Orlando: — My arm hurts. My back aches. My shoulder is killing me. And I feel great.
Atlanta Braves fantasy camp last weekend in Orlando was just that, a fantasy, and a good one at that. With my friends Lex and Terry, Dream Weeks coordinator Norm Amster invited us to the Braves camp at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex.
Check in Wednesday night, a skill session and assessment on Thursday morning, a game in the afternoon, doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday, and a chance to play in the big stadium, home of the Braves in spring training on Sunday.
It’s a fantasy.
Get up every morning, go to the ballpark, sit at your locker, dress like a major leaguer, and go play baseball.
That’s it, nothing more but taking ground balls, working on your stance in the tunnels, in front of the mirror, playing catch and thinking, what if.
Our team was managed by former major leaguer Darrell Evans, who has a very pragmatic approach to hitting. See the ball, hit the ball. Use your top hand. Don’t over think it. Drive the ball at the guys who don’t field very well. Not up the middle where all the good fielders are, but around the corners on the infield and the outfield as well.
About half of our team had never played baseball before! Honest. And they played like it. But not one disparaging word was said about it. Plenty of effort, lots of hustle, and more fun than most anybody on the team has had in 20, (OK 30) years. The camp is about guys who used to play, and are looking for a chance to immerse themselves in it once again.
It’s also about 82 year-old Joe Phillips who was attending his first camp just to “see what was going on.”
It’s about Patty Canakaris, who played a little softball in her youth, but never had played baseball before. On the last day, in her last at bat, she singled down the right field line. The ball was promptly retrieved, and Patty has it as a life-long souvenir.
It’s about Joe Medlin and his brother, inseparable for the 5 days, playing on the same team, eating lunch together, and acting like brothers.
It’s about Bobby Conner, who said while he was playing he felt young again, but immediately after, just felt old.
Fantasy camps have been around since the early 80’s, starting with the Dodgers, and have spread through out the majors to nearly every team. Why is it baseball as a sport is able to pull this off? Nobody is flocking to football, basketball or hockey camps. They have their die-hards, but nothing like baseball. It gets in your blood and won’t go away.
Most guys played some kind of baseball when they were young. It’s a game that normal-sized people can play. And everybody has a memory, maybe just one of something they did on the field that made them a baseball player. Most are at camp trying to recapture that.
The smell of the leather, the feel of the grass, the sound of the wooden crack of the bat. Even when your arm hurts. And your back aches, and your shoulder is killing you.