During the first week of November I participated in one of the greatest experiences of my life. I went on a baseball fantasy camp.
I decided to write this post describing my experience, so that I can record my memories, and share the details and photos with my friends and family. The trip was just too good to not share!!
As there is so much to describe, I’ve separated the post into Parts, so the reader may come back to the post later.
The Alomar Sports photos were brilliantly taken by Natalie Goldfinger-Levy (copyright). All other photos are mine.
So, let me explain how this all came about, and what unfolded …
Part I – What’s a fantasy camp?
A few months back, my friend Scott mentioned that he was planning on attending the New York Yankees Fantasy Camp in 2020. “What’s a fantasy camp??”, I asked! Scott explained that the camp is a week long adventure to Florida to play baseball with other old guys and a bunch of Yankees World Series winners and Hall of Fame legends.
Sounds like a great idea, right? Pretty much a bucket list item for the serious baseball fan!
I’ve been a long time Toronto Blue Jays fan, and wondered whether they held such camps. I searched the web for a Jays fantasy camp, and quickly discovered that one was being held in Florida in November!
After much consideration and discussion with my family, I decided to register for the camp. A few emails were exchanged with the organisers, the deposit paid, and everything rolled from there.
The camp was run by Alomar Sports, a company established by Blue Jays great, Roberto Alomar. He, his staff, and his friends and former teammates work to provide unique and memorable experiences for die-hard baseball fans. Roberto also runs a charity, ‘Foundation 12’, that serves youth baseballers in Canada by providing financial assistance, program support and educational opportunities.
The Alomar Sports website described the camp as the ultimate baseball experience:
“Join us in Tampa, Florida where you will suit up in an official Blue Jays uniform and spend the week with some Blue Jays legends! This fun filled week in Florida will create both memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Live out your childhood dream and experience life in the ‘Big Leagues’.”
Ok, you’ve sold me!
The sweetener of course was the list of Blue Jays alumni that were to attend the camp:
Roberto Alomar, JP Arencibia, George Bell, Pat Borders, Cito Gaston, Candy Maldonado, Buck Martinez, Lloyd Moseby, Ricky Romero, Tanyon Sturtze, Pat Tabler, Duane Ward and Devon White. Sandy Alomar Sr also attended.
Are you kidding me?! That’s a monster collection of names. Robbie is in the Hall of Fame. Six of them played in the World Series winning teams of 1992 and 1993, along with the team manager!
Ok, I’m in! Take my money!!
Part II – Getting to Florida
I quickly organised the logistics of getting to Tampa in Florida. A 15 hour flight from Sydney to Houston, a four hour layover, then a three hour flight to Tampa. The return trip would be via San Francisco. All flights on United. Quickest way there, and good value. Sorted!
However, the best laid plans …
Getting ready to board at Houston, an announcement informed us that there would be a delay as something on the aircraft needed to be fixed. Four delays later, the plane is towed away. Not to worry, a replacement was dragged up to the gate quick smart. However, going by the livery that was five iterations ago, the plane was estimated to be 36 years old! There were jokes flying around about having to read the manual (congratulations on your purchase of an Airbus A320!), wind up the elastic band, hand crank everything, etc. Despite the aircraft’s age it got up in the air and landed safely in Tampa.
I arrived late into Tampa and took a shuttle over to the beach resort area of Clearwater where the campers were staying together. I arrived at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater at around midnight on the Saturday night. The first function of the fantasy camp was dinner on the Sunday evening, so I had all day Sunday to go for a couple of long walks, see some sights, and generally recover from the flights. I adjusted to the time zone immediately.
Part III – Let’s get it started!
During the late afternoon on the Sunday I met the staff from Alomar Sports and collected various bits and pieces required for the week. Great to be able to put faces to names!
A bit after 6.00pm I wandered down the street with a few of the staff and some campers to the Marina Cantina for the welcome dinner. Ok, now I was starting to get nervous!
