in our game, and truth be told, the ump missed the call and the guy was out by a full step.The brown rope went to Pat Zachry for pulling a hamstring -- while bowling. Zachry was nowhere to be found, so Stearns awarded the rope in absentia, which he pronounced "absent-ee-a," sending the room into a giggling frenzy. "Hey," said Stearns, "when I went to Colorado" (where he was on football scholarship) "I majored in eligibility."Then Zachry walked in, and Stearns presented him with his noose. Zachry replied in his trademark west Texas deputy dog drawl without missing a beat, "I always wanted to be hung."We went into the day 2-2 - respectable, but not great. In game one, Larry Gross pitched his heart out against a team that was 4-0, and which was frankly stacked with great players. We all battled like hell, and the turning point happened when the ump called a ball down the line fair, when it was clearly foul. Our manager Duffy Dyer, who was a, er, silent presence for much of the week, did a very good impersonation of Earl Weaver, the Baltimore Orioles manager who famously bedeviled umpires by, how shall I put it, pointedly disagreeing with their decision making skills.So Duffy complained colorfully to the umpire, who for some reason neglected to throw him out of the game, and we took that as a sign that he really wanted us to win, which is what we proceeded to do. I went 2 for 3 with a double to right center and an RBI single, and we won something like 16-10.We played against the team coached by Tim Bogar, who is one of the class acts in baseball. I was playing third, and he was coaching third, and as the game progressed, I'd ask questions about the game. Where should I play? What should I be thinking in this situation? Things like that. Some coaches take the game really seriously, and a few might be less than totally forthcoming, but not Bogie. He was really helpful, and it made the game a lot of fun. He's a AA manager for Akron in the Indians organization, and the talk is that he's on track to manage in the majors before long.So our win over Bogie’s team put us into the playoff game to determine the third place finisher. Third in a field of ten is very respectable, since there was a pretty high level of play this week. (This doesn't mean by any stretch of the imagination that players without a lot of experience can't contribute or have the time of their lives - more on that later.)Duffy handed me the ball for the afternoon game. One of the trainers rubbed my arm out during lunch and I was feeling as well as I had in days. Those guys are miracle workers, I swear.So I took the mound feeling confident that I could pitch effectively, even if I was running out of gas in general. After three days of solid baseball and five games, we were all completely wiped out. Nobody’s legs were working properly, most of our arms were really sore, and there were all sorts of bizarre and funky injuries – one guy had his toenail lanced, for example. Goldstein and his bad hammy had him crab running like some kind of creature out of Star Wars – funny to watch, and inspiring.In the first inning, I threw about five pitches to get three quick outs, backed up by three terrific plays in the field. I think we scored two in our half of the inning, so I was staked to a nice little lead.The second inning was the same. It might have taken ten pitches to work through the next three batters. We added a few more runs.By the time I sat down in the dugout after the third, I asked my catcher John Brooks a question and he answered it, then said, “Oh I forgot, I’m not[...]
2008-12-12T19:39:09.353-08:00Well, day three’s in the books.I would like to now give a run down of my current physical condition. Moving from south to north: I have a black toenail from stopping short on the basepath and somehow causing trauma inside my cleat. The outside of my left and right ankles have some hard to describe pain. My left knee is mad at me for sliding. Both quads and hamstrings are so sore that to get into a car I have to lift my legs by the pants. My left hip is sore from diving for a pop fly. My right elbow is throbbing (more on that later). Nearly every muscle in my back and shoulders is tender. We think that baseball is a genteel sport because there’s not contact, but let me tell you, all that starting and stopping, and running at full speed only to stop yourself by hurling yourself the ground and skidding across it takes its toll. These are unnatural motions and should be avoided under most circumstances.But I consider myself one of the lucky ones. Teammate Larry Goldstein hit a single to center only to go down halfway to first with a nasty hamstring pull – he tried to get up, but went back down again a few steps later, and to add insult to injury, he was thrown out at first by the center fielder.Another teammate, Jim Forde took a fastball to the thigh that produced a bruise that was amazingly reminiscent of the one I had last time. His has a nicer variety of colors than mine did, though, and you can actually see the stitches of the ball in his bruise, if you look closely enough. Really, it’s a wonderful bruise. Amazingly, as the day progressed, the colors actually matured. They began with the warm yellows and pinks of sunrise, but developed into the more emotional and profound blues and purples of a memorable sunset. If it weren’t on a man’s leg, you could perhaps see the think hanging in a museum. Jim’s all banged up – he had rib cage surgery recently and has spent a fair amount of time in the trainer’s room, but he’s getting his money’s worth – out there playing his heart out and having a great time.If you look closely, you can actually see the stitches on Jim's bruise.The trainer’s room is a hypochondriac’s delight – with every manner of emollient, salve, and pain reliever known to modern chemistry, not to mention a staff of trainers who could practically heal the dead.