Friday, January 19, 2007

It's Hopes and Dreams Day!

The first day of the season is always the day most filled with hope. After all, everyone is tied for first – even the pretenders and the dreamers are permitted their brief bout of pretention and dreaminess.

And so it is on the morning of the first day of fantasy camp. The tubby and the fat, the old and the older, the halt and the lame (gee, this is fun), all take the field with equal hopes for greatness.

After I did my last fantasy camp report ( two years ago, I got lots and lots of emails from guys wondering if they would be able to hack it – were the pitchers too good? Did everyone run well? Now, some guys are actually pretty good, but most of us fall in that wonderful middle of the pack place – here it’s a utopian world of parity. The games are competitive, everyone gets their hits (was it Bill Clinton who used to say “even a blind squirrel eventually finds a nut”? but more important, everyone has fun. I remember one player, who was having a tough first few games, singling in a run in the championship game and being carried off the field on the team’s shoulders. Baseball’s like that, just ask Bucky Dent.

Well, almost everyone has fun. Last time there was this one guy who complained about everything. He never stopped complaining, and nobody could figure it out. I mean really. And this guy comes back, year after year, pretty much just to complain, I suspect. Kinda like the people who go to Hawaii and bitch about the heat.

But the first day is the best. Personally, I have all kinds of hopes and dreams this time around. As I mentioned, I’ve been working on a few pitches, but I’ve never actually faced live pitching with them. Last time I came, I had no intention of pitching, but our team sucked so badly that we could have sent my daughter Maggie out there with better results, so I volunteered to pitch thinking that I couldn’t be any worse than anyone else. And I was so scared that I just heaved the ball over the plate without any real plan, and did okay.

This time I have a plan, which could produce some real heartache, but I’m willing to risk it. As I mentioned, I spent a year fantasizing about pitching, in a Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi kind of way. “Be the ball. Feel the universe help it spin. See the bottom drop out of it as your opponent swings and misses in beautiful futility. Then grab your aching elbow in exquisite agony.”

Well, something like that anyway.

Then, some time this fall, I started getting serious. I started throwing with a few friends, and thought “what would happen if I tried to throw a curve ball?” and would you know it, the damn thing curved, sort of. Then I started trying out new grips and arm angles, and then I tried a change up (okay, that didn’t go so well), and then I started throwing kind of side arm sort of thing, which made my arm feel very, very bad, but which did very cool things to the ball. I threw and threw and threw.

The bottom line is that it’s the first day of the season and I am full of hope. Full of hope that I’ll get the ball over the plate, that I’ll get a few guys out, and that I’ll make it through the entire week without needing Tommy John surgery.

As for hitting, since all of a sudden I fancy myself a pitcher, I’ve given it little thought. I will try to remember what I learned last time – don’t swing at a pitch you can’t hit. Sounds easy, but it’s hard. But hitting shmitting – mommy, I want to pitch!

Fielding is hard, too, because the little voices in my head are very, very mean in this regard. The ball will come flying at me and instinct takes over. I will field the ball cleanly, and then the voices come “don’t throw it about ten feet over the first baseman’s head,” the voice will helpfully suggest. And then I do exactly that, of course. For some reason, the voices don’t bother me when I’m pitching or hitting, but they’ve bedeviled me in the field. Mean, mean voices.

And I’m in excellent company. We all remember the travails of the doomed Mets catcher Mackey Sasser, who inexplicably found it impossible to return the ball to the pitcher, something any little leaguer could do without thinking.

Macky Sasser, Presumably Waiting for the Pitcher to Retrieve the Ball

And what about Steve Sax, who after years and years in the game found it impossible to make the throw from second? Second! And Chuck Knobloch? (I’ll never forget the Daily News headline after he blew a game with a particularly awful error – BLOCHHEAD, it read, for all the world and his mother to see.) And then there’s the cruel case of pitcher Rick Ankiel, who in the heat of the pennant race, began heaving the ball into the stands from the pitcher’s mound. It’s like situational Tourette’s, and it ruined these guys’ careers.

Thank goodness mine only occurs when I’m playing a game. I mean, can you imagine sitting at your desk trying to write a memo and having it come out “I stink, I stink, I stink” or something like that and not being able to do anything about it?

So I consider myself lucky that the little voices only come when I’m playing a harmless game and not while I’m trying to make a living.

In any event, today is hopes and dreams day. We’ll head out to the field to warm up at around 2:30. We’ll go into the clubhouse and gaze lovingly at our uniforms hanging in our lockers. Then we’ll gaze lovingly at the trainer’s room, where we will spend much of our time this week. Then we’ll probably take some batting practice, shag balls (British audiences may be alarmed at this, but it just means standing around and catching the balls hit during batting practice), and we’ll just generally drink in the glory of it all. And then we will go out and drink in the glory of it all.

Last time, coach Bobby Wine literally started scouting guys on the bus out to the stadium (“What position do you play? Are you any good?”), and paces the fields during warmups with his clipboard, trying to spot talent for Saturday’s draft. “Nice catch, kid. What’s your name?,” he asks the sixty year old stockbroker. Bobby Wine doesn’t come to fantasy camp to have fun, he comes to win. Gotta love that guy.

But as for me, I’m just here to have fun. But if Bobby Wine doesn’t ask me my name, I’ll go home a cry.

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