I didn’t fly for a million hours in a metal tube to just stand at the side, so I jumped in and spoke to lots of people. Many new campers were there, but it was also evident that there were quite a few returning campers, given the familiarity on display. I was a little overwhelmed and in awe of the Blue Jays greats.
I was one of two Australians on the camp. It was the first time in the five years the camp has been held that an Australian has come for the week, and there happened to be two. Mark is from the Sunshine coast. Just about every camper we spoke to was blown away by the fact that we had come so far for the camp.
One returning camper reassured me that I was going to have the time of my life. He said it’s all about having a good time. He pointed around the rooftop area at all of the campers, alumni, and staff and said “one thing I can guarantee, there are no arseholes here”. This brought a big laugh from the group and I took him at his word.
There were 67 players in camp (66 guys and one woman), ranging in age from 32 to 76. Being a Toronto Blue Jays camp, most participants were Canadian. There were a few people from around the US, and of course there were the two Aussies.
There were quite a few families present, including a few father and sons groups, a pair of brothers and a trio of brothers.
I’ll make special mention here of two campers, John and Steve, who have been attending such camps with various clubs for 27 years!! A brilliant way to spend your retirement! Their daughters were at the camp too; they became great friends as they’ve travelled to the camps with their dads.
Part IV – The first morning
After a leisurely breakfast and more conversations with campers, we boarded the coach for the 40 minute ride into Tampa. I guess it might seem odd to stay so far away from the playing facility, however the beach side accommodation was ideal as a base for the group, with plenty of high quality eateries nearby. The bus rides also gave us time to relax, chat and get to know each other.
The camp was held at the New York Yankees minor league training complex in north Tampa. The Toronto Blue Jays facility at nearby Dunedin was unavailable for the camp due to renovation works. So you’ll see Yankees signage and logos all throughout the photos, but just ignore that!
The grab from Google Maps below shows the Yankees main complex, Steinbrenner Field at top left, with the second training complex at bottom right. It’s only about 1.3km between the two facilities, as the Blue Jay flies. In between is Raymond James Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
We stepped off the bus and walked in through the front door of the training complex. I followed my fellow campers into the clubhouse and my eye quickly located my locker. It was such a thrilling experience to see my name up there, and see my uniform on the hangers. At this point, I was just an excited little kid!
I quickly unpacked the few things we were required to bring, including glove, cleats, batting gloves and protector. We were then given our caps.
The uniform pack ended up consisting of 13 pieces: a kit bag, white home jersey, blue alternate home jersey, cap, long-sleeve undershirt, short-sleeve undershirt, white pants, blue socks, blue belt, lightweight hoodie, t-shirt, polo shirt, shorts. The kit bag, hoodie and polo feature the fantasy camp logo. All other gear is genuine on-field gear worn by Blue Jays players.
The most intriguing, and ultimately very useful, item in my locker was the laundry loop (pictured below). Our uniforms were washed at the end of each day. You use the loop to wash shorts, t-shirts and underwear by feeding the strap through the clothing and clipping shut. Socks were fed into the the black loop and held firm with the clasp. My locker number, 86, is written on the loop, so the club staff know who the owner is. Each day, the uniform items were all freshly laundered and hanging in the locker ready to be worn again! There was even a washing load done in the middle of the day in between games if you wanted stuff cleaned. Apparently a seven minute wash cycle. And the whites come out perfectly clean each time!
The clubhouse had everything a player could need, big tubs of bottled water on ice, extra breakfast foods and coffee, toiletries and towels. An iPad mounted on the wall allowed you to choose music from Spotify to play through the sound system.
Directly behind my row of lockers was the trainers area. Three trainers/physios were available to provide preventative treatments such as strapping and massage, and were at the fields during games to treat any injuries.
We had ample time to sort through our gear and get changed, and then our coaches started to appear. Rob, the CEO of Alomar Sports, introduced the coaches, trainers and clubhouse staff, and gave us a rundown of the day’s activities.