(On a side note, a coach offered to lead a chapel service this morning, and it was suggested they start in the trainer’s room to help the lame, and move on to the ump’s lockers, where they might help the blind to see.)My favorite locker room item is, and I’m not making this up, a tub of stuff called “Boudreau’s Butt Paste,” for diaper rash. This, I have not had occasion to try just yet, but the week is not over yet, so you never know.Anyway, Jim Forde is, to my mind, the quintessential fantasy camper – here to do the thing he always wanted to do but never did.Boudreau's Butt Paste - They Say it WorksThe day was a lot of fun. I finally got to pitch. Remember all that talk about a two seam this and a four seam that? Well, when you get on the mound, sometimes all that stuff goes right out the window. Because in this league, the number one thing is to throw strikes, and if you’re futzing with a cut fastball or a sidearm sinker or something, pretty soon you’ve walked the bases loaded.So I pretty much stuck to a fastball and slider (I throw my slider just like a fastball, except with a very unnatural and unrecommended twist of the arm that makes it curve). And things worked out pretty well. I pitched a complete game, striking out nine or ten, and only giving up one run. The best part was snaring a screamer back through the box to end a rally. We won 8-1, and it was a really, really satisfying game, made possible by, among other things, an inside the park grand slam by Joe Oesterlie, who chugged around the bases and slid under the tag at the plate. Long run.The obligatory post-pitching photo.In the second game[...]
2008-12-12T19:39:09.997-08:00Oh man, am I fried.That was a very long and exhausting day, and it was a roller coaster. But I’m happy to report that all’s well that ends well – at least so far.The first real day of camp starts with the morning meeting at 8:30.Commissioner John Stearns goes over the rules and describes the awards that are handed out on a daily basis. For example, each day, someone is awarded the “gold rope” for outstanding performance, and someone receives the ignominious “brown rope” for boneheadedness, and people can do very dumb things in a baseball game.John Stearns shows off the coveted "gold rope" at the morning meeting as Joe Pignatano looks on. As Stearns put it, “Each morning, campers will be singled out for praise and ridicule, so be ready.” Baseball players are a caring and sensitive bunch.Then the clubhouse man Jack Brenner helpfully demonstrated the “laundry loop”, which the clubhouse staff use to keep track of everyone’s laundry. In a nutshell, you’re supposed to clip all your laundry on this handy dandy loop that has your locker number on it, and every morning, like magic, your laundry is delivered fresh and clean to your locker. They also somehow manage to get these hideously muddy, clay-ey, grass stained jerseys sparkling white. I honestly don’t know how they do it, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they use chemicals that will make us all sterile.Anyway, Jack clearly enjoys his work, because he demonstrates the laundry loop principle with extraordinary gusto. Given that I have a feeling there is at best 75% compliance, I assume Jack to be a patient and generous man.Jack Brenner Triumphantly Displays the Proper Laundry Loop Technique as Stearns Looks onOnce we were indoctrinated in the various rules and rituals of life in baseball, we headed off to drills in four stations – infield, outfield, pitching and batting practice. The coaches wandered the fields, assessing the talent in advance of the closed door draft held at lunch.So we’re all running around like a bunch of idiots trying to impress the coaches. After thinking about this, I realized that the best strategy would be to play really badly in practice so other good players would be drafted ahead of you. But the fact is that the same kind of competitive spirit that would possess a person to drop a pile of dough for a week of baseball also means that it’s really tough to undersell one’s own talents, such as they are, or aren’t.At the center of the practice fields at the Mets training compound is this great big tower, and for much of the morning our fantasy camp league commissioner John Stearns would pace the battlements of the tower, kind of like the commandant of a prison camp. My guess is that he really likes it up there. (By the way, unless I’m the only person in America who has failed to figure out how to use You Tube, I shot a little video of Stearns throwing batting practice – priceless. I’ll try to post it soon.)So Stearns is yelling stuff with his bullhorn up on the tower, and we’re busting our butts trying to get coaches to notice us, like wallflowers at the prom.After drills and lunch, the coaches held their draft.We all come here to have fun, but we also come to win. And everyone wants to get on a good team with good coaches and win this thing. So the draft is very important, and guys started getting really edgy toward the end of lunch. A lot of time went by, and the coaches still hadn’t emerged from their draft, and we all sat around, waiting for the puff of white smoke over the Vatican to signify that the teams had been selected.I was really hoping I’d be back on Felix’s team. Or maybe I’d get with Steve (Hendu) Henderson, who went up to my daughter last time and said, “Are you little Brownie?” “Yes,” she beamed. “Your daddy can play.” Now that was cool.Well, I was picked by Duffy Dyer, who caught for the Mets in the early seventies. The rest of his [...]
