Back in November, Bryan Sargent took us through his experience at Phillies Phantasy Camp Orientation. Now he takes us on the journey to Clearwater to fulfill his dream. The trip ended on Jauary 23rd and Bryan has been blogging his experience on his blog at MLB.com, which was recently featured as the number one blog in the network. He was nice enough to write a recap for us. If you read one thing on this site this week, make it Bryan's account of his dream coming true. I dare you not to get a lump in your throat.
1/19/11 – Day One
The first and only other time I flew in to the Tampa International Airport was almost ten years ago. For two weeks, my dad had rented a beachside condo in a town south of Clearwater called Indian Rocks Beach. I was only coming for several days. He was already there and met me at the airport. As a surprise, he greeted me with a large sign that said, “Famous NYC Drummer…Sarge”. I was never so joyfully embarrassed in my life.
This day, on my way to the baggage claim, I came across that familiar waiting area. It seemed eerily empty, especially considering how incredibly excited I was at the moment. I felt like he should have been there.
I exited the airport in to perfect Florida weather. The air had that feeling of spring finally arriving with that first warm day of the year. I rode the cab the whole way with the window down and a cemented smile on my face.
We pulled up to the hotel and then it all truly hit me. The massive windows in the front revealed the entire lobby, which was filled with people in Phillies paraphernalia, Phillies pennants, and a huge banner welcoming everybody to Phantasy Camp. A porter in a Phillies cap came out and whisked my bag away before I could say “Chooch”. Just like Orientation, an army of Camp workers greeted me. A canopy of red, white and blue balloons led you to the assembly line of friendly folks ready to get your experience off on the right foot
After getting my wits together, I made my way to the tiki bar by the pool. Just as I settled in to my barstool, I had first Legend sighting. Across the way, pitcher Tommy Greene was placing his drink order. A couple guys behind us said out loud what I thought at the same exact moment: “He’s a BIG dude”. Not only was he tall, but also he was built like a racehorse. They asked him how well he was able to pitch, fearing a matchup during the Legends game on Sunday. He calmed everybody’s nerves by saying he only throws off-speed stuff now to save his arm. I’m quite sure whatever he would throw would somehow make it past my flailing bat. The guy DID throw a no-hitter.
Before I got back to the room, I caught a glimpse of Greg Luzinski and John Kruk shaking hands in the lobby. I shook my head waiting for the elevator. I still could not believe this was all happening.
I entered the ballroom in the hotel for our Rookie Meeting and went for an empty seat up front to hopefully get some good photos. The official Countdown Clock hit all zeroes. It was time to get down to business. Scott Palmer was the first to the podium and enthusiastically welcomed everyone to Camp. That same familiar message was driven home once again: We will have the time of our lives. After some basic information, Commissioner Larry Andersen took the microphone and gave his do’s-and-don’ts in typical L.A.-style. Most of his advice centered around the uniform, and how to properly wear it. Any infraction would most certainly earn you a round trip ticket to the next morning’s Kangaroo Court.
The highlight of the meeting came with the introduction of all the Legends. One big surprise was the late-minute addition of Scott Eyre. Eyre instantly became a fan favorite in his two years in a Phillies uniform in ’08 and ’09, and I guarantee he will be a fixture at Phantasy Camp for years to come. Mitch Williams and Kruk were mysteriously absent from the intros, which of course, caused laughs and conjured up images of where these two were holed up.
Back to the tiki bar we went. This was already becoming a bad trend. A luau was served poolside amongst tiki torches and ominous fog. As soon as I sat down with my dinner, Legend Terry Harmon came over and asked if he could join us. Incredible. Now, I must admit, of all the Legends at Camp, I knew the least about Terry. I know of him from baseball cards and stories from my dad. Within the first five minutes, I knew everything about Terry. He was genuinely interested in our stories. When he was told that I live in New York City, he quickly chimed in about his daughter who lives in Brooklyn. We talked of our careers. He was very interested in hearing about my photography and this blog. He had such a warm personality and reminded me so much of my uncles. Terry went from virtually unknown in my eyes to becoming my favorite Legend, just like that.
I met back up with my new friend Sam Daley at the bar and mulled around, chatting amongst the rest of the Legends who were making the rounds. As the weather got chillier, the crowd slowly filtered inside to the hotel bar. Before we followed suit, we joined a small group huddled around a standing heater, keeping warm while speaking with Jim Eisenreich. This was the one Legend I was very eager to meet. The discussion ranged from baseball-related topics like former teammates, steroids and Pete Rose, to his career outside of baseball and his children. At this point, just three of us were left outside as they were closing up the bar. Jim, Sam and I were oblivious to the cold and the not-to-subtle message from the hotel staff for us to move it inside. I finally had the chance to tell Jim one of my favorite stories about my dad.
When I was in 6th grade, my math teacher’s name was Charles Eisenbise. My father was an accountant, so he was most concerned with my grades in math, so he would get to know those teachers the most when parent-teacher conferences rolled around. Now, my dad had a funny and endearing quirk where sometimes he would not be able to pronounce a person’s name correctly, no matter how many times he said it. This was not for a lack of trying or a sign of disrespect, it was just one of those little hiccups of the mind that he could never stop. My dad could never get Mr. Eisenbise’s name right. I heard every permutation: Eisenbisen, Eisenbach, Eisenreichen, Eisen-*trail off*… Cut to my junior year in high school. The ’93 Phillies are in full swing and Jim Eisenreich quickly becomes one of my dad’s favorite players. The very first time my dad saw him play, he said, “I really like the play of that Jim Eisenbise fella”. That got me VERY big laugh from Jim.
We decide to finally make our way inside to the hotel lounge. A good portion of the Legends were there, continuing their conversations with us fellow campers. Von Hayes made his way to the bar where Sam promptly bought his a rum and coke. This wasn’t a big deal since there was a “5 for 1” special on drinks that night.
Thank you, I’ll be here all week.
I pulled out my iPhone to show Von the picture I took of him in 1989 at Photo Day at Veterans Stadium. Von gave me a little head shake followed by an “oh wow”.
The crowd was thinning out and the bar was getting closer to last call. We joined a small group next to Larry Andersen and joined in the conversation. At one point, I turned away. When I turned back L.A. told me to open my hand, and put in to my palm his 1993 NLCS ring and 2008 World Series ring. The ’93 ring was certainly a nice piece of jewelry, but as anyone who has seen a World Series ring in person, especially more recent ones, you know how absolutely monstrous they are. This was no exception. It weighed a ton. And for some reason, he was letting this poor slob handle it.
We didn’t have to go home, but we couldn’t stay there. We left the lounge for our respective rooms. L.A. joined Sam and I in the elevator, but not before he got one loud parting shot to Ricky Bottalico before the doors closed. I believe the term he used was “shit for brains”.
Welcome to Phantasy Camp!
