PHOENIX -- When the Packers' season ended in disappointing fashion Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, a cadre of bummed-out fans from Wisconsin and beyond gathered for a group therapy session that included music, stories, camaraderie, a taco bar, plenty of beer and lots of laughs.
It was the first official gathering of Brewers Fantasy Camp 2017, and it's only going to get better.
Not everyone in Salon A of the Holiday Inn & Suites was from Wisconsin. Campers come from across the country. Not everyone was a Packers fan. But, everyone eagerly awaited a chance to switch their attention from football on TV to baseball on the manicured diamonds of Maryvale Baseball Park.
The 14th edition of fantasy camp, directed by my good friend, Brewers TV analyst Bill Schroeder, offers middle-aged guys a golden chance to act like big-leaguers for a week of workouts and games at Maryvale Baseball Park.
Sunday's reception was introductory in nature. As beers and stories flowed freely, Schroeder took the microphone and introduced members of the coaching staff, which will included former Brewers like Cecil Cooper, Don Money, Greg Vaughn, Mike Felder, Corey Hart, Jeff Cirillo, Fernando Vina, Pete Ladd and Willie Mueller.
Ed Sedar, the Brewers' current third base coach, will be on hand for the first few days.
"It's the best week of the year," said Sedar, who sat directly behind me on the early-morning Southwest Airlines flight from Milwaukee to Phoenix.
Asked for advice, Sedar laughed and issued a directive later echoed by several returning campers, may of whom have been around for several years: "Don't try to do too much, to early," he said. "You don't want to blow out the first day!"
What prompts a bunch of mostly middle-aged guys to gather and risk injury (and embarrassment) in this makeshift fraternity every year? There are worse ways to spend a week than pulling on a big-league uniform and playing a kid's game while hanging out with ex-big-leaguers. In their mandatory introductory remarks, most of the returnees said they do it for the love of the game, the drinking, the bond with campers and coaches, the week away from winter, work and family duty and -- did I mention the post-game beers.
When my turn came, I was honest. I'm here this week because Schroeder has told me for about 10 years that he was holding a spot for me and I should come down and experience the camp. I also want to fulfill one fantasy that I've harbored for about 20 years.
I don't care if I go 0 for the week and lead the camp in errors and baserunning gaffes. I don't care if I'm ripped by clubhouse personnel (aka "Clubbie Nation") and coaches.
I just want to eat a sandwich in the Brewers' clubhouse.
I've covered parts or all of about 16 spring trainings in Arizona and the breakfast and lunch buffets are always for players only.
This week, I'm a player. It says so right above my locker.