Sandy Alomar Sr (L) and Buck Martinez (R) led the way from the clubhouse to the diamonds.
Part V – Skills assessment
The first session of the day consisted of skills assessment drills across five stations: throwing, ground balls, fly balls, infield play, hitting.
The campers first warmed up as a group, led by head trainer Tommy Craig. Tommy is a club legend, spending many years with the Blue Jays including the 1992 and 1993 World Series years.
After warm up, John Hashimoto (lead instructor with the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Academy), split us into groups and outlined what we would be doing. John looked after the game draws and stats for the camp.
I was in the group that started with ground balls. I lined up at second base and did my best. I was kind of shaking in my shoes because Robbie Alomar was hitting balls to me. Totally in awe. I booted the first one of course!
Next, it was over to the throwing station with Tanyon Sturtze (left) and Duane Ward (centre).
The third station was outfield work with two World Series champs, Devon White and Candy Maldonado
A favourite photo below of Devo watching one sail, as Candy is about to make contact! Just prior to hitting the fly balls, Devo shouted “Y’all better back up, I’ve got some pop!”
The fourth station was defensive work, fielding at third and turning two.
The last station was indoors in the air-conditioned batting tunnels. I had George Bell flipping to me! Each camper got 25-30 balls to hit.
The skills assessment session wrapped up and we headed back to the clubhouse for lunch.
During the lunch break, the coaches met to split the playing group into six teams. Apparently in the past there was a fair bit of negotiation as to which players went where, particularly concerning those returning campers that the coaches are familiar with. Players were drafted into teams, with the draft order determined by drawing team names from a cup. The end result is supposedly six reasonably even teams!
A short video of the draft process is here.
Part VI – The first game
So, I landed on the team managed by JP Arencibia and Devon White! To be honest, I figured it didn’t matter which team I ended up on, I was going to have a great time.
The photo below shows Devo and JP working out a starting lineup for game one, in which we played against the team managed by Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler (known as the SportsNet team). We were the away team, in blue jerseys. The coaches always wore the blue.
We celebrated an 11-4 win from game one. L-R: Patrick, Mark, me, Tal, JP, Jonathan, John, Graydon.
And, L-R: Andy, Graydon, Edwin, Jonathan, Devo.
I was quite nervous during the first game and went hitless. However, I felt great afterwards, a little more relaxed (yet no less excited) and confident about playing better the next day.
The weather was very warm (29 degree Celcius) and humid (about 75%) which meant we all smashed in the fluids to stay hydrated.
After a few beers, a shower and change of clothes, we piled onto the buses for the very short drive around the corner to Steinbrenner Field for dinner at the Bullpen Club.
I couldn’t get over the size of the stadium. This is just the spring training facility!!
Below is one of my favourite photos from the trip, a shot with Devon White, my new friend and team manager. Such a delightful human. Oh, and he’s got three World Series rings, seven Gold Gloves and was an All Star three times. Dead set legend.
I had to go a long way to find a decent beer while on camp. So much Budweiser and Bud Light. Most American beers are just ordinary, in my beer snob opinion. Of the 15 or so beers available at this venue, there was just one pale ale (below). It wasn’t too bad either. I think I need a three month trip visiting the micro breweries of Oregon.
The bus ride back to Clearwater was awesome. Lots of conversations about the day, the skills assessment, the first game under our belts, and getting to know and work with the Blue Jays alumni. A very exciting day, and something I will never forget.
Part VII – Day two begins
As per day one, we began with breakfast and a leisurely bus ride to the fields. I tried to sit with/behind/in front of someone different on each bus ride for the rest of the week so I could simply meet more campers and chat about our experiences.
We quickly checked the day’s schedule to see whether we were the home or away team for the day’s games and dressed in the appropriate jersey. The stats from game one were also posted on the wall.