1/20/11 – Day Two
What kind of person would maliciously set my alarm for 5:15 AM? Oh the evil that resides in the heart of men…
No, I thought it would be prudent to wake up before sunrise and join some of my fellow campers for an organized early stretch in the hotel. Rookie mistake. Larry Andersen joined in on the stretch and provided much needed color commentary. I felt better… as better as I could get. Pounding headache and froggy throat aside, I hit up the buffet line and took a seat in the ballroom where we had our Rookie Meeting the night before. On the tables were “Phantasy Update” newsletters. Very similar to what you would see on a cruise, it gave the highlights from yesterday’s events as well as the schedule for that day, the weather forecast, and any other pertinent information. I was in such a haze, I couldn’t remember if I had even spoken to anybody. I apologize to anyone right now if I forgot our early morning conversation. I finished up and still had 45 minutes to kill before the first bus left for the Carpenter Complex at 7:30. Guess who was going to be setting his alarm MUCH later tomorrow?
I exited the hotel in to glorious early morning weather. It was still quite cool out, but the sun told me it was going to be a perfect day for baseball. I loaded my company-issued Phantasy Camp gym bag in to the belly of the bus, made my way inside, and plopped down in a window seat. To get us in the mood as we made the 20 minute-or-so ride to the complex, the 2010 video yearbook of the Phillies, “Great Expectations” was playing on the hanging TV screens. The video started with some highlights from the year, then proceeded to show them arriving and working out for Spring Training… right where we were going, and where we would be spending the next four days at. I have never come down to Florida to see Spring Training games (another excursion my dad and I never got to do). This was all going to be very new to me. I was definitely that kid going to Disneyworld for the very first time.
We pulled up into the narrow parking lot, flanked by two of the most beautiful, pristine ball fields I think I have ever seen, except in a Major League park of course. There are not too many things more beautiful in this world than an untouched, perfectly manicured baseball field with the early morning sun shining on it like a warm, glowing spotlight.
The rookies congregated in front of the main entrance to the clubhouse, situated between Ashburn and Carlton Fields. In addition to Bright House Field, the main stage for Phillies Spring Training games as well as home to the Clearwater Threshers, there are four smaller fields in the complex, all named after Phillies Hall of Famers: Mike Schmidt, Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, and Richie Ashburn. As we waited to be let inside, over the loudspeaker came the familiar voice of Dan Baker, the long time public address announcer for the Phillies and Eagles. He read off the uniform number and name of every camper in attendance. As he continued, Scott Palmer emerged and spoke over Baker’s announcements. As soon as he broke in to his speech, the undertone of Baker’s lineup really set up the moment so beautifully. Palmer’s voice dropped a few steps and he gave us a very brief, but emotional speech that emphasized this common dream we have an are about to live out and how special this moment will be… one that many people will never get to experience. He ended it with a simple, “welcome”.
As we funneled in to the clubhouse, Dan Baker’s lineup announcement was still echoing through the complex. Dan Baker was the voice of God calling us all in to heaven.
Baker’s voice was quickly drowned out by the sound of cheering and clapping. Veterans, clubhouse personnel, Camp representatives, etc. were all there to enthusiastically greet us and direct us to our locker. Photographers and videographers were capturing every step as we looked in at amazement. On my way to my locker I would look down the other rows and see everyone else’s reaction to their beautiful new uniforms. It was a sight to behold.
I finally arrived at my row. It was a tight fit. Most everyone had found their locker and were already taking pictures and marveling at their surroundings. I really wanted to savor the moment and take my time. With the amount of people I had to maneuver through, this wouldn’t be a problem. I finally arrived. There it was, on the left-hand side. The whitest, crispest, most stunning uniform I have ever seen. Sargent. 31. I have never seen the color red so solid and pure in my life. It was like the Phillies organization had used the most exotic and expensive dyes in the world just for my name and number.
After I squeezed myself into my uniform, dotted my “I’s” and crossed my “T’s”, I took a quick tour of the clubhouse to get my surroundings. I exited and made my way to Bright House Field where we would have the first of our daily morning player briefings and Kangaroo Court sessions.
We all congregated under a large tent set up next to Frenchy’s Tiki Pavilion in left field. Scott Palmer ran through what to expect for the rest of the day and night, and some other basic information. Before he introduced Larry Andersen, John Kruk, and Mitch Williams, the Kangaroo Court judges, he warned us all in attendance that these sessions would be very blue. So blue in fact, they did not allow any audio or visual recording.
Andersen, Kruk, and Williams entered donning black robes and British-style judicial wigs. Mickey Morandini acted as the public defender for each camper brought before the court. Mickey looked very official in his uniform and clip-on tie. Very classy. I won’t get in to specifics because this article would be even more excruciatingly long. To sum it up; there was plenty of laughin’, cussin’, roastin’, dippin’, and a health serving of general depravity. I wouldn’t have expected anything less from this crew.
Now it was off to have our picture taken with all of the Legends. As I approached, several of the players, almost in unison, yelled out, “Inky!” I knew immediately what they were talking about. The hair sticking out from the back of my cap and my facial scruff obvious reminded most of them of former teammate, Pete Incaviglia. Once that name was thrown out, the rest of them laughed. I knew I was going to be in trouble for the rest of the Camp. I noticed Jim Eisenreich was standing right behind the empty space that would be my spot on the bench. Jim looked at me and said, “Hey! It’s me, Jim Eisenbise!”
Finally, it was time to start actually playing some baseball. I almost forgot that’s what I was there for. To evaluate the rookies, the Camp held four 15-minute drill workouts. Based on these, the Legends and GM’s would make their selections at the lunchtime draft for their respective teams. The first workout for me was for infield. I reported back to Schmidt Field and met with Mickey Morandini and Terry Harmon on the pitchers mound. Mickey caught sight of me, smiled, and said, “Hey there Inky!” Oh man…
The next workout revolved around pitching. We reported to the pitching mounds located between Roberts and Schmidt Fields. This should be interesting. I only pitched one inning in my life in Little League which included two strikeouts and a triple. I made my way up and my goal was just not make a fool of myself, i.e. no bouncing to the catcher or throwing to the catcher NEXT to mine. The first handful were over the plate, which, in my mind, was a complete success. Can I go now? No? Damn. The more I threw, the more they started straying outside the strike zone. My catcher stopped me before it got worse and someone would eventually get hurt.
