Fantasy Camp 4 FIRST WIN
Early Wednesday Cousin and I wake up with some trepidation, not knowing if he can walk more than a few steps. I made sure he had plenty of medicine the night before, an old remedy called Maker’s Mark. After grunting and ouching through the standard ablutions we acknowledge we will never qualify for the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions but we can now operate heavy machinery.
He’s good to go. My right hand is still swollen but there’s no pain and my grip strength is back.
Cousin wants to be the first in line at the trainer’s table, so we depart a solid 30 minutes before the door opens and are rewarded by being the first knuckleheads at the stadium. Cousin goes straight to the trainer who mummifies his leg, high calf to instep. That Achilles ain’t going anywhere. I sit in the locker room happy as a clam just taking it all in. It’s the first time I have relaxed and simply enjoyed the moment.
Everyone is sore, limping, moaning putting on socks, screaming putting on pants, and I swear there was one shriek and a death rattle.
After breakfast (omelets to order every day!) there is “Kangaroo Court,” where Mickey Rivers wears a judge’s cassock and cowboy hat and enters the locker room to hoots and hollers. The coaches and ballplayers then make accusations, all in good fun, all absolutely true, and as my father used to say, “It really happened that way.”
One camper is accused of playing on the wrong team for a game and a half. I am still scratching my head over that one. He threw himself on the mercy of the court and is fined $100 by the judge. They let him slide for $20. I would have made him pay the hundo armed with a torch and pitchfork but I was trying to be invisible – you never know if you’ll be called into court. Best to lay low. Lots of inside jokes, lots of F-bombs, mostly all good sports though there are one or two crabby patties.
Our coach, Gil Patterson (more on coaches, players, and staff in a later segment) called the whole team up to the judge, and fined each player $5 for not catching pop-ups. We deserved it. All I had was a sawbuck and asking for change simply would not go over well.
The cash remained on display during the court, all on the up and up. This camp the money was going to the in-laws of a camp organizer, a family whose young husband and father of two passed away suddenly over Christmas. He was a Marine veteran which struck a cord. Very sad and handled with dignity.
There is then a special presentation to a young man, mid-thirties I guess, whose father was a Fantasy Camp fixture for several years and who also had passed away late last year. Tearful moment, due respect, generous applause. The son was also a return camper and he came to play.
Time to drop the mic and play ball, but some asshat camper needed to make a speech about themself. Terribly timed, oblivious to it all. No clue. Still shaking my head on that one, too.
Our first game is at the George Steinbrenner Field, the real deal stadium. It is thrilling and intimidating. We have the third base dugout and the sun is all-consuming and brutal in our eyes with no shade. The other team is cozy the whole game on the well-shaded first base side and this definitely had an effect on our play.
Cousin and I have two family members attending, which means there are exactly two people in the stands. We lost our third game 19-13 which we could have won. Games need to stay in a two hour window and you cannot start an inning after X time so we only played eight. I caught five, outfield two, sat one.
Best part of the day for me: I caught Mickey Rivers for two innings and Jeff Nelson for another two. Nellie didn’t recognize me, praise God. “Jefferson” (more tomorrow) plunked my buddy Richie twice and took himself out of the game. “Ace” pitched the other 2/3 inning, perfectly. I was 2 for 4, one legit hit in my first at bat. I did the Easter Island statue thing in the outfield, though, thinking, “If everyone is running after the ball, why crowd them?” Seemed like an unnecessary exertion for a known result, that someone else would get there first. Cousin had a solid hit and a nifty play at third. I muffed a play at the plate.
I should mention there is a big spread for lunch every day – but Ron Blomberg, no slouch with a knife and fork, strongly advised us not to eat too much lunch unless we wanted to puke it up mid-afternoon. I took that seriously, eating salad and brussels sprouts and asparagus and summer squash only at noon, chased with a gallon of water. The chef made a bubbling and magnificent mac and cheese for lunch a couple times and it broke my heart. “Horseman, pass by.” Sorry, Yeats.
Before Game two our coaches announce that everyone is getting nick-names. All the names are alliterative or a composite of last name and all are complimentary. Mine comes second to last, and the coach, a sweet man and former ballplayer Joe Lomascolo (more later) said to me, “Kevin, this is Ron’s idea, and if you’re not okay with it we can do something else.”
I shrug. How bad can it be?
Hilarious! I own it, I embrace it, I deserve it and it’s a product of my own big fat mouth.
“It’s mine, coach!” I announce.
Look, the only nick name I have ever had started over 6 years ago when grandchildren arrived. I was scared to death of something like Pee-Paw so I picked one suited for my personality and regal manner, with my wife’s approval, of course. The grandkids call me Grumpy. We have seven now, God bless ‘em.
The second game starts and the air is still. I develop a new formula. I catch every other inning and only do consecutive if they’re short ones. Caught 6, right field 2, sat 1. Thankfully, no work in right. I caught Homer Bush the whole time. Not proud of my at bats. We had a runner doubled off second base as our third base coach had to hit the head. Honest.
Cousin hits 15 consecutive foul balls in one at bat off our coach, Gil Patterson, who has a bad wing to begin with. But he went three for three on the day and we get our first win, 18-9. Our Ace pitches a brilliant bottom of the ninth. He’s a beast.
I do the ice bath thing again, post-game, without the theatrics. Nothing weird happens, which is kinda weird in itself. We are all developing a rhythm in conformance to the camp schedule.
The team goes out for chow together, but Cousin and I have plans to meet relatives a little south of Tampa for dinner. We text back and forth with some teammates, really ribald stuff.
Although we were banging back martinis like we were going to the chair at dinner, Cousin and I, upon our return to the hotel sometime before nine, decide to go long with double bourbons, a six pack, 2 pizzas, and Castle reruns until about eleven.
This is what real ballplayers do on the road, right?
We love the baseball life and laugh ourselves to sleep.