Fantasy Camp 7 PLAYING THE GREATS
We are pumped Saturday morning.
We play the GREATS at about 0930, the second game of the day for them, a 2-inning contest for us. The campers get 6 outs an inning so we all can bat. If tied after two, the game ends in a tie. If the GREATS are winning after 1.5 (they are in pinstripes and the home team) we’re done. In the extreme event campers win in two, their bodies are covered in acid and scooped into plastic barrels and buried at Himes Field.
Not really, but it’s a rare occurrence. We see some older pro ballplayers, some in good shape, but age is the limiting factor. Jesse Barfield had a cannon back in the day and he only throws lightly today. El Duque won’t be pitching, but he plays the infield and looks like the most graceful athlete out there. Mickey Rivers, Roy White, Ron Blomberg… well, I don’t think they played the field.
I have a nagging suspicion about getting plunked. My son-in-law sent me the clip from the old Seinfeld episode where Kramer tells of getting to the Yankee Fantasy Camp, where he plunks Joe Pepitone, the benches clear, and he punches Mickey Mantle. I can’t get it out of my head, like an old, overplayed song you appreciate in context, but not now, please, not now.
We enter the George Steinbrenner main field. Not a blade of grass is out of place, and the overcast sky and cool low 60’s temp take an edge off us all. Our entourage is jumping up and down in the stands and waving, not yelling, though: they don’t want to draw attention to us or themselves. They are beaming.
We take the visitor dugout and I do my usual karate with the catcher’s gear. We take several team pix and I am always just a little bit out of the frame, my own fault. Shades of THAT GUY are all over me.
The public address announcer is the REAL GUY who announces Yankee games, and intones the lineup where we jog to the 3rd base foul line like the real deal. I have one shin guard on, one half off. JEEZ LOUISE! My name is announced and I’m half-assed organized and suited, no cap on as I jog to my teammates. I am definitely THAT GUY today.
I’m in the eight or nine hole so I won’t bat before I take the field. I don’t remember who-did-what at the plate, but I am certain we didn’t score any runs. We go down six in a row.
Bottom of the first and we take the field with Ace on the hill. The pros, the GREATS, love his curve which they can see move from the dugout. They come up in the box ‘cause they want a piece of Ace’s best. I can’t recall who did what, if they had any hits or runs or if Ace struck anyone out. There’s no lineup from the game and I didn’t take notes Saturday night to refresh my recollection.
But in the immortal words of Casey Stengel, Ace, “You done splendid.”
We get back up in the top of the 2nd and I was on deck. I assumed the GREATS would put it down the middle and just get it over with. I planned to swing and hope for the best.
Remember, I swing at everything. The first pitch is a fastball which tailed early high and away and for the first time in a week I did not swing. The announcer is saying something about me and the PA sounds like a train. The pitcher, and I swear it was Scott Proctor, throws the next one right down the middle and I hit it square, right on the screws, with a little power, a line drive that is dying before it goes directly to the shortstop.
It felt great. Better than great. I was going to end on a respectable note.
After the GREATS game we all high fived the real Yankees and I told Scott Proctor, “Thanks for the meatball,” and he thought that was funny.
We next played our consolation game, a five inning wind-down, right away on the infamous Field 3, the site of my many failures of manhood.
I stayed behind the plate the whole five innings, knowing that the outfield fairies hate me. I had a terrible showing at the plate, a weak and questionable 1 for 3. Cousin had a couple singles and a crucial RBI.
The bad guys had a five run first and we answered with a five run second. It was 6 to 6 after three, and by the end of 4 – we were home – it was 11 to 7, our favor.
I had two assists, one of my own popup error in fair territory and one dribbler. But my arm betrayed me, throwing bouncers to “Tango,“ our septuagenarian at first base, who fielded both bad tosses cleanly for the outs.
Ace came in to finish the fifth, the last inning. My arm was stupidly erratic and I was making him work, a cardinal sin for a catcher. The bad guys racked up three due to our sloppy, criminal defense and with a man on third, two out, score 11 to 10, Joe Lomascolo (our Big Toe) shouted to Ace, “Just finish these guys right now.” It was not a request; it was a somewhere between a command and a threat.
If I never catch another inning, I will not forget Ace’s face. Stone. Hate. Brutal will. He threw 3 straight four seamers right down Broadway. The batter, a decent hitter, couldn’t touch that stuff. We won. It was a genuine thrill hearing that pop in my glove.
That was it. We were done. The team finished 3 - 5, and even though we lost the first three games we surged with a 3 – 2 finish, respectable for the Bombers!
We zombie walked to the locker room. I showered and got dressed quickly as the outdoor ceremony was to start in 30 minutes. Campers were throwing gear and unis into bags and it was like a jail break.
During this melee I spied Scott Proctor and grabbed a used ball and my pen, asking him to sign. He said sure, “But why me?”
I said thank you for the meatball I hit to the shortstop.
He laughed. “That wasn’t me. It was Karstens.” Yeah, Jeff Karstens.
Man, I was still THAT GUY. I wanted it to be Proctor. Anyone who sets fire to his gear after a loss is all in, baby, as he did back in 2007. And Karstens is no slouch, either. He’s only 40. I was a lieutenant in the Marine Corps training in Thailand before he was born.
The closing ceremony was smooth, upbeat and not too long. Three of our guys made the All-Star team, and Ace, at 62 years young, got the camp MVP for the “Senior” Division.
And I made the short blooper reel on the jumbotron in center field, my 9.1 backward fall on a routine popup.
I also have a Scott Proctor signed game ball on a bookshelf and I will tell everyone, forever, that I smacked a real screamer in the gap between third and short but the shortstop (for this story I am using Mike Gallego) dove for it flat out and made a miracle play.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I have three more bulletins: Dream Team, Coaches and Greats, Compliments and Suggestions.