Now on to my biggest weakness: hitting. We went inside to the batting tunnels, which held four separate netted hitting areas. In three of them, Legends and player reps were switching up and throwing batting practice. Ex-Phillie and hitting coach Milt Thompson was holding a quick evaluation in the fourth cage. If I had any notion that I possessed somewhat of a decent swing, it would have been quickly brought down to Earth in these five minutes. Luckily I don’t, so why get embarrassed? I tried to utilize some pointers he gave out to fellow campers before me. I took a few swings and stopped me. Like everyone else, his mantra was to get us to make our swing rhythmic to the beat of our heart. If that’s the case, then my swing must look like I’m suffering a massive arrhythmia. He asked me to step back and took a swing, demonstrating his method. Now, there’s Joe Schmoe who gets around on a pitch, hits it square on the barrel, and makes that beautiful sound of wood cracking and launching a baseball. They actually may even look pretty decent doing it. Then, there is a Major Leaguer swinging and hitting a baseball. Night and day. Not even close. Milt Thompson is not a big guy at all. In that split second, he was Superman. I felt like I should have apologized to him for wasting his time and offered to buy him a beer later. Wow. I took a few cuts off of a player rep throwing BP, then moved on to the next station.
This was the one I was looking forward to. Back to Schmidt field for the outfield workout with Jim Eisenreich and Von Hayes. We stood at the warning track in centerfield and Eisey would hit one to us. Nothing more than that. The first one he hits to me was an in-betweener, so I let it bounce… past me and to the wall. Beautiful. I’m going back to the infield. I liked my results much better there, thank you very much.
On to the baserunning workout with the new third base coach for the Phillies, Juan Samuel. Ashburn Field was not quite up to par for the groundskeeper’s standards, and they wanted to save it until the afternoon games. So our baserunning clinic involved us rooks huddling around Sammy at home plate. He spoke about the basics of running starting from home plate and moving from station to station. Baserunning just seems natural: run straight. If the ball went further than you expected, turn at the next base and run straight again. Repeat and rinse if necessary. OK, obviously there is much more to that, but it’s incredible to hear it from an expert who ruled the base paths in the ‘80’s. For the rest of the camp, when I did find myself hustling down the line, I found myself recalling Sammy’s tips, and most importantly, actually stayed on my feet.
Fantastic, I can’t mess that one up.
I stood in a lengthy line for lunch back at Bright House that extended past Frenchy’s. This, however, provided me with front row seats to the small parking lot below. Why would this be exciting? Well, you’d be excited too if you got the nice surprise of seeing Ryan Howard strolling to the main batting cages located directly underneath where we were standing. I already knew this, and saying it will be redundant, but man… he is a big dude.
I promptly replaced all the calories I burned missing and overthrowing baseballs in the morning. Scott Palmer appeared to announce the teams. The Legends and GMs had conferred and made their selections. I felt like I was back on the playground being chosen for a pickup baseball game, except the kids are ex-Major Leaguers.
My name was finally read off. I selected for a team called the Drillers, coached by Kevin Stocker and Mike Lieberthal, two of some my favorite Phillies. This was incredible. I made my way to Ashburn Field to meet my team, my player rep, my two new coaches, and to finally get ready to play some games. We huddled around outside our dugout. Stocker came right out and introduced himself and within a minute, I knew this was going to be a blast. Stock seemed to get the idea of this camp experience down pat. We were here to play baseball, get advice from ex-Major Leaguers, but most importantly, we were here to have fun. He informed us that we were the only team out of ten that were completely full of rookies. Images of the Bad News Bears started creeping in to my mind. Kevin read off the lineup and positions were set, but they let us know that if we want to switch with someone else, we could do it at any time. If we wanted to come out, no problem. If we wanted to go back in, not a problem. This had all the seriousness of a family reunion whiffle ball game.
One of my dad’s more classic moments happened on a beach in North Carolina during a marathon session of whiffle ball. At one point during a game, someone made a diving catch, which resulted in a dramatic end-over-end tumble. Later in the game, I was facing my dad and hit a line drive right back to him. He didn’t move or react. He stood there, cool as a cucumber, and snagged the ball nonchalantly. He waited a couple seconds, then dove to the ground and rolled on the sand, pretending he just made a highlight reel-worthy catch. We could not stop laughing for the rest of the day. I still smile when I think about that.
So out I ran to take my position in leftfield. I only had one fielding opportunity when a seeing-eye single came my way. I quickly realized that I probably wouldn’t be getting many more chances this game. Our man on the mound, Pete Wicterman, was a captain and starting pitcher for LaSalle University, and our opponents, the Red Barons, were getting mowed down one by one. Unfortunately, we were facing another buzz saw in the Red Barons pitcher, Tony Carfagno. I came to find out, Tony had won the Camp’s Cy Young award the previous two years. Wonderful.
In typical Bryan Sargent-style, I struck out swinging at my first at bat. I was just sizing him up… yeah. The rest of the game was a fantastic pitcher’s duel. Because of this, and the fact that all 14 members of the team bats, no matter if they are in the field, my number of trips to the plate were limited. I eventually moved to third base. As I took my position, I had another one of those “where am I?” moments. Juan Samuel, one of the two Legends coaching for the Red Barons, along with Ricky Jordan, was standing there coaching third. I gave him a tip of the cap, said “hello Juan” and turned my attention back to the game, shaking my head in disbelief. Again, no fielding chances. That was probably best for the team’s success.
The Red Barons got us for two runs at the top of the last inning. I took my second at bat against Carfagno, and I am proud to say, hit a solid line drive over the shortstop’s head for a single. If I don’t get another hit for the rest of the Camp, I’ll be happy knowing I got a knock off the best pitcher in Camp. We couldn’t manufacture a comeback and lost our first game. Did it really matter? Hell no. Stock and Lieby drove that message home in their post-game talk. They showered nothing but compliments, and maybe a few good-natured ribbings that we all quickly learned was Stock’s calling card.
Due to an impending rainstorm, another game was added to the schedule in case games had to be cancelled the next day. We would be playing on Bright House Field. It was only day two, and I was going to be stepping foot on to the same field where the Phillies play their Spring Training games. Sorry, I believe that’s my jaw on the ground. Let me get that out of your way.
On our way back to Bright House, the sound of what my friend Sam referred to as a “howlitzer”, was blasting from the underbelly of the stadium. I deduced that this must be Ryan Howard taking batting practice (it was confirmed later that it was indeed Howard, as well as Domonic Brown). Now, the echoes of the tunnel did amplify his hits, but still… the “authority” of that sound, again from Sam, was overwhelming. Like I said before, there is a regular person hitting a baseball… then there is a Major Leaguer. Just awe-inspiring.
For this game, I was tabbed to catch. As far as I can remember, I have only caught twice in my life. Once when I was three, crouched in my living room with my dad’s black glove and a beach toy to sift sand, attached to a baseball cap with a piece of twine for my mask. The other was when I was six, and in my first year of Little League. Every single ball got past me. This was going to be interesting.
I suited up and got a few tips from Lieberthal. Then I realized: I’m getting advice from a two-time All-Star and Gold Glove-winning catcher. Wow. I waddled out to home plate, got my bearings (I’m catching at Bright House!), and introduced myself to the umpire. He also gave me a few pointers, most likely more for his protection. Can’t say I didn’t blame him. He must get his fair share of bruises and knocks calling these games at Camp. Lucky for him, I was going contribute a few more war wounds to his collection!
