It was FANTASTIC! I attended Randy Hundley's CUBS Fantasy Camp in January of 1993 (It was my 40th birthday present!). You get a uniform (with the number of your choice) and your name above your locker and a bat with your name inscribed! You can also buy a box of baseball cards with your picture and "stats".
You also have to sign a waiver which includes the phrase "...baseball can be a dangerous and potentially life threatening activity...". Yikes!
The camp lasts for a week. Each day you practice in the a.m., and then play 1 or play 2 intersquad games with the other "campers" teams. Each squad has a coach who is a former MLB player. The coaches were Santo, Hundley, Hickman, Gene Oliver, Jimmy Piersal, Beckert, Pepitone, and my coach was Billy Williams.
By the morning of the 2nd day, the entire 10-story hotel reeked of Ben Gay! At that time, Steve Stone and Harry Caray owned "Harry and Steve's" restaurant, which was a block or so from Fitch Park (where we worked out). In the afternoon, we would all go over there (the ex-players too!) and sit around and eat and swap stories (mostly theirs) and watch video highlights of that day's games on the big TV! Yes....you could see Web Gems of yourself!!! (OK...this was before there was such a thing as Web Gems). On Day 2, I made a great diving catch of a pop-up behind 2nd base (I was playing right field). By Thursday morning, I could not move my legs at all. I literally had to lift each one and pull it into the car in order to drive to the Park. But, once I crossed the white lines I was 12 years old again and could do anything! Here's what happened during one at bat that day: I hit a weak roller in front of the plate. The catcher came out to get it and, as I was running to first, I heard the ball whiz by my head. It was to the inside of the base and the 1st baseman lunged for it, but it got past him and went down the right field line. I knew I had 2nd base easily, but as I was nearing it I looked over toward 3rd base where Billy was coaching. Oh no!!! He was frantically waving me on! I took a quick peek back and saw that the right fielder was just getting to the ball! I was TOTALLY gassed, but I turned it on and headed for third. OH NO!!! Now he is signaling for me to slide! I made a perfect slide to the outfield edge of the bag just a fraction of a second before the ball got there! SAFE! Billy was so excited! He was screaming "Great slide!!" I was lying there trying to get my breath back when I sudenly realized why many of the other campers wore "shorts" under their uniform pants: those were sliding pants!!!! Too late for me: I had a foot-long strawberry that took (honestly) over 6 months to heal. But I was safe!!!!!!!
Friday was our last inter-squad day before the big game against the ex-MLBers on Saturday. We were playing our last game, and were ahead 3 - 2 in the bottom of the last inning. The first man up hit a hot smash that went right through the 3rd baseman's legs. Man on first. The next guy up hit a hot smash that went right through the 3rd baseman's legs (yup!). Men on 1st and 2nd. Billy calls time out. He motions for the center fielder to come in and play 3rd base. He moves me from right to center, and moves the (former) 3rd baseman to purgatory in right field. The next batter hits a hot smash to 3rd (I am not making this up!), but the new 3rd baseman gets it and starts a nifty 5 - 4 - 3 double play! Two outs, but now the tying run is at 3rd! The next batter hits a wicked line drive over the 2nd baseman's head. I break for it, heading to my left into right field. If it drops, the game is tied...if it goes too far, the winning run might score. I am running for it...time slows down...I know the right fielder must also be zeroing in, but I am totally focused on the ball. At the last instant I reach across my body (as I am left-handed, my glove is on the right) and snare it in the webbing, knowing full well that I am about to smack violently into the right fielder. As I slow down and stop I look over and see that HE HAS NOT MOVED AN INCH FROM HIS POSITION! Whew!! Then the cheering starts! 3 outs! We win!!! Everyone is mobbing around me. Billy comes into the circle and says "Great catch, but did you ever see a better job of managing?"!! Nope...can't say that I have!
So for the week I was 9 for 26, a .346 BA. Not bad for an old guy.