Below, a photo of my new friend, Mark Price, from the Sunshine Coast. The players were allocated lockers in alphabetical order, so Mark was just three lockers from me. Two Australians, the first to ever attend a Blue Jays camp, flew to the other side of the world to a) sit six feet from each other, and b) play on the same team! Mark was a lovely guy and played very well during the camp.
A video about campers travelling from far and wide, featuring Mark and I, is here.
Another new friend, Anthony Kolozetti, all set to go. Oh, and those boxes on the bottom left of the photo? They are goon bags of coffee!!
Part VIII – Court is in session!
A part of camp that everyone looks forward to: Kangaroo Court.
Court is presided over by Judge Sturtze, with Judge Alomar overseeing proceedings. Court sessions are held on three mornings of the camp, and deal with indiscretions from the previous day’s games and activities. All campers, coaches and staff are present for court. Many campers look quite nervous!
A short sample of a court session from the camp is here.
Court works so well, and is incredibly amusing, thanks to the involvement of Tanyon Sturtze, a larger than life character with a wicked, coarse sense of humour and lightning speed comebacks. I get the feeling that it wouldn’t quite be the same without Tanyon on the ‘bench’.
When I began preparing for the camp, I made the decision to present Tanyon and Robbie with gifts at court. Perhaps something uniquely Australian that would be good for a laugh.
On the morning of the first court session, I sat, somewhat nervously, and waited until the last camper had been fined. I stood and asked to approach the bench. It went a little something like this:
“I have a gift to present to you” I said as I approached Tanyon in the middle of the floor, items in hand.
“I want to present you with something uniquely Australian. These are coin purses, you can keep coins in them or perhaps collect the notes from the fines here at court. Being a ‘Kangaroo Court’ these gifts are kangaroo-related. I have one for you, Tanyon, and one for Coach Robbie”.
I quickly handed the gifts over, explaining that “each of these purses is unique, each one is made from an individual kangaroo scrotum”.
Well, the room just broke into much laughter and applause!! I walked back to my seat, receiving high fives and fist bumps along the way. For quite a few moments, Tanyon was floored, silent. It might have been the first time that he did not have an instant witty one liner. It didn’t take him too long though as he came up with some suitably crude but hysterical comments.
The two photos below show the reactions of Tanyon and Robbie after receiving their gifts.
During the rest of the day, many campers came up to me and congratulated me on doing something so amusing for court. It truly was a very funny moment that I won’t forget. This Australian had made an impact!
Later during the warm up prior to the first game of the day, Tanyon came up to me and quietly thanked me for the gift. I think he was genuinely touched.
Part IX – Games two and three
Game two was against the team managed by Cito Gaston and Lloyd Moseby.
Just a quick explanation about how pitching and catching worked for the games. If a team had a pitcher then he could pitch and normal rules would apply (e.g. if he walked a batter). If the team had no pitcher, then one of the Blue Jays staff would pitch, and to both teams. If the staff pitcher threw four balls, the batter’s count started again. We were there to hit, not walk! The same situation applied for catchers, with a couple of club guys available to catch games if a team had no experienced catcher.
Our game two pitcher was Dave Pano, an assistant coach with the Lansing Lugnuts, the level A minor league team in the Blue Jays organisation. I wanted to include this great photo of Dave to give you an idea of what sort of arm you end up with when you throw baseballs for a living. Dave’s right arm essentially has hams for biceps and triceps!! His shirt sleeve can’t even get down over that muscle.
With the game underway, it was time for my first at-bat, hitting in the five hole. A few action shots follow. I’m wearing my son’s batting gloves, which are Franklin brand gloves made for Team Australia in the recent World Baseball Classic. Surely they had to bring me good fortune.
After the game, JP said I’d earned Player of the Game honours, getting two hits from three at-bats, three runs batted in, and a run scored, in a 6-2 win. I also played four defensive digs at left field.
It was the first time ever that I’d worn the high socks (on my friend Scott’s recommendation!), so that must have helped! I stuck with them for every other game.