The game ended before it even started. Our opponents, the Bay Sox, led by Marty Bystrom and Von Hayes, were a force to be reckoned with. They exploded for six runs in the first and eight runs in the second inning. If I wasn’t feeling any pain earlier, I was feeling it now. After the first inning, I came back to the dugout. Stock greeted me very encouraging words. Mike stopped me, and with a big smile said, “you did a great job back there!” I smiled back, glowing in the fact this famed catcher just complimented me on my play behind the plate, thanked him very much, then asked, “how the hell did you do this shit?!
Even though I was playing baseball in these glorious surroundings, enveloped in a warm, late afternoon sun in the middle of January, the whole game was a complete blur. I was bumped up to cleanup in the batting lineup. I went 0 for 1 with a walk and strikeout. But to be honest, I don’t even really remember those at bats. My goal was to finish out the game the best I could behind the plate. I wasn’t that adept with a catcher’s mitt, so there were many instances of me completely missing the pitch and immediately hearing a loud “whack” followed by a painful “ungh!” I felt so bad after awhile. He kept reassuring me it was OK, but still. In between watching balls flying out past our outfielders and having baserunners pass me at home, I experienced my first foul ball-tip-straight-in-to-my-helmet. Luckily, there isn’t much up there to get injured, so all was good. I also came very close to making a decent play catching a foul ball. Again, I do not know how catchers are able to pull off that move. The disorientation factor is through the roof. During the second inning, there was a dispute about the number of outs. Some coaches had one. The umpire had two. I joked with him that I had three and the inning was over.
After the dust settled, the Drillers were once again shut out, this time by the score of 18-0. It wasn’t even close. Eh, what are you going to do? It was still a lot of fun. The twenty or so people in the crowd made me feel like I was playing for the Florida Marlins. This Camp thought of everything to make this a true Major League experience!
I headed back to the clubhouse, very sore and very tired. I groaned as I peeled off layer upon layer of my uniform. Playing baseball never hurt so good.
The clock said 6:45 PM, but it felt like 2 AM. Everyone on that bus ride home was either falling asleep or showing off their various ice packs and wraps, compliments of the fine folks in the trainers room. But in the end, you know we all had an absolute blast this day. No amount of pain or weariness could have put a damper on what we just experienced.
After the bus arrived, I had only about an hour to get ready for the evening’s Bull Session. I made the mistake of lying down on the bed to “rest my eyes” as my dad would have said. I fell asleep for about a minute then woke up in a panic. Just like my dad, my one quick bout of snoring roused me from my sleep. I really needed to get my second wind or else I would have conked out for the rest of the night.
The Bull Session took place in the hotel ballroom and we took our seats with our team and coaches. Luckily, our tables were situated in the front row, stage right. Some of my teammates had already sat down with their dinner. I was getting ready to join them, as the other table was completely empty. At the same time Stocker took a seat at the empty table and joked that no one wanted to sit with him. I had to oblige. More of my teammates joined the table. Stock told us all about his career in baseball, stories of his minor league days with Lieberthal, getting called up to the Majors, etc.
After dinner and few drinks to help with our muscle pains (no, really, that’s all they were for), the Legends were called up to the stage by Scott Palmer. For the next hour or so, Scott would ask different Legends to extrapolate on the Phillies and different aspects of the organization as it stands now (their recent successes, their ability to bring in top level pitchers to a non-pitcher-friendly park, their future, etc), and talk about how that relates to when they played for the team. As the night went on, it turned in to the evening version of Kangaroo Court, no thanks to the hotel bartender taking orders and refilling the Legends during the session. Greg Luzinski is not only a connoisseur and big fan of red wine, but also all of us who have purchased a ton of BBQ from his stand at Citizens Bank Park. He made it very clear he was extremely grateful of our patronage. When you put out a product like he does on a daily basis, you are guaranteed return customers. That kielbasa is pure heaven.
Other discussions revolved around each position and the current players that occupy that spot (Dave Hollins talking about third base and Placido Polanco, Marty Bystrom, Warren Brusstar and Dickie Noles talking about pitching, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and the work ethic of Roy Halladay, etc.). The conversation stuck on Halladay and how his presence on the team has influenced so many players and impressed all the Legends. John Kruk, on the other hand, could not understand how anybody, including Halladay, could come to the park hours and hours before game time. “The game is only three hours long!” When discussing his diet of cheesesteaks and hot dogs, he quipped, “at least I was happier than Roy Halladay”.
Kruk came up again during a great story about Mitch Williams hitting Barry Bonds during a game. Williams was discussing the appropriate times to send a message to a player or other team (strangely, he was once ordered to bean Bob Boone… who hits Bob Boone?) Williams had hit Bonds and Barry had some words for him on his way to first base. He kept chirping to Kruk, saying he was going to charge Williams if he did it again. Kruk, stood aside, held out his arms toward Mitch and said, “go right ahead, be my guest”.
Kruk got another crack in at Williams’ expense. Mitch told a story of when he gave up nine hits in a row in a Minor League game, to which Kruk loudly responded, “Mitch didn’t give up a walk to nine straight batters?! Unbelievable!” That got the crowd roaring.
And speaking of Minor League war stories, Larry Andersen contributed a fantastic story about his last game ever. While doing a brief stint in the Minors at the tail end of his career, Andersen arrived to the ballpark in not-so-optimal condition i.e. hungover. This particular game was “Miniature Bat Giveaway Day”. The kids in attendance had figured out that banging the bats against the metal bleachers would make a loud and obnoxious sound… and they kept it up. Andersen could not take it anymore. When he was called to start throwing in the bullpen, he told the coach, “didn’t you hear? I’m retired”.
A few Campers were able to throw out some questions to the Legends later on in the session. Someone had asked Bob Boone if he knew the whereabouts of the last pitch of the 1980 World Series, as he was the last person to touch it. In his very cool and quiet way, slyly smiled, nodded he head and said, “I have it”. One of the Legends chimed in and joked that he has about 25 of them that he tries to sell every year. Hilarious.
But my favorite moment of the night came at the beginning of the session. When Scott Eyre was introduced, Scott Palmer mentioned that Eyre has a little phrase written on the underside of the bill of his cap. Eyre said he would look at the phrase all the time during a game to put everything into proper perspective. What did it say?
And that right there, is what baseball and this Camp is all about.
1/21/11 – Day Three
No, Ryan Howard did not decide to take batting practice on the roof of the hotel in the middle of the night. That would have been two extremely loud, and very close lightning strikes, which scared the holy hell out of me, and most everyone else in the hotel. Unfortunately, that meant that our fine groundskeeper, Opie Cheek, was right on the money about that impending rainstorm.
