Fantasy Camp 2: THAT GUY
The logistics/itinerary for Fantasy Camp is Tuesday through Friday, generally two nine inning games a day, culminating in a 2 inning game Saturday against former ballplayers, called the “Greats.”
There is a loose and fast playoff system starting Thursday afternoon, but by then the beast teams and the inconsistent teams have already been established.
Prior to the camp there are “workout” days starting at an extra $150 a day and a gradual discount for up to three days. Definitely worth at least one session, and three would only give the baseball karma spirits more opportunities for me to get hurt. Each workout day had three hours of warmups, ground balls, outfield balls, hitting from a machine outdoors and soft toss/live/ and machine hitting indoors. I signed up for one day only, Monday.
I drove the short distance from the hotel to the Yankee complex and just followed people to the gathering point at the indoor batting cages, chatting idly with a mix of real ballers and semi-slobs like me. Friendly and chill, all. I was in awe that these were the exact spring training facilities for guys like Jeter and Judge.
We were summoned to the field by the HMFIC Len, a serious but gregarious character. In my earnestness to be a team guy I neglected to get ready – my gear bag was always in someone’s way, it seemed, and I was almost to the field when I realized I had not put my cleats on (no metal spikes allowed!) so I jogged back to the cages, yanked the cleats on, and jogged back out.
Where I realized I did not have my RecSpecs on. Normally my glasses fall off my head when taking a leak, so the RecSpecs were crucial and necessary for me. I ran back to get them, the fastest I ran the entire week.
A word about RecSpecs. Great product, spot on for my complicated refraction, photo grey, all less than $200. But I looked like Atom Ant, perfectly ridiculous.
I am now late to the first talk on the field; there were about 80 of us in a final camper class of 125. Worse than being late (which I abhor), worse than untied cleats, worse than cartoonish goggles, I am the only SOB out there not wearing Yankee Blue.
I didn’t just stick out – I was a gnarly cyst on the nose of a supermodel, big, fat, and looking about ready to burst.
I was THAT GUY. No less than every damn coach/player said to me publicly in an Irish whisper, “You don’t stand out at all.”
I was THAT GUY.
The stations were organized and ran crisply, but not with military precision, thank goodness, campers’ skills notwithstanding. I was almost killed in the fly ball drill, from a machine, missing all eight hit to me. Campers blamed the sun for me, but I just never saw the ball. Period.
When that station broke to rotate, I asked the instructor, Len the Big Boss, to shoot me a couple more. He said sure thing, and from about 200 feet away I missed the ninth ball. Never saw it. Len said, “Stick your glove out and I’ll hit it.” I thought he was joking, we all did, but I stuck my glove out and he did hit it and I took my single catch as a positive sign.
My elation didn’t last. At the ground ball station I stopped the first two grounders with my cup and one with the meat of my bare right hand, an act of desperation and stupidity that would effect my play even more during the week, chiefly at the plate. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.
With my right hand on fire, my group rotated to hitting drills, where I was awful. I whiffed the first four live pitches, and then made contact without power. One bright spot, though: Jim Leyritz pitched soft toss to me and I felt like Mickey Mantle… if The Mick was imitating Ralph Kramden. Things were looking up.
Back at the hotel I showered and met up with my close cousin – remember I am trying to protect civilian identities – and since he is as anal as I am we were the first campers at the scheduled evening dinner and autograph session. It was a pattern we would continue all week.
I shook hands and fist-bumped with everyone, remembered no names, and met a 30+ year UPS guy (we didn’t know each other beforehand) who retired the same year I did, in 2017. I met up with my old Merrill Lynch guy, also now retired, one of two people who encouraged me to do Fantasy Camp in the first place. I did not know whether to hug him or kick him in the nuts. I am still trying to work that out in my mind.
I ran around like an 8 year-old kid getting former players to sign three clean balls for me. Mickey Rivers, Roy White, Jim Leyritz, Charlie Hayes, Ron Blomberg, Kyle Farnsworth, Jesse Barfield, Gil Patterson, Mike Gallego, and El Duque, and several others. I couldn’t even form a sentence with these Greats, so I just told them thanks for lifelong memories and I was delighted just to shake their hands. Every ball player was accommodating and generous and friendly.
Hand to God I did not recognize most of these ballplayers. I am a Yankee fan but a not serial devotee. I went up to one giant scary-looking dude and I asked, Hey, Gil, would you sign these balls for me? He smiled, finished the work, shook my hand. I said, Thanks, Gil.
He froze and looked me dead in the eye. “I’m Jeff. Jeff Nelson. I let the first Gil slide, but not twice. If I pitch to you you’re gonna get a brushback that you’ll feel for a month.”
Everyone around us laughed.
Except me and Jeff Nelson. He was serious and I knew it.
Yes, Day One. I am THAT GUY.