Saturday...the day the campers get to play the real ballplayers. Before the game started, each camper had his (or her - yes! there was a woman camper!) picture taken with many of the pros:
As far as I can remember, this is who is in the picture: Back Row: Hickman, Aguirre, ?????, Fergie, Gene Oliver, "Campy" Campaneris (didn't play for the Cubs, but came for the big game), Beckert, Piersall (same as "Campy"). Front Row: Cardenal, Santo, Randy, ME!!!, Todd Hundley (this was when he had his best and worst years ahead of him), Billy. Click on the picture to see it in a bigger view.
Because there were 6 teams of campers, the rules for this game were slightly different. Each team got to bat 2 times, so it was a pre-planned 12 inning game! Each team would bat once through all players (more than 9 in some cases) regardless of how many "outs" were recorded (when the pros were up, they were out after 3 outs), and then play the field for the bottom of that inning. Billy's team (mine) happened to be team 6, so we were up in the top of the 6th and then again in the top of the 12th!!! So there was a lot of time sitting after the pre-game warm-up until the 6th, and then again until the 12th! The time of the game was a snappy 4:48!
Before the game started, they told us that the campers had never beaten the pros (this was the 10th anniversary of the camp). We were determined to break that streak! For a while, it looked like we would, as we were up 6 - 0 in the 3rd, and 13 - 10 after 5. Were they going easy on us? Hard to say, but in the end they won 29 - 24. Amazingly, there was only one home run - a monster shot to right by Todd Hundley.
When I finally got to bat in the 6th, guess who was on the mound? FERGIE! So I went up there and had one foot still in the dugout. I would have needed a ten-foot bat to cover the plate. Well....another weird rule they had was that there were no walks, so when he actually threw ball 4, the count started over! This time I struck out (on a nasty slider, no doubt). So.....I have something in common with Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and a couple thousand other big-leaguers: struck out by Fergie.
In the bottom of the inning, I was playing right field. Remember, this was in Arizona, so there was a high sky with lots of sun. For some reason, our left fielder decided he didn't need sun glasses. The first batter up hit a routine fly that nearly hit him on the head, and dropped in for a hit. Next batter, same fly ball only this time he had no idea where it was! Another hit. Next batter up was Jim Marshall. Since he was a lefty, I was especially ready. But since he was 62 years old I figured I'd play him a little shallow. BIG MISTAKE! He ripped a line drive right at me, but, unfortunately, about 4 feet over my head. My brain said "jump", and I did, but (remember this was after 7 days of playing), the top half of my body went up, but I don't think my feet ever left the ground! So I had to turn and chase it all the way to the back fence. Since he was so old, he decided to stop at 1st base, but the other 2 runners scored. They ended up getting 5 in that inning (one of 3 times they scored 5).
In the 12th, when I came up again, Ron Davis was pitching. He played for the Yankees and the Twins, and spent parts of 86 and 87 with the CUBS. This time I had more luck and slapped a single through the left side. But I stayed on first as the last batters on our team were retired. We held them scoreless in the bottom of the 12th (yes, we played even though they were ahead).
After the game, everyone (and spouses, etc.) went to a big, fancy banquet in the hotel to wrap up the week. Stories were told, awards were handed out, and everyone had a great time. Some of the campers had been there before (many for several different camps). But for me, it was a one-time fantasy. Being with all my "heroes", getting my Opening Day 1969 scorecard signed by many of the players who were there, and actually surviving the week and living to tell about it were memories beyond compare.
And there was something else that made it very special: a writer from Fort-Worth had signed up as a camper and told Randy that he was going to write a book about the experience (and that he would send each camper a copy when it was published). And he did!!
It is called "Sometimes A Fantasy". I believe it is out of print now, but you can get a used copy for cheap. If you can't go to Fantasy Camp (do they still have it?), this is the next best thing. And when you read it, please be sure to note the description of one of my great plays on page 262!
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