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Fantasy Baseball Camp: Stepping Up to the Plate

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Umpire & catcherIn part four of his baseball fantasy camp chronicles, Roy Berger battles his insecurities and steps up to the plate for his first league game. 

For the past couple of mornings the line in the cafeteria has stretched back to the door as 83 campers and 15 staff decided whether they wanted bacon with their eggs. It was almost cruise-ship proportions.

This morning at 8 a.m. the line was different. Everyone rushed to the Clubhouse to see the team selections and who was on which team and managed and coached by whom. Evidently this is a big event!

I got to the Clubhouse a couple of minutes early and found that based upon Monday’s evaluation game I was put on the Wagners team (all teams are named after former Pirate greats) and my manager would be Bill Virdon and assisted by Jerry “Rolls” Reuss.

The camper in front of me was Wagners, and said, “I think we have a pretty good team.” I told him it was doubtful because I was a part of it.

There are 10 players to a team. We probably have a bit of an edge with a total of four guys in their 40s.

Check out how he started with Fantasy Baseball Camp: Preparing for the Field.

Pirates logoIt’s neat to be managed for the week by Bill Virdon. Bill played 11 years in the big leagues from 1955 to 1965 and then again for a year in 1968. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award with St. Louis in 1955 and played a key role in the Pirates 1960 World Championship with steady play in center field. He was a lifetime .267 hitter and won a Gold Glove in 1962.

He also knows how to fill out a lineup card as he managed in the Majors for 12 years from 1972 to 1984 with the Pirates, Yankees, Astros and Expos. He was in Houston for eight years and won two division titles in his career—1972 with Pittsburgh and 1980 in Houston.

Ruess pitched for 21 years with 220 career wins, more than 1,900 strikeouts, a 3.64 lifetime ERA and a no-hitter as a Dodger in 1980. Even if our team isn’t any good we certainly have some experience and smarts sitting on our bench.

Check out the previous entry in the series–Fantasy Baseball Camp: First Day on the Diamond.

First order of the day before the games was, of course, the so-called Recognition Awards.

The first fine of $1 was a player wearing a Steelers sweatshirt at Pirates camp. He had no excuse. I immediately put my glove over the NY logo on my jacket as all I have is a Yankee warm-up jacket. Fortunately, I don’t think Blass noticed.

Baseball logoOther fines of note were $10 to a camper who smoked 10 cigarettes during Monday’s evaluation game; $1 for the camper that went to a Tampa strip club the night before and all he brought back for Blass was a bottle of water with the club’s name.

The largest fine of the day was for the camper that called Steve “Bill Blass” the day before. Steve told him that Bill Blass is dead and was gay. The camper shot back, “It’s easy to see how I got confused.” He was fined a record $750 for that comeback.

After our morning stretch it was time to start league play with all eight teams in action on the four Major League-caliber fields at Pirate City. I immediately noticed how much more serious and competitive everyone was from the evaluation games the day before.

Our first opponents were the Waners, managed by John Wehner (must be Neil Allen’s cousin) and assisted by Rennie Stennett.

Don’t miss the rest of the series:

Our starting pitcher was David Briles, the 40-year-old son of the late great Pirate pitcher Nellie Briles. Nellie won 129 games in the Majors and passed away way too soon at the age of 61 in 2005. David is a very nice young man and he would make his dad proud.

PitchingDavid gave us three strong innings in a game we won 4-0. I had a good day too. Virdon penciled me in the line-up at first base and batting sixth, probably both spots justifiable based upon the Monday evaluation game.

My first at-bat today I lined a shot into right field for a single. I hit the ball solidly and in that at-bat I accomplished my goal for the week—a solid hit in a game that counted. Boy did that one feel good. I got what I paid for and the week still has four days left!

As our inning ended and I trotted back out to first base for the bottom of the second, the first-base coach for the other team said, “Way to see the ball, Berger, nice hit.”

That came from Rennie Stennett, former Pirate second baseman from 1971-79; lifetime .274 hitter and the only player in Major League history to go 7 for 7 in a nine-inning game. He’s telling me—a sore 57-year-old who can hardly walk—“nice hit.” Is this a great country or what?

You’re never too old to travel–check out the Senior Travel section for more.

Catching the ballMy second at bat I was fortunate as I grounded a ball toward short that the shortstop couldn’t come up with pushing our first run across the plate. The official scorer, sensing I was shorted gifts for Hanukah, gave me a hit and RBI and we took the lead for good. My third time up I walked. So a nice two-for-two day at the plate with a RBI doubling my goal for the week!

It was a good game in the field as well. Seven or eight putouts, a scoop put-out in the second inning, which Reuss called a “dance-step,” and a pop-up that I trapped against my chest before I had an opportunity to call a fair catch.

We ended the game on a 6-4-3 double play and a good way to go to lunch as the second game started about 90 minutes later.

We played the Vaughans team in the afternoon game, managed by Pirate legend Bob Skinner and assisted by former pitcher Zane Smith.

It wasn’t much of a contest as we won 16-7. I was a tired one for four and a walk with a lineout to third; a feel-good shot over the right fielders head for a single and two RBIs. (No matter how far that ball went past the right fielder it was only going to be a single for me. Second base was too far away). I walked my third time up and grounded to second my fourth time at bat.

Strong pitcherMy final time at bat I faced Scott May, son of former Pirate catcher Milt May, who is on the Pirate spring training staff. The other team had run out of pitchers so we agreed to let Scott pitch as the game was pretty much out of hand at that point. May brought heat compared to the campers and I was lucky to foul a couple of pitches off.

I finally got called out on a fastball around my ankles. I was tempted to turn to the umpire and say, “This may be fantasy camp but you don’t have to call fantasy strikes,” but at 16-7, I decided to save my arguing for another day.

Zane Smith, former Pirate and Brave pitcher, was the first-base coach for the Vaughans and we enjoyed constant conversation throughout the game.

We had an OK defensive day as a team including another 6-4-3 double play that caught the attention of the Pirate TV crew for the camp DVD. A nice way to start league play with a doubleheader sweep.

***

Home plateIt was a fun day today. We are all tired, weary and sore. I’m guessing the World Series Lounge up on the third floor may be empty a bit earlier tonight unless, of course, Mazeroski shows up and decides to hold court over a couple of cigars and cold beverages.

The best anecdote of the day was the elderly couple from Pittsburgh visiting Tampa who decided to come to Bradenton to watch some Pirate spring-training action.

They arrived at Pirate City today unaware this is fantasy camp week. After watching a few minutes of the games the wife turned to her husband and said, “I sure hope they get better by April.”

Only one game tomorrow. We’ll play at 11 a.m. at McKechnie Field which is the spring home stadium for the Pirates. Every team gets to play one game in the big Stadium and tomorrow morning it’s us against the 1-1 Traynors.

Getting up from the chair is a struggle, but I imagine most guys are in the same boat and that’s what we paid for!

By Roy Berger for PeterGreenberg.com.

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