At the end of the camp we had the opportunity to keep a lineup card from the week. I grabbed the game two card, which JP and Devo signed for me.
Immediately after the game, Natalie took our official team photo, and individual photos with our coaches.
I love our team photo! Standing, L-R: Devo, Mitch, Graydon, Chris, John, me, Edwin, JP. Kneeling, L-R: Jonathan, Andy, Mark, Tal, Russell, Patrick.
Devo, me and JP.
Game three in the afternoon was against the team managed by Duane Ward, Pat Borders and Candy Maldonado. It was another convincing win, giving our team a 3-0 record!
John and I (below) polishing the bench waiting for game three.
It was a quiet trip back to Clearwater on the bus, after a tiring, yet exciting and fun-filled day.
Part X – An evening off
There were no scheduled camp activities on the evening of day two. This gave many people a chance to rest. Some campers went out for dinner with their team, a few guys went to a show, and many had an early, quiet night.
I went out with my new friends Anthony and Alan for an excellent meal at a small restaurant in Clearwater. The place was called Pearly’s Beach Eats. I had done a little research on some of the restaurants prior to arriving in Clearwater. I wanted to find a small, intimate place with home cooked food. Pearly’s was just the ticket.
Set under palms and hidden from the street by shrubs, Pearly’s eating area is outdoors, with salvaged wood and old surfboards for tables, and an eclectic collection of chairs. The restaurant itself looks like a little old weatherboard house. Inside, they create the most delicious ‘Gulf Coast Grub’ including tacos, burritos, baja bowls, burgers and sandwiches.
I tried a few of the items on the menu that are staff and customer favourites, the Cuban sandwich and the fish tacos. Also consumed with delight were the pork and chicken tacos.
Confession time! I actually ate the tacos shown above for lunch on the first day I was in town prior to camp!!
Anthony and Alan tried burgers and other bits and pieces, which were all equally delicious. We had found a brilliant little place to relax and enjoy tasty food.
We also indulged in long conversations about all sorts of things. Of particular interest to both was just how the sport of Australian Rules football works! Anthony had studied in Australia about 25 years ago, so he had seen the sport and had a vague idea, but Alan needed the ‘Aussie Rules 101’ briefing! More than happy to promote our game! Despite the in depth discussions, we weren’t up for a late night so we wandered back to the hotel and turned in.
Now, while I’m on the topic of food, I must congratulate the camp organisers for the selection of restaurants that we ate at as a group.
The Marina Cantina, the Bullpen Club, Crabby’s Bar and Grill and the Island Way Grill each provided very tasty food, delivered with impeccable service. Each place was very comfortable and catered well to our large group.
In addition, the lunches provided in the clubhouse at the Yankees facility were simply outstanding. Lots of variation in menu over four days and the food was beautiful. Thank you for introducing me to ropa vieja!!
I didn’t take anywhere enough photos of food, which is most unlike me. I guess the conversations with my fellow campers fully occupied me!
Part XI – “All rise!”
After we arrived at the clubhouse for day three and got suited up, the day’s activities kicked off with the second session of court.
The photo below, taken by Natalie as court commenced, shows a few important people that I wanted to recognise.
Second from the right, with his arms folded, is Luis Hurtado. He is the manager of the Bluefield Blue Jays, the organisation’s Rookie Ball level minor league team. He is discussed further below in this story.
Next to Luis, holding his cap, is Dave Pano. I talked about Dave in an earlier part of this story.
Behind Robbie is Jimmy Tipton, also known as ‘The Liaison’. An integral part of the fantasy camp staff!
The guy in the grey hoodie deserves special mention. That’s Kevin Malloy, a 38-year veteran clubhouse manager with the Blue Jays. He did an amazing job looking after us on the camp. Absolutely everything was as major leaguers would expect, and nothing was too much trouble. He was an unwell man in 2018, but is now in great shape. It was an honour to meet him and chat with him over dinner.
