Saturday, January 27, 2007

Day Five Continued - Taking the Mound

I write this post on Saturday morning, a full four days after taking the mound against the pros. Reentering the real world hasn't been as easy as I thought it would. In any free moment, I play the tapes of our games in my head. Sometimes I replay the good plays, but just as often I go over what I might have done differently.

I played a lot of third base this week, and it took a good four or five games to work through the fear - between the ball screaming at you and the long throw (and my previously mentioned tendency to invoke Mackey Sasser), it can be a long day out there. The worst is when you make a nice pick and then throw it away, and I did that a couple of times. My favorite defensive play came while pitching - I came off the mound during the no-hitter to field a little dribbler down the line and made a strong throw to first to just get the runner. That was fun, although my thighs are still mad at me about that one.

So on to the pro game. My inning of pitching during the pro game is one that I've played over in my head many times this week because it was so damn much fun.

Tradition Field

In the twenty some odd years they've been doing Mets Fantasy Camp, the pros have played something like four hundred three inning games against the campers, and their record is like the Harlem Globetrotters' - 395-3 or something crazy like that. The realistic goal in the pro game is to emerge with your pride, although a win would be nice.

My immediate goal was to emerge with two arms of relatively equal length. You could practically see my pitching arm throbbing, but I was going to go in and tough it out. I had been thinking about pitching in the pro game for over a year now, and I wasn't going to let a sore arm ruin that.

So I took the mound and Doug Flynn dug in. A word here about Doug Flynn - this guy, who came over in the Tom Seaver trade, is just an amazing guy. I used to love to watch him play second base as a kid, and it was a thrill to meet him. But like many of the pros here, what stands out is the guy's limitless generosity. Ask him a question on the way to the field, and he'll stop for ten minutes to answer it. He just seemed genuinely pleased to be there - he always had a smile on his face, he'd sign anything you put in front of him, and he really, really knows the game. And as Bobby Wine's assistant on the kangaroo court, he was hilariously funny.

So there I am standing in pitching against Doug Flynn, THE Doug Flynn. I was pretty much reduced to throwing sliders because I could no longer locate my fastball, and besides, these guys would hit my fastball back into the locker room. So I threw slider after slider as near to the outside corner as I could, and Dougie reached out at one of them and grounded easily to Chris Berlingo, who made a nifty play at short.

Then Tim Bogar stepped in and also hit a playable infield grounder, but he reached on an error. No matter. Art Shamsky grounded to first and Anthony Young popped to center, but it dropped for an unearned run.

Then in stepped Steve Henderson, another one of my favorites. Hendu is another one of those guys who seems genuinely glad to see you, always has a smile, and always has something nice to say. I suspect that for the most part, the pros at fantasy camp self select. They enjoy the cameraderie, and they like lacing up the cleats again. They must feed off the energy of us geezers, and they really like teaching, even if what we learn only gets used every year or two.

So Hendu says, "are you ready, Brownie, 'cause here it comes," or some such, and digs in in that Steve Henderson way. Hendu used to own the inside corner because he was so strong he could hit a ball off his pinky into the gap in right center. I asked him to go easy on me, and maybe he did, but I hope he didn't because he hit a lazy fly ball to left to end the inning. Line score - one run, no hits, two errors. I had no-hit the pros, and gave them five outs to boot.

With Hendu After the Game

Anthony Young was pitching for the pros, and it wasn't pretty. He barely broke a sweat, although he was throwing about 80-ish mile an hour fastballs. I think we managed one hit. I got jammed on a fastball and grounded to second and my right hand was swollen for days. It was nasty, but for days I walked around saying, "See this swollen hand? I got jammed by Anthony Young." Nice.

So that was the day, and the week, and I'm really sad that it's over. We had a great, great bunch of guys, and we played a very difficult game pretty well. I achieved some personal goals, but I've still got a lot of room for improvement.

I met some people who really inspired me, and who reminded me what a wonderful game baseball is and how lucky we are to be able, at this age, to spend a week being a kid again. I'm already thinking about when I can go back.

I'm not quite done writing. I hope to spend a day or two a week profiling some of my fellow campers, some of the employees who work so hard to make this a great experience, and to talk a little more about a player or two. If anybody out there has photos to share, send them along and I'd be happy to put them up.

When the photos I ordered from the team arrive, I'll post them as well - some of them are really cool.

Finally, we'll be heading back to Shea for a game on the field in July, and I'll be sure to write an update about that then.

Thanks for reading.


Bruce said...

Like you said at the outset, you were bringing us along on your return trip to fantasy camp. Speaking for myself, I'm glad I got to enjoy it without the aches and pains you suffered. But still, what those of us in the bleachers experienced can't come close to the emotional highs you must have had.

Thanks for the courage, not only to do what you did, but for letting us all be part of it.

Are you going back next year?

Sheila said...

My name is Jeff and I just finished week 2 of camp. I enjoyed reading your blog of week 1. It was very funny and true. Look forward to reading more soon.