It’s day five of Fantasy Baseball Camp, and Roy Berger is starting to feel the pain. But it’s all worthwhile when he gets to play a real game in a Major League-caliber stadium.
Today was a relief. Only one game was scheduled for all teams.
After two straight days of baseball and, in my case, using muscles I haven’t used in more than 30 years (and, frankly, some I didn’t know I still had), we all were thrilled to have the afternoon off.
The training room has become a popular place for the campers, whose average age is 54. Whirlpool, ice and heat rubs, you name it, but it requires taking a number and waiting in line. I was so sore on Tuesday night after playing a doubleheader that I literally had to pick my legs up with my hands to get them on the bed with the rest of my body.
Tonight, after just a single game this morning, I actually feel better and might even go for a sunrise run on Thursday morning. Maybe.
Our game today was downtown Bradenton at McKechnie Field where the Pirates play their spring training games against the other Major League teams that train in Florida. McKechnie was built in 1923 and the Pirates have been playing there since 1969. The stadium was recently renovated, holding 6,600 people. Everyone from Babe Ruth to Ted Williams to Mickey Mantle to Roberto Clemente to—as of this morning—Roy Berger, have played there.
The place is beautiful and we were all kids again today for a couple of hours playing ball in a real Major League-caliber stadium. It was really cool.
