ONE AND DONE: NY Yankee Fantasy Camp 1 of 10
Updated: Mar 13
I just attended my first and last New York Yankees Fantasy Camp in Tampa, Florida, at the Yankee spring training complex. This is a first-class operation: there is no skimping on doing it the right way.
I enjoyed all of it, except the pain and humiliation. It was worth every nickel and exceeded all my expectations in every regard. Everyone was chill, friendly, and a little preoccupied with their own problems of inadequacy to care about me at all.
Just wow. I am still on a bit of a high. I recommend doing this at least once if you love baseball, and if you admire the Yankees you should make this your winter mecca.
In preparation for a week of playing eight nine-inning games in four days I ran, off and on and mostly off since September, with a one month hiatus for Covid round two, in cleats on a local park ballfield outfield grass, 90 feet off, 90 feet on, etc. More than jogging, less than sprinting, more like loping, or at least what a water buffalo could do if properly motivated by imminent death.
I love baseball, the game, the pace, the individual who must perform within himself to the level of his teammates’ expectation. The internal rhythm, as has been written, the summer air, the unforgiving game of mistakes. All of it.
I haven’t played organized ball in 48 years and boy oh boy did it show. On the best day of my life I was a B-minus player, and I probably had only one such day in 1975, long forgotten. Downhill from there, I’m afraid. I have always been more enthusiastic than talented in all sports, but my memory has been very very very foggy as to the details of my limitations.
This is how bad I was in 1975, my senior year in high school where I rode the pine to a sophomore catcher who was lights out terrific. One good friend wrote in my yearbook the following: “Dear Horgan, you’re a good hitter, but you suck as a catcher. Your friend, John Jones.”
The first lesson at camp is: if you have no skill now, you will not gain any this week, and by the end of camp you will still be terrible. I lived that lesson many, many, times.
One interesting caveat: no one will give you advice unless you ask for it, coaches, players, campers, all. I appreciated this, as I would have required a psychiatrist couch or a priest throwing holy water to help me. Best to keep my head down, smile, and wish the earth would swallow me up.
It wasn’t really that bad. It was much worse, as every joint, muscle, and bone in my body was screaming for ending it all.
Second lesson: Start slow, then taper off from there. This was good advice but impossible. My brain said “sprint” and my legs told me to screw off. My brain said “catch the ball” and God laughed. My brain said “hit the ball square” and both my bat and the ball, conspiring against me, shouted that was ludicrous.
Seriously, to play this game well you need something I have never had – grace, or gracefulness. Speed, agility, power can always be compensated for by other attributes. But if you don’t have that element of grace you’re just a guy playing a kid’s game on a man’s field.
I am one-and-done because I am just not good enough. The arc of my imagined athleticism trends downward. The team camaraderie was tremendous, and I do not want to dilute this year’s singular experience with another camp, chasing a game that has left me far behind. For decades I lived baseball vicariously through my sons and will soon through my grandsons, and I can and will cherish each day with them.
There is a Japanese expression that I’ll butcher but you’ll get the point. A wise man climbs Mt Fuji once, but only a fool keeps doing it.
I climbed the mountain and days later I am still euphoric. The teammates, the former ballplayers, our coaches, the whole staff are all first-class people.
Thank you, Fantasy Camp. You have confirmed my suspicions that time is a cruel teacher but there’s humor in damn near everything. My face still hurts from laughing so hard.
One cool personal thing came from this. My wife and seven other relatives attended the last two days of games, in one of which I missed two successive fly balls in left field (I had no business being out there) that almost hit me in the face.
My family howled so loud the city of Clearwater, over twenty miles away, evacuated their homes and businesses. I think the umps paused for a time out because they were laughing too hard.
My humiliation complete, I walked off the field after the loss and was greeted by my entourage of mirth. Hugs all around.
Then my wife whispered in my ear that she was proud of me. Priceless.