The bus pulled in to the Carpenter Complex and we were greeted with the image of a virtually drowning Ashburn Field. We did not like the looks of that. As I entered the clubhouse, I saw the grounds crew scrambling to make the fields as playable as possible. The skies were grey and it was drizzling. Plus there was another wave of precipitation on its way. This was going to be interesting.
On the TV screens in the clubhouse, the game schedules for the day were posted, and not surprising, the first set of games were pushed back. I wouldn’t be playing until 2:30. As a teammate of mine said, “Who has a deck of cards?”
First order of business was our daily player meeting and Kangaroo Court. As I made my way to the entrance of the tent, I noticed all the campers were still outside, looking towards left field. Immediately, I thought that this might be a current Phillie working out. Sure enough, at 8:30 AM, in a steady, chilly drizzle, the 2010 CY Young Award winner, Roy Halladay, was out tossing the ball. Living up to all the praise that was bestowed upon him the night before at the Bull Session, Halladay proved why he is arguably the best pitcher in the Major Leagues. What a beast.
Kangaroo Court came in to session and already there was a shake up on the bench. Judge John Kruk was mysteriously absent from the proceedings and needed a reliever. Judge Ricky Bottalico to the rescue. Before cases were heard, the first of the daily awards were given out. A “Gamer Award” would be given out to the one player who had the best day on the field. Simple. The “Gomer Award” was… the complete opposite. For the first time ever in Phantasy Camp history, the “Gomer Award” was given to an entire team… mine. Our 18-0 shellacking at Bright House Field the day before, added to our 2-0 loss, meant we were completely shutout AND lost by a combined 20 runs… at least I can say I left Camp with an “award”.
Kangaroo Court continued. More jawin’, razzin’, blasphemin’, and crimes against human decency ensued. A lot of us got to thinking that this would probably be a heck of a lot more entertaining if it took place at night, after a few trips to the bar… or maybe not. We would probably have more and more people missing come the morning.
After Court was dismissed, we went to have our team photos taken, in addition to an individual picture with Stock and Lieby.
Now we had a lot of time to kill before our game. In between mulling around the complex and clubhouse, I grabbed lunch. Our player representative, Joe, and another rep, led an organized stretch in the outfield of Carlton Field to keep us limber.
Finally, our game was scheduled to start. Unfortunately, the break in weather was short-lived. The second wave of rain started right at the beginning of our game and got progressively worse… very quickly. Our opponents were the Ravens, coached by Jim Eisenreich and Bob Boone. I made the start at third base and we gave up two runs in the top of the first inning. We continued to run up our record for Runs Against. With our ups in the bottom of the frame, the scoreless streak finally came to an end. We quickly got a couple runners on base. I stepped in and proudly provided our first run of the Camp when I hit an R.B.I. double over the leftfielder’s head. That got us going. I was moved over to third then scored our second run on a force out. The game was now tied. As we were getting ready to take the field for the top of the second, the game was called. The rain really had started coming down now and there was no end in sight. Our mojo would have to be saved for the next day.
As I entered the lobby, Sam caught my eye as he was giving me a defying point in my direction. He let me know that I “just made him look like a Little Leaguer”. I did not realize it at the time, but my double had gone over the head of Sam. If I didn’t get another hit all Camp, I would be satisfied with that one, just for the humor attached to it… well, humorous for me. Not Sam.
I made my way down to the lobby after a nice rest to wait for our shuttle to the team dinner at the Island Way Grill. We arrived at the restaurant, which is co-owned by two former Tampa Bay Buccaneers players, Mike Alstott and Dave Moore. I must say, for this jaded New Yorker, I was very impressed with their food and the creativity in the preparation of their seafood dishes. I sat next to Mike Lieberthal at one of our tables. He told us all about his extreme passion for playing golf, which he is trying to parlay in to an actual career. He makes frequent golf excursions and got the chance to play a round with Hunter Mahan in Ireland, compliments of their shared agent. As we spoke, he paused, stared at me and goes, “Do you remember Eric Milton”? I nodded. Milton was a teammate of Mike’s on the Phillies in 2004. He continued, “You remind me so much of him”. Well, that’s #2. First Pete Incaviglia, now Eric Milton. I can only imagine who would be next.
Other discussions we had with Mike revolved around his career in baseball, from being drafted, to his first game with the Phillies, to his final days. We also talked about the state of baseball in general, like steroids their impact on the Hall of Fame voting.
On my other side sat our player rep, Joe Moore. I had started to talk with him earlier in the day, and this was my chance to get to know him better. Basically, player reps are employees of the Camp that basically are the den fathers to each team. They basically make sure that the only thing we have to worry about is having a blast. They figure out all the logistics for each team, on and off the field. They are the workhorses; along with the countless others that made this adventure a true fantasy. In the morning, there was a note from Joe in my locker, written on Phantasy Camp paper, complimenting me on my job catching and my hit from the first game. It’s these small touches that really make this camp a priceless experience.
Back to the hotel and time to end the day like every other one since I got to Florida… at the bar.
1/22/11 – Day Four
This was going to be a very busy day. We first had to finish up our game against the Ravens that we started the day before. After that, we would play two more games. Ernie Banks once had famously said, “Let’s play two”. I’m pretty sure no one else had ever eagerly quipped, “What the heck, let’s go for three”.
Before we headed out to start our triple dip, we reconvened for our daily Kangaroo Court session. Unfortunately, Judge Andersen called me out for a second day in a row.
Andersen: “Bryan Sargent, please rise. I understand this is a special day for you?”
Me: “Yes, it’s my birthday.”
Andersen: “No, I said a SPECIAL day!” ‘bangs gavel’ “Guilty! Two dollars for interrupting court. Next case!”
And so it went. It was sad knowing this would be the last Kangaroo Court of the Camp. I’ll miss all the foul-mouthed, yet good-natured ribbing and “public defender” Mickey Morandini’s famous answer to the all of the judges’ inquiries: “I’ve got nothing”. However, I will not miss Mitch Williams’ dip cup, which he unfortunately forgot this morning. Mitch’s projectile spit after every other sentence, from the riser where he sat, onto the floor below, was not necessarily something I want to see first thing in the morning. I’ll give him one thing; the distance he achieved was quite impressive. Only a small town Texan could get that that kind of velocity. If only he was THAT accurate when he… no, I won’t make that joke.