Court got underway, and as usual it was hysterical! Just so much fun!
In the photo below, Tanyon points out the camp logo on the floor. One camper was fined for walking across the logo on the way up to be tried for something else, and fined AGAIN, for stepping on it on the way back to his seat!!
Part XII – Smile for the camera
After court, the campers quickly warmed up as a group, and then moved to the centre of the field for the group photo. All alumni, campers and staff were in the shot.
Just another little, hopefully interesting, side note. I’ve been watching and studying birds for about 30 years. This trip was my first time in north America, so all of the local birds were new to me. I saw my first Blue Jay on the first day in Clearwater, not too far from our hotel. I quickly picked up on its call. In the photo below, you can see the trees outside the centrefield fence. I heard a couple of Blue Jays calling from those trees when the photo was taken, and at other times during our games. I wonder whether any of the Blue Jays alumni and campers knew that the iconic team logo bird was calling right there and then …
As the whole group dispersed and went off to their games, George Bell came and grabbed me and excitedly said:
“Hey, I want a photo with the Aussies, you and Mark! C’mon Cito, Devo, get in here. Ok, everybody thumbs up!”
When a legend asks for a photo, you humbly oblige!
I spent the next five or ten minutes talking with Cito about Australian baseball, and Australians in the majors and minors. He remembered Dave Nilsson as being the first Aussie in an All Star Game, but didn’t realise Dave had recently won a fourth straight Australian Baseball League championship with Brisbane and is manager of Team Australia.
I enjoyed talking with Cito so much. I was a little in awe though, given the man’s achievements, but, like the other alumni, he was a very open and approachable guy. I was so distracted after our conversation I forgot which field I was supposed to be playing on!
Below is an excellent photo of the alumni taken by Natalie the previous day. Importantly, it features the three training staff that looked after us at the camp. Tommy Craig (standing at left) got a mention earlier. Troy Hoffert (kneeling) has spent the last 27 years as a minor league athletic trainer with the Philadelphia Phillies. Shawn McDermott (standing at right) spent 14 years as a minor league athletic trainer with the Blue Jays. These three guys performed many minor miracles to get a bunch of old guys game ready each day. I’m particularly grateful to Shawn for treating my messy left hamstring on the third morning!!
Below, the Alomar Sports staff that make it all happen! Standing with Robbie and the ‘The Liaison’ are (L-R) Craig Nyman, Jon Cram, Rob Jack and Holly Gentemann. Robbie and his staff organised a superb camp.
Part XIII – Games four and five
Game four was against the team managed by Robbie Alomar, Ricky Romero, and Sandy Alomar Sr.
For this game, coach Ricky Romero decided to pitch two innings for his team. I led off the second inning and was given the option of facing a club pitcher. I replied “I’m here to take every opportunity given to me so I’ll face Ricky”. He’d already pitched the first so I added that ” … he’s looking tired!” which drew a few laughs.
Once again, I was shaking in my shoes! Not only was I facing a former major leaguer, but he was throwing heat! It was probably only 75mph changeups, but they felt like 95mph fastballs coming at me. I did well to foul off a couple of pitches. I think the sequence was ball, swinging strike, foul, ball, foul, swinging strike. At least I made him throw more than three pitches!!
I mentioned Luis Hurtado in an earlier part in this story. Luis was the catcher working with Ricky when he pitched. A very friendly guy, he was genuinely excited for me when I did so well against the former big league pitcher! There were pats on the back and high fives. Everyone that faced Ricky got lots of cheering and support from our team mates and spectators.
Unfortunately, no photos of me at the plate, but I’ve included some action shots of my team mates up against the former All Star lefty.
It was during game four that I realised just how competitive and serious about winning the coaches were. I saw argued calls and a bit of frustration creep in. I kept reminding myself that the alumni were so successful because they played hard. All. The. Time.
