PHOENIX -- The first day of Brewers fantasy camp is in the books, and I'm happy to report that I survived, although I'm not sure my left hamstring and I will be on speaking terms for the rest of the week.
I was tight all last week and a day of stretching, bending, swinging and standing around on baseball spikes have left me was a knifing pain just under my left buttock.
The day started with such promise.
After a jovial introductory session on Sunday night, the campers and coaches got down to business today. We boarded buses at 8:30 a.m., and arrived at Maryvale Baseball Park about 15 minutes later to find our lockers stocked with fresh uniforms, underwear, a Brewers stocking cap and some sweet Spiderz batting gloves. I've been in that clubhouse many times when big-league players report for the first day of camp and -- other than the age and physical condition of the participants -- it didn't seem much different.
Brewers equipment manager Jason Shawger, along with Phil Rozewicz, who manages the visiting clubhouse at Miller Park, and Matt Smith, who handles the Brewers' team travel and clubhouse operations, treat out-of-shape radio guys and overweight accountants like they are five-time all-stars.
After a few swings in the batting cage and remarks by camp director Bill Schroeder, Shawger and veteran camper Mike "Grasshopper" Martin, who gave details on the upcoming Kangaroo Court, we hit the field for stretching under the direction of Jeff Paxson, head athletic trainer for the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. After playing catch for a few minutes, we broke into groups and went through instructional stations -- pitching, baserunning, catching, outfield, infield and hitting -- with tutelage from coaches Jerry Augustine, Chuck Crim, Pete Ladd, Mike Felder, Jeff Cirillo, Rick Sweet, Willie Mueller, Ed Sedar, Corey Hart, Fernando Vina, Don Money, Cecil Cooper and Greg Vaughn.
After a round of batting practice (against pitching machines), we broke for lunch. I’ve mentioned before, that after nearly 20 years of standing in the Brewers’ spring training clubhouse, it was a thrill for me to be able to eat for the first time. The clubhouse guys and Paxson thought that was hilarious. Lunch was delicious, by the way: grilled chicken breasts, rice, soup, salad. It was terrific.
After lunch, we headed back outside to play a couple “evaluation” games. It was a modified game, again with a pitching machine, and coaches walking around looking for guys who could hit and field to “draft” for their teams later in the day. The format was loose, to say the least. Players
We were midway through the second game when the dark clouds encircling the field for most of the day began to shower us with a drizzle. As the balls got wet, they began to squirt a bit out of the pitching machines, taking unpredictable routes to the plate. With the fields getting wetter and rain intensifying, Schroeder sent everybody to the clubhouse early.
My hamstring didn’t mind. My rusty hack of a swing, hampered by the hammy, produced a fielder’s choice, some ugly misses and a single to left field. I did manage to hobble around the bases to score two runs. I also caught the only flyball hit my way, but only because it was hit directly to me.
Upon returning to the hotel, we gathered in the ballroom/happy hour headquarters, where we found our team assignments. I landed on the team managed by Jerry Augustine and Pete Ladd, an outfit dotted with camp veterans that Ladd bestowed with the craziest sports name in history: STVM (Sex Toy Vending Machine). My buddy, Mark Clark, the infamous “Clarkie” or “America’s Guest” from “Bob & Brian in the Morning,” ended up on a team coached by Cirillo and Vina. It was later dubbed, “One Beer, One Water.”
The rest of the team names will be decided on Tuesday, which is when the first games will take place.
Some of the campers here are really pumped about the mini-tournament to come. Others, like me, are simply hoping to survive unscathed.
The author works at turning a double play. (Photo: Rick Ramirez, Brewers fantasy camp)