It was off to Carlton Field to resume our rained-out game from the day before. Unfortunately, we could not carry over the mojo we had going for us the day before. We gave up eight more runs and lost the game 10-4. While manning third base, I made a ridiculous error, which clearly was foreshadowed the day before by Kevin Stocker. He was telling a group of us about his time playing next to Dave Hollins in the infield. Hollins loathed having to field infield pop-ups, as they have the tendency to spin back towards home plate. As soon as a ball was hit in to the air, Dave would immediately call Stock’s name to get the ball. Well here I was, playing third, and a decently hit pop-up comes my way. Now, I’m much more used to playing the outfield, where fly balls don’t spin in. They soar, dive, or knuckle, but never spin back away from you, unless you have a nasty wind at your back. Like a bad movie with a little Kevin Stocker talking head next to my shoulder, I hear him say, “Infield pop-ups are the worst”. The next thing I know, the ball is bouncing off of the heel of my glove and on to the ground. Error #1. Panicked, I see the runner on first far off the base. Instead of taking a second to assess the situation, I heave the ball to first in hopes of catching the runner napping. Not even close. Past my first baseman Mark Stutman it goes. Error #2. I stayed on the ground, atop my knees, shaking my head at what just transpired. I figured I would get in a prayer or two while I was down there, pleading to any spiritual being that would hear my call that this play would be completely wiped clean of everyone’s minds. Luckily, we got out of the inning unscathed. Funny enough, I made the third out, catching a soft line drive. I could hear the collective holding of breaths. The next inning, I found myself in the outfield. I get the picture.
I finished the game going 0 for 2 with a strike out and fielders choice. With my hit the previous game, I went a combined 1 for 3 in our third loss of the Camp.
No rest for the weary. As soon as we were done shaking hands, we walked several feet to our next game on Roberts Field against the Mud Hens. We had our ace, Pete, on the mound. We had a good feeling about this. The wind had really picked up, blowing incredibly strong out to rightfield. So with opposing right-hand batters being late to Pete’s pitches, combined with the wind, for some reason, Stock and Lieby thought best to put me in rightfield. They also bumped me up in the lineup all the way to lead-off. Apparently they did not want to win. Well, it did not matter as Pete threw a masterful game, shutting out the Mud Hens by a score of 5-0. Most importantly, we got over the hump and snagged that first victory of the Camp.
As for my individual performance, the Legends’ tactical move worked out as planned. I led off the game with a walk and eventually scored the first run of the game. Just call me Rickey Henderson… or John Kruk, according to the umpire. Yes, even the umpires got in to the game of calling out my likeness to a former player. This time, I got another one of the famed ’93 Phillies. “Hey Krukker”, said Blue. The next time I attend Camp, I am going down with a short haircut and cleanly shaven face. This was ridiculous.
During the game, Larry Andersen came by to check out how everything was going. He approached me, called me “Inky”, and wished me a “Happy Birthday”.
Come to think of it, I never actually paid my two-dollar fine from the morning.
The check is in the mail L.A.
It was time for a victory lunch. Unfortunately, it lasted all of 15 minutes as everyone had to head out for the third and final game to determine our placement in tomorrow’s Legends Game.
Barely digesting my sandwich, I raced to Carlton Field for our third and final game of the day against the Sky Chiefs. This was the 7th vs. 8th seed matchup that all of the Camp was eagerly anticipating. The crowd rushed to up to fill the bleachers.
Well, that could have been for the Championship game pitting the Red Barons vs. the Bay Sox on the field directly next to us. I could have been wrong.
I was excited for this game as we were facing a team who’s players included some new friends I had met while down in Camp. This was just going to be a lot of fun.
The Sky Chiefs were coached by Greg Luzinski and Terry Harmon. As we were waiting for our fearless leaders, I met Terry at home plate. As he had been all Camp, he gave me an emphatic “hello!” and asked how I was doing and if I had been keeping up with the blog while I was here. Incredible. He had such a heartfelt honesty to him. You could tell he truly loved participating in these camps. It showed right away in his coaching of third base. For the entire game he was cheering on every member of his team. “Gene! Geno! Genie boy! Let’s get a hit kid!” He never relented. His enthusiasm and positivity were absolutely infectious. He embodied the spirit of this Camp. That’s what it was all about.
I started out the game in centerfield and eventually moved to shortstop. These guys must have the shortest memory spans. My play in the field was limited though, as a small tweak in my left calf from the morning, had ballooned to full hobbling-inducing strain. It would come and go during the game, but by the end, there was no letting up. I was able to get three at-bats in though, going 1 for 3 with a single.
I sat on the bench, completely worn out. I could have plopped down and fallen asleep right there if it wasn’t for the bitterly cold winds that came roaring in. Of course, it was snowing back up north, so I really had no leg to stand on… literally and figuratively. Larry Andersen made his way to the game and saw me massaging my calf. He inquired about it and made me stretch out my leg as he pressed against my toes. What a guy.
We lost the game. And to prove how out of it I was, I don’t even remember the score. So the Drillers officially ended Camp in 8th place out of 10 teams. I’m not going to complain about that. I wouldn’t have complained if we ended dead last… because that wasn’t the point. All I know is, our team laughed a helluva lot and we had a lot of fun.
A surprise was waiting for us in the clubhouse break area: several cases of cold Yuengling beer. NOW I felt like Inky or the Krukker. There was nothing better to help cure my calf pain then a bottle of Pottsville’s finest… that and my first trip to the trainer’s room. I downed my beer, hit the showers, then made my way to the trainer’s room. They escorted me to the hydrotherapy room and their magic liquid seemed to cure my calf. Of course, the magic liquid of the Yuengling may have helped too.
I made my way on to the bus for our ride back to the hotel. Again, we’d only have about an hour to get ready for the big Awards Banquet.
Earlier in the day, we had been told there would be a shuttle available to take us to the Phantasy Camp Awards Banquet. At the time, I found that funny, as the banquet was located right across the street at the Clearwater Beach Sheraton Sand Key hotel ballroom. Who would take a bus for a 30 second ride?
At 7 o’clock, guess who was singing a different, gravelly-voiced, Tom Waits-esque tune? I think I was first in line to board the bus.
Before dinner, there was a cocktail hour for everyone to mingle, share their stories, and with heavy hearts, start the process of saying our “goodbyes” (or “hello’s” for the first time… better late than never). The Legends funneled in to the room, and everyone clamored to get any last minute pictures and/or autographs from their favorite players. I had asked family and friends before I left if they had any requests for autographs. I had been procrastinating all Camp, so I needed to go down the list and get this done. I made my way round the cocktail hour (and later after dinner) and got all the specified signatures. Along with my notes from this Camp, my Moleskine book is now filled with these autographs. If I ever become wildly famous from this blog, I’m selfishly keeping this book and selling it on eBay. A couple thousand dollars sounds like a good opening bid, right?
The partition walls on the one side of the room slid open to reveal the large ballroom where we would be dining. Each table was adorned with a Phillies jersey, customized with every team name. After sitting down, putting in our dinner and drink order, etc., Scott Palmer approached the podium at the front of the room to start out the banquet.
He started out by asking for a moment of silence for Dallas Green, the Green family, and everyone effected by the tragic shooting that occurred in Tucson, AZ only two weeks before. It was a wonderful gesture and very touching.