To give you an example of such competitiveness, Coach Robbie intentionally walked one of our better hitters. I didn’t think I’d ever see such a risky strategic move in a camp like this. The game was on the line, and thanks to some great defense, they got out of the inning.
However, despite the very tight game, the Arencibia-White team prevailed for our fourth win! It was almost a surreal experience shaking Robbie’s hand and getting a hug at the end of the game.
Game five was against the team managed by George Bell and Tanyon Sturtze. The battle of two teams sitting at 4-0 on the standings.
Unfortunately, it was our worst game. A few errors, lack of concentration, and perhaps a bit of fatigue all led to a poor performance. A few of us figured that at least we got our rubbish game out of the way and didn’t save it for the finals!
It was during the fourth and fifth games that sledging became apparent too. I guess it’s called trash talk in north America. Most of it was light-hearted banter, but some of it was a bit more serious, designed to distract or break the concentration of individuals. I know the practice is prevalent in cricket, but hadn’t picked up on its use in baseball (yes, we do it in our local games at home!). I did observe however, that most of the sledging was directed at guys that could handle it and were able to dish it back.
Part XIV – A visitor
Blue Jays great, Jose Bautista, dropped in to the field to say hi. He was a little distracting for the players in one game that was still in progress. However, when someone like Jose walks in, apparently it’s tools down and time for photos and autographs.
My game had just finished so I had ample opportunity for Jose to come and say hi to me! They say you should never meet your heroes … but I think Jose wasn’t too overawed by the experience!
Part XV – Dinner
Dinner on the third day was at a fabulous restaurant near the hotel, right on the beach front. I’ve included below a few photos of our group enjoying each other’s company.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Duane Ward over dinner. A great guy, and full of stories. Just another member of the alumni that was open, friendly and interactive.
Brian is a returning camper. The dedication these guys show is truly remarkable. A couple of guys have Blue Jays tattoos that feature the years they have attended camps. The guys that have been on winning teams at camp have had Championship rings made! Brian was wearing his at dinner (photo below).
Part XVI – Day four begins
On arrival at the fields I took a video to show what it was like to walk into the building and into the clubhouse. As I explained earlier, this walk on day one was thrilling beyond belief, I was an excited little kid.
Holly and Craig from Alomar Sports held the front doors open, and clubhouse assistant Freddy Medina welcomed us into the room one by one. Mark is wearing his Queensland State of Origin maroon jersey!
Upon reaching our lockers we discovered that each camper had been given a monogrammed commemorative bat!
Immediately after court, and prior to heading out for the first game, the 14 alumni signed everyone’s bats (and various other balls, jerseys, etc.)
Part XVII – Last court session
Just a few photos from another hilarious court session.
Not sure what the reason was, but this camper turned up late for the day, just as court started! Oops!!
Another of the staff pitchers, former major leaguer Jesse Litsch (below, centre), joined Sandy and Devo on the couch for court.
Did someone wear a black Yankees helmet on the field??
Part XVIII – The semi final
The following morning at home would be my son’s 15th birthday. It was the first time I have not been there to celebrate his birthday with him. To make up for that somehow, I got him some of the excess camp clothing like shorts, a t-shirt and a cap. A ball signed by Robbie helped a fair bit too! In addition, I humbly and politely asked my two coaches and Coach Ward if they would be able to say happy birthday to my son in a short video message. The three alumni were so obliging and recorded lovely birthday greeting messages for my boy. He nearly burst out of his skin when he received the messages. Thank you so much to JP, Devo and Duane for doing something so simple to make a young man (and his old man) very happy!
The last warm up of the camp was highly amusing, for reasons that have to stay in camp. Couple of photos below.
Ok, semi-final time! We were up against Martinez and Tabler. We were the second seed, so suited up in home white jerseys.
Day four was the hottest day of the camp at 31 degrees, still with very high humidity.
Part XIX – The Championship game
As expected, Bell and Sturtze won the other semi, so the Championship game would be a rematch of our game five. We aimed to come out winners this time!