2008-12-12T19:39:10.872-08:00The first day of the season is always the day most filled with hope. After all, everyone is tied for first – even the pretenders and the dreamers are permitted their brief bout of pretention and dreaminess.And so it is on the morning of the first day of fantasy camp. The tubby and the fat, the old and the older, the halt and the lame (gee, this is fun), all take the field with equal hopes for greatness.After I did my last fantasy camp report (http://www.nymetsfantasycamp.com/) two years ago, I got lots and lots of emails from guys wondering if they would be able to hack it – were the pitchers too good? Did everyone run well? Now, some guys are actually pretty good, but most of us fall in that wonderful middle of the pack place – here it’s a utopian world of parity. The games are competitive, everyone gets their hits (was it Bill Clinton who used to say “even a blind squirrel eventually finds a nut”? but more important, everyone has fun. I remember one player, who was having a tough first few games, singling in a run in the championship game and being carried off the field on the team’s shoulders. Baseball’s like that, just ask Bucky Dent.Well, almost everyone has fun. Last time there was this one guy who complained about everything. He never stopped complaining, and nobody could figure it out. I mean really. And this guy comes back, year after year, pretty much just to complain, I suspect. Kinda like the people who go to Hawaii and bitch about the heat.But the first day is the best. Personally, I have all kinds of hopes and dreams this time around. As I mentioned, I’ve been working on a few pitches, but I’ve never actually faced live pitching with them. Last time I came, I had no intention of pitching, but our team sucked so badly that we could have sent my daughter Maggie out there with better results, so I volunteered to pitch thinking that I couldn’t be any worse than anyone else. And I was so scared that I just heaved the ball over the plate without any real plan, and did okay.This time I have a plan, which could produce some real heartache, but I’m willing to risk it. As I mentioned, I spent a year fantasizing about pitching, in a Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi kind of way. “Be the ball. Feel the universe help it spin. See the bottom drop out of it as your opponent swings and misses in beautiful futility. Then grab your aching elbow in exquisite agony.”Well, something like that anyway.Then, some time this fall, I started getting serious. I started throwing with a few friends, and thought “what would happen if I tried to throw a curve ball?” and would you know it, the damn thing curved, sort of. Then I started trying out new grips and arm angles, and then I tried a change up (okay, that didn’t go so well), and then I started throwing kind of side arm sort of thing, which made my arm feel very, very bad, but which did very cool things to the ball. I threw and threw and threw.The bottom line is that it’s the first day of the season and I am full of hope. Full of hope that I’ll get the ball over the plate, that I’ll get a few guys out, and that I’ll make it through the entire week without needing Tommy John surgery.As for hitting, since all of a sudden I fancy myself a pitcher, I’ve given it little thought. I will try to remember what I learned last time – don’t swing at a pitch you can’t hit. Sounds easy, but it’s hard. But hitting shmitting – mommy, I want to pitch!Fielding is hard, too, because the little voices in my head are very, very mean in this regard. The ball will come flying at me and instinct takes over. I will field the ball cleanly, and then the voices come “don’t throw it about ten feet over the first baseman’s head,” the voice will helpfully suggest. And then I do exactly that, of course. For some reason, the voices don’t bother me when I’m pitching or hittin[...]
2007-01-27T08:31:31.745-08:00One of the fondest memories I have of my childhood goes like this – I was in elementary school one day, and I was called to the office because my father had come to get me.
2008-12-12T19:39:11.230-08:00On Friday, things are going to get really fun. I'll arrive in Port St. Lucie, make my way out to Tradition Field (a hopeful name for a new ballpark if ever there was one) and the rest of the Mets' Spring Training digs, and I'm going to run around the field with my arms flailing, all blissed out like a cast member in "Hair". If memory serves, I won't be alone.
2008-12-12T19:39:11.766-08:00(image) Two years ago, I went off to Florida, laced up my cleats, and gamboled in the grass with a hundred other guys at New York Mets Fantasy Camp.