Then it was time for the awards. The Legend coaches were called up to award the MVP for their respective team. Our MVP was a no-brainer. In fact, Pete Wicterman was also deservedly deep in the running for the Camp-wide Cy Young Award. He lost out to Tony Carfagno of the Red Barons, who had now won the award three years in a row. If there is any proud, on-the-field moment I can take home with me, it’s the fact I got a solid line drive single off of Tony in our first game. After a few more awards and the presentation of the World Series Trophy to the champion Red Barons, then came the highlights of the night. These were the awards that could not be quantified with statistics. They were the awards that embodied the spirit of the Camp and what it all was truly about. I had a sense of pride, as I had formed relationships with most of the folks who won these and other awards during the evening…
There was Gene Mattioni who won the team MVP Award for his squad, the Sky Chiefs. I met Gene and his wife Marie the night of the Orientation. Since then, we had been talking with each other over email. Marie would tell me about Gene’s new attitude and excitement for life. As she so eloquently told me in an earlier email, this gift that she gave him, she thought, was just that… a gift. But she came to realize it was an “investment”. I still can’t get that out of my mind.
There was Hank Wagner and his two sons, living out a father-son(s) dream on the diamond. Hank’s oldest son Time,won the MVP for his, while Hank won the “Charlie Hustle Award” for toughing out a nasty collision he was involved in on the first day.
Then there was the most touching moment of the night. My fellow teammate was awarded with the “Tug McGraw Inspiration Award”. Duke McLaughlin had told us during the Camp the story about how he got to come down to Clearwater. He had been saving up for years to attend Phantasy Camp, but every time he would come close to his goal, those funds would be reallocated to help out one of his 10 children or someone close to him. For his 70th birthday, his children decided to surprise this selfless widower. They pulled together their money and purchased a Phantasy Camp experience for their loving father.
Scott Palmer told Duke’s story with such compassion and heart. He explained how Duke exemplified the spirit of the award named after the much-beloved Phillie pitcher. Duke gave up on his dream of Phantasy Camp many times for the good of his family and friends. He always put himself second. His family lovingly repaid him by granting his wish. With two of his sons in attendance, it was very hard to keep the eyes from not watering up.
We got back to the hotel and everyone congregated at the bar. Everyone was there, taking in their last evening in baseball heaven. Gene and Marie were there at the end of the bar. Gene, still with his award, was enjoying a celebratory scotch… my man. I also came across Joe Gibley, who I had met the first night of Camp (and another winner this night… winner of the “Andy Seminick Award” for catching every inning of every game).
“So?… what did I tell you? Greatest time of your life, right?”
Joe, you couldn’t have been more correct.
1/23/11 – Final Day
I woke up just as the sun started to make its slow rise over the horizon and envelop Clearwater Harbor with its warm orange glow. This was the perfect way to start out my last morning at Phantasy Camp.
Packed and checked out, I headed to breakfast in the ballroom. I sat down at an empty table and was soon joined by Scott Palmer. He wished me a good morning, asked how I was, and asked about my experience at Camp He was thrilled to hear all my exaltations. Scott told me a story about Phantasy Camp that gave me such a bad case of goosebumps. Syd Fluck had been a regular down in Clearwater, but over the years, he started developing early stages of Alzheimer’s. In what turned out to be his last year attending Camp, his son had joined him for the first time. Palmer recalled a sad, but very touching moment when the older Fluck was batting in a game at Bright House. Syd had struck out, but thought he actually walked. He started his way down the line to take his base. His son met him on the line and gently whispered in to his ear that he actually struck out. His son put his arm his dad’s shoulders and walked him back to the dugout. EVERYONE on the field, in the dugout, and in the stands, gave him a rousing, standing ovation. Like I said before, this is what this Camp is all about.
I loaded all my luggage into the bus and said goodbye to the Marriot. Since the Drillers finished in 8th place, our game against the Legends would not be until the early afternoon, so we did not need to be at the Complex until a little later. That extra hour was so nice, although, we did kind of wish we would finish 9th or 10th just so we could get two extra hours. Also, as a consolation, the 9th and 10th place teams played their final game the day before at Bright House Field.
Sometimes, it’s good to lose one every now and then.
We pulled in to the Complex one last time. This morning routine of ours quickly became so familiar, like we had done this for years. That was a really comforting feeling. It felt great to take our time this day, stroll in to the clubhouse, and not have to rush about getting ready for our morning briefings. We all were able to leisurely sit around, chat with our surrounding locker buddies and teammates, and fully take in this final and very exciting day.
I slowly made my way from the clubhouse to Bright House Field. I wanted to really take in that particular walk one last time. The weather was gorgeous. It was still very cool, but the winds had completely subsided and the sun just seemed extra brighter today. Very fitting.
When I arrived, the atmosphere was so joyous. Everyone had their family and friends around with them, taking pictures of their favorite Camper and all the Legends, congregated and playing on the field. This was also a great chance for everyone to raid the Phillies Clubhouse store.
With a good amount of time on my hands, I made my way around Bright House Field to take photos. Much like every new ballpark that has debuted in the last 10 or so years, Bright House has the distinctive feature of a seamless walkway, encircling the entire field. Two days before, an ESF employee spotted me taking pictures and told me that I could climb up to the perch in centerfield where the TV cameras are positioned. I took his advice, and made my out there. On this crystal clear day, the field’s colors looked extra vibrant. The grass was greener and the sky was bluer.
Around the stadium I went. I was all alone standing beyond the outfield fences. I all I heard was the faint crack of a bat and a few muffled cheers. That near silence was broken with the echoes of the PA announcer calling out the next batter and the score. It was so peaceful back amongst the palm trees.
I settled in to the seats along the first base side, right behind the Legends dugout. Twenty minutes ago, they were the size of ants. Now, they were all lined up in front of me, larger than life.
For the first time today, I was able to sit down and take in one of these games. This would be a good time to explain the rules of our matchups against the Legends…
1. Games are only three innings long. The Legends are the home team, which really means, the games are actually only two and a half innings. I believe it only happened once ever in Camp history where the Legends needed their last at bat’s to finish the game.
2. We are allowed to field an entire team at once. Yes, we had five outfielders. We regressed beyond Little League. We went to Tee Ball.
3. If by the third inning, if everyone on the team had not batted, but we reached three outs, the inning would still continue until everyone had a turn at the plate.
4. The Legends are only allowed to score a maximum of two runs per inning. If they reached the two run limit, but still have less than three outs, the inning is still over.
Not only do these rules benefit the Campers in that we all get to participate and have fun, but to try and limit the time on the field of the Legends. Not every Legend played, which meant a lot of these guys were logging a lot of time on the field this day (almost five hours).
