This is the story of how we spent our 40th birthdays at a baseball fantasy camp in Iowa.
We left on Tuesday morning, drove to Peoria, IL and spent the night. The next
day we drove on to Dubuque, IA where we were to stay. The field is just outside of
Dyersville, about 30 minutes or so from Dubuque, but there were no motels there big
enough to accommodate the group. There were 22 guys there like me, to participate
in the camp. The youngest were in their 30's, the oldest were a doctor from Milwaukee
and a judge from Richmond, VA, both in their late 60's.
That night, we had a "get to know each other" dinner and a cruise on one of those casino boats. The people running the camp had divided us up into 2 teams for the camp. My group had some great guys in it. Maury Wills was our manager, and Bert Campaneris, Jay Johnstone, and Jimmy Wynn coached us. Two of my team mates were brothers, from Texas, and two others were best friends from high school days. One lives in Ohio and the other in California now, and they had such a great time together. Seeing these old friends reliving their youth was just a part of what made the whole thing just a great experience. The other team was managed by Julio Cruz, with Don Money, Mike Cuellar, and Joe Hoerner as coaches. Ken Sanders kinda was the dirctor of operations and played when needed. All of these guys are former major leaguers, although you've probably not heard of some of them.
There is a local team there known as the Ghost Players. Some of them appeared in the movie, playing the ghosts. (DUH) They are a VERY good team, and they make public appearances all over the country and have toured Japan.
On Thursday, we loaded up in vans and headed to Dyersville. They had a locker room set up in the community center. We got our uniforms (REAL ones with names sewed on the back and EVER'THANG!) and received some instructions, then it was off to the field.
It was an awesome sight, JUST like the movie. Donna and I had driven out there Wed. when we first got there, so she would be able to find it. After some picture taking and stretching, we were ready to play. The two camp teams played each other first. We lost, but it was a good game. I wanted to play the outfield, but as the game went on, our pitching was really bad, lots of walks and such, and I told Maury I thought I could throw strikes. At that time I was still coaching, and threw a lot of batting practice to the kids. I pitched one inning, and got the first three batters out, one on a GREAT catch by my left fielder, one on a PRETTY good snag on MY part of a line drive straight back at my head, and the last one on a STRIKE OUT! My hitting wasn't as good as I hoped, but I made contact.
We drove back to town for lunch at the park where the locker room was set up, then that afternoon, we went back to the Field and played against the pros, while the other team stayed in town and played against the Ghost Players. I pitched a couple of innings against the pros, too, but there was NO "three up, three down" stuff with them. I gave up homeruns to Money and Cruz. Then it was back to the locker room, change clothes, back to the motel and on our own till breakfast Friday. When we changed clothes, we just threw our dirty uniforms on the floor, and the next morning, there they hung, nice and clean, in our lockers, just like the pros. COOL!
On Friday morning WE played the Ghost Players while the other campers played the pros. I pitched the whole game against them, and even though we lost, I thought we played pretty good. I was pretty well shot after throwing that much, though. That afternoon we played the other camp team again, and they wouldn't let me pitch anymore, and there were so many walks it was a slow boring game. My hitting was getting a LITTLE better.
I don't remember exactly WHEN these other guys showed up, but as Friday went by, and into Sat. morning, more pros showed up. Brooks Robinson, Lou Brock, Paul Blair, Earl Weaver, Jerry McNertney, Bobby Randall. On Saturday morning, we played the other camp team again. I pitched the first three innings, and when I came out we were leading 1-0. I pitched 4 or 5 innings total against the other campers, and never gave up a run. Anyway, we ended up losing by one run again. Bummer. But I did finally get one over the centerfielder's head. I had a few hits, but that was my only extra-base hit. Saturday afternoon, the other team played the pros for 3 innnings, then we played the pros for 3 innings. Big crowd for those games. They introduced us, one at a time, as we walked out of the corn field onto the baseball field. GREAT! Sat. night we went back to the field for some awards and stuff, lots of picture taking, some of us got out in the outfield and just threw the ball around. At night like that, it was really JUST like the movie. By then, Rollie Fingers and George Brett were there. They weren't part of the camp, but were there for a charity game on Sunday. Jim Gantner, Gorman Thomas and Buck O'Niell were there, too.
Sunday afternoon the pros played the Ghost Players in a big game at the field in town. This was the charity part of the thing and there was a really nice crowd there. After the game, there was a party, dinner, dance type thing. It was kinda like a goodbye get together, not just for us, though. There were tickets sold in conjunction with the big game.
There was a photographer there the whole time and we got some pictures from him, included in the price, plus we shot probably 3 rolls of film and a couple of video tapes. She missed an inning or two, but for the most part Donna was right there, either taking pictures or video taping. Whenever I think about that, it makes me feel good. She spent all that time there in the sun and the wind to watch me try to play a game that I never was THAT good at even when I was younger.
We left Monday morning, spent the night in Louisville and got home on Tuesday evening. All in all it was a great experience. I had talked for a long time about maybe going to one of these Fantasy Camps, but never really thought I would get to. Most of them are in Florida or Arizona and PRETTY expensive. I saw this one advertised in one of my baseball magazines, probably in June, and when I saw it would be the weekend of our birthdays, and where it was, and it was not QUITE as expensive as some, and I saw the list of the pros who were scheduled to be there, we talked about it and she was all for it. Jay Johnstone had for years been my favorite player, and I had always admired Brooks Robinson and Lou Brock, and of course I knew who all the others were, so we went. After meeting them all, I STILL admire Robinson and Brock, but I think now that Julio Cruz is my favorite player.
OH> When we played the Ghost Players, one of them hit a line drive straight at my head (I was pitching). I just had time to throw my glove up, deflected the ball into the air, it landed in front of me, I picked it up and threw him out at first. When I looked, he was laying flat of his back, just out of the batters box. He got up and came out to me, said, "I swear to God, I thought I had killed you! Most camp players we get here would have never got a glove on that ball!" Made me feel pretty good, but he was visibly shaken, he really thought that the ball had got me.
Field of Dreams