Got a beat-up glove, a homemade bat and brand-new pair of shoes? You know I think it’s time to give this game a ride. Just to hit the ball and touch ‘em all –– a moment in the sun; it’s gone and you can tell that one goodbye!
I have always dreamed of playing baseball in the big leagues. For one nostalgic week, I got a chance to realize my dream. In January, I traveled to Clearwater, Florida, along with my good friends, Michael and Jeff, to the Philadelphia Phillies Fantasy Camp. For one week, we played on the fields and dressed in the locker rooms that were used by Phillies greats such as Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, and Mike Schmidt. Every time I entered the locker room and put on the Phillies uniform, I felt like Shoeless Joe Jackson in the movie “Field of Dreams.” I kept asking myself, “Is this heaven?”
For those who are unfamiliar with what baseball fantasy camp is, fantasy camp is an opportunity for the average baseball fan to rub elbows with some of their childhood or adult heroes. It’s a chance to spend a week playing baseball with your favorite team or sports personalities in great facilities. Your playing level does not matter as much as your desire to have a good time.
Getting the opportunity to play alongside some of your childhood and adult heroes was absolutely fabulous, but I will most remember the people I met and played alongside for the one memorable week. Regardless of age, running ability, arm strength, or bat speed, 140 fantasy campers were united in their love of the game of baseball and our fantasy of being kids again.
I had the most respect for the retirees who made the pilgrimage to Clearwater. People like 68-year-old Ed, a retiree from Arizona, and former Philadelphian. At the end of the camp, Ed could barely move. Regardless, Ed was living his fantasy and having a great time just being out on the field playing with other campers, some of whom were 30 years younger. However, I most remember Ed for asking me on the first day of camp whether I knew Leonard Rothkoff, my father. My father, who died 10 years ago at the age of 56, taught me to love the great game of baseball. Ed and my dad went to Temple University Pharmacy School together. I immediately felt a kinship with Ed, as if Ed was there, at that very moment, for simply more than his own fantasy.
Or 71-year-old Charlie “Shoehorn,” a teammate of mine on our team, the Mudhens. Baseball is known for individuals with colorful nicknames, and Charlie is one of them. On the first day of camp, Charlie was wondering why his foot hurt him so much. After playing in his cleats all day, he finally figured out the reason –– he had a shoehorn in one of his cleats. Like Ed, Shoehorn could not run. Regardless, he was there, sore foot and all, due to the love of the game.
Forty-two-year-old Chuck was a teammate and the most valuable player on the Mudhens, the worst of 10 teams at camp, with a 0 -7 record during the week. With all due respect to Chuck, being the MVP on the Mudhens was equivalent to Richie Ashburn being the MVP of the 1962 New York Mets, arguably the worst team in Major League history. Chuck’s wife and sister, the Mudhen’s lone cheering section, accompanied Chuck to Clearwater. I met all three approximately a year earlier when I represented their grandmother, whom they were struggling to care for in their home. We instantly bonded, talking about baseball and the Phillies.
Regardless of your age, you are never too old to have fun and attempt to be a kid again. In January, 140 of us did so on the ball fields of Clearwater, Florida. You can live your fantasy any way you choose.
As if by fate, fantasy camp ended on January 28, 2007, on what would have been my dad’s 67th birthday. It was a great day to end a week of pure fantasy.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Al Lynch, who died on March 19, 2007. Al was a longtime scout for the New York Mets and several other Major League teams. May Al be remembered for his gentleman ways, his love of family, and his great contribution to the game of baseball.