It was a something else seeing a lot of the Legends switching around and playing positions you would have never seen them man in their heydays. Mitch Williams at first, Scott Eyre at third, Mickey Morandini pitching…
It was also great seeing these guys in playing action for the first time this Camp. Being able to see those sweet left-handed swings of Milt Thompson and Von Hayes, those distinctive batting stances of Kruk, Ricky Jordan, Mike Lieberthal, the power windup of Ricky Bottalico, Kevin Stocker and Dave Hollins fluidly and flawlessly turning a double play, Juan Samuel gracefully taking a double… truly awe-inspiring. Yes, they are all older and they were not playing at 100% of their physical ability, but you could just see how innate their talent is. Everything they do on the field is second nature to them. It’s like brushing your teeth or tying your shoes. You don’t have to think about it. That’s what the sport is like for them, and that will always be something I’ll never get my mind around. Just incredible.
After a few innings, I made my way back towards the tent in left field for a well-deserved lunch. Sitting around and taking photographs is exhausting. I sat with a lot of my teammates and we had a wonderful last meal together. Just like in the clubhouse, it was kind of sad that this would be the last time we would be eating together. I finished my extremely nutritious slab of cheesecake and made my way back to the stands to watch some more games. The Ravens and Sky Chiefs would be playing soon and I wanted to say hi to my friends before they hit the field.
As our time drew nearer, my team started congregating in left field. No one was really hitting the ball that deep, so all the teams would start warming up a couple games before theirs. During the Sky Chiefs game, we made our way to the dugout to get ourselves ready so as to have a smooth and quick transition to our game. Now it was starting to hit me; sitting in that dugout again and watching all these great ex-Phillies on the field and knowing I would be stepping up to the plate and looking out at all of them. Wow.
The game finished and we stood around, getting ready to run out on the field. I got a few more pictures and videos. One of my friend’s had asked me to get an autograph of Kevin Stocker for her as he was her favorite player on that 1993 team. I decided that would be too boring, so Stock obliged me with a quick video message to my friend. In true Stocker fashion, he got a quick dig in, calling my play on the field, “unbelievably bad”. Thanks…
But seriously, it was a great gesture. The night of the Bull Session, he did a very similar thing. When asked if he would speak to a Camper’s daughter on the phone, he obliged. He truly loved interacting with everyone.
I also got one more quick video. This was one of the big moments I was waiting for…
Wow. Dan Baker, calling out my name and number, with my big goofy smile projected on the scoreboard. What a moment.
Stock and Lieby called us in for a quick huddle. Their only instructions were, once we finished our at-bats, to go out to any position we wanted and to just have fun. Yep, we had regressed to Tee Ball.
The Legend that we drew as our opposing pitcher was a great one. We actually got to face the newbie and last minute addition in Scott Eyre. We would be batting against a man who was only one season removed from pitching in the World Series against the Yankess AND two seasons removed from winning the World Championship. That was mind-blowing.
1-2-3 we went.
I made a beeline out for left field. There was no way I was playing infield against these guys. Plus, they had no problem driving the ball out, so I figured there would be a great chance for me to field a ball hit out. Lee Sorenson took his spot next to me in the new “middle left field” position. For those scoring at home, that would be “11”. I yelled over to Lee and joked with him that we needed to take this seriously and that we would be the first team to beat the Legends. He got in to the spirit and barked back that this is the last stronghold and to hold our positions. Very funny.
The first Legend to bat was Ricky Bottalico. Ricky Bo was most definitely taking these games seriously; from his metal spikes, to his quick glove work at third, to his powerful bat. He was there to play. After his first at-bat, it all seemed like a blur. One after another these guys would rake the ball. They quickly reached their two run limit. The highlight of the first inning though was Von Hayes hitting an opposite-field shot down the line towards me. Unfortunately, between the photographer who was stationed near me on the field, and another team warming up near the sidelines, I could not field the ball as cleanly as I wanted to. It bounced off several people and I had to quickly change my course. I finally retrieved the ball and made a nice clean throw to the cut-off man. There was another highlight: fielding a Von Hayes double. Awesome.
1-2-3 once again. I felt that our chances were looking very slim at this point.
Bottom of the second and another blur of hits and scoring… Ricky Jordan, Juan Samuel, John Kruk, Dave Hollins, Tyler Green, Ryan Howard… just kidding. The score was now 4-0 and we came up for our final at-bats, which meant I would finally get my chance.
There I went, strolling up to home plate to face Scott Eyre. The PA announcer called out my name and I got chills down my spine. Eyre clearly had dialed it down for us Campers. He did not throw any off-speed or breaking balls. Every single pitch was right down the middle, straight, and much slower than he could possibly throw. I would say he was around the low to mid-70’s. It was great to see him start out his windup with that little shoulder shrug he does before every pitch. After a couple pitches, I got the bat around on one, and hit a very solid line drive towards second base… right in to the glove of Dickie Noles. No matter. If I had one ultimate goal in this Camp, it was to NOT strike out against a Legend, and just make contact. That was all. And I did. For once, I did not go down because of my flailing bat. My dad would have absolutely over the moon. For a man who witnessed his son swing at many-a-horrible pitch in his life, any sort of solid contact made him extremely proud. That one was for you dad.
I came back to the dugout with a big grin on my face, Stock, Lieby, and the rest of my teammates all came over to tell me how solid of a hit that was. What a great feeling. Our MVP Pete was not able to play due to a nagging injury, but did find the energy to get an at-bat. As they did for players who were having a hard time running, a pinch runner was used, stationed behind the umpire. This time, they used the young son of my teammate Joe Stackhouse. Pete got a hold of Eyre’s pitch and drove it in between right and center field. Ricky Jordan, who was patrolling center, pulled up a bit and let it fall as to give Joe’s son the opportunity to run the bases. Stocker, who was coaching first, got in to the spirit and told Joe’s son to try and steal after Eyre released the ball. In the Camp, one rule was that there was no stealing allowed, so of course, this garnered a lot of laughs, especially from Eyre.
We made our last out and that was that. My days on the Phantasy Camp were officially over. We lined up to shake the hands of all the Legends and give our final goodbyes. One after another, “good game, thank you, take care, great to meet you, etc.” Then came Dave Hollins. “Great game Inky!”
Back to the clubhouse… what no Yuengling today?! Yeesh. I slowly packed up everything from my locker. All us Campers traded our business cards, numbers, emails, and most importantly, our heartfelt exchanges of letting the other person know that it was an absolute pleasure to have met and shared this incredible experience with them.
Before I left, I did have one small piece of business to attend to. I brought down a one of my favorite pictures of my dad and I, taken before a Phillies game in July of 2004, the first year of Citizen Bank Park. I blew it up and wrote a personal note on the back. I folded it up tightly and placed it in the far back of the safe in my locker. I’m sure it was quickly found by the clubhouse staff after we all left, but it was my way of giving my dad a small taste of being in Clearwater with me, living out this lifelong dream together, in spirit.
And that… was what this Camp was all about to me.
To read the entire account of Bryan's trip down to Clearwater for Phillies Phantasy Camp, and to view many more pictures, please visit his MLBlogs site at http://bryansargent.mlblogs.com.