With the SportsNet team out of contention, Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler turned their attention to game commentary! They called the first two innings of the Championship game over the PA system. It was highly entertaining, as they talked about highlights of the games so far, mentioned a few stats, and said something amusing about each player as they came to the plate. It brought a huge smile to my face as I came up to the plate the first time!
Below, a shot of our team chat prior to the game starting.
A few action shots of the Championship game.
The Bell and Sturtze team took out the Championship game, 2-1. Coach Bell wore most of the bucket of water!
Great photo of Jordan and I, as the teams shook hands and embraced.
Winners are grinners!
After the on field celebrations concluded we all made our way to the clubhouse to enjoy one or more celebratory beers. Then it was time to have a shower, get changed, clean out our lockers and pack our gear.
While we were changing and packing, I got each member of my team to sign a ball that we had used in the championship game. Another treasured souvenir from camp!
Part XX – Presentation dinner
Dinner on the last evening of camp was a presentation, with individual awards, lots of thank-yous and some short speeches.
Awards given out to campers were pretty standard: MVP, Silver Slugger, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year. The most unusual and amusing award was the Low Maintenance Award, given to the least troublesome camper!
Buck and Pat won Coaches of the Year.
Diana won Rookie of the Year. The ball, signed by her coaches, was from her first hit, an RBI double.
The coaches from each team got up to say a few words and announce their team MVP
A couple of personal photos. Buck and Pat, the SportsNet commentators for the Blue Jays are special to me. I can’t get to Blue Jays games. These guys bring the Blue Jays into my living room every game during the season. It was so good to be able to talk with them often.
Absolutely had to get a shot with Ricky Romero after I had the good fortune of facing him on the diamond! A fabulous human.
And lastly, another team shot (although John and Edwin are missing).
To finish off the presentation, each of the jerseys worn by the alumni during the week were silent auctioned. I am the proud owner of Duane Ward’s jersey!
Part XXI – Time to go …
I spent a great deal of time over breakfast talking to my fellow campers before we went our separate ways. I said many goodbyes. Many of us went away with a collection of email addresses so we could keep in touch. Lots of us connected on Instagram and other social media.
The bus taking campers to the airport was due to leave at 11.00am. I got picked up at 10.00am and went birdwatching for the next two days with the president of the Tampa Audubon Society!
Time for a little reflection. This camp experience has meant so much to me. You see, I’ve had a bit of a rough year. I retired in June because of my Parkinson’s, and the associated stress and anxiety that goes along with that was very difficult. Then I had surgery to remove my gallbladder! But life has improved dramatically. I feel better and can still do so much, and plan on doing so for many years to come. And I think I demonstrated at camp that I can still function reasonably well physically and as a baseballer. I’m contemplating returning to playing at home.
Fatigue did start to catch up with me though, which is bound to happen to anyone that’s played seven games in four days. I knew I’d be emptying the tank on that last day of camp, and that I would pay for that the following day or two (or ten!). I was so pleased to receive such positive comments and feedback from my teammates and coaches, and I’m sure they were apprehensive and did not know what to expect from me on day one. To be called the “toughest guy in the camp” was a true honour.
My heartfelt thanks again to my good friend, teammate and fellow coach, Scotty. He accidentally planted the seed in my mind. And I went and stole his thunder by going to camp first! I’m truly hoping the Yankees and Blue Jays camps in November 2020 coincide like they have done in the past so we can play against each other!
I would like to finish this story by thanking everyone involved in bringing the camp together, the staff, alumni, campers, umpires, scorers, drivers. Just everybody! The whole experience from start to finish was truly exceptional. I just completed the feedback survey today (29 November) and found it very difficult to pick holes in anything. I rated all aspects of the camp as excellent. It was perfect. Flawless.
If you are a passionate baseball fan, consider taking part in this sort of experience. You will not be disappointed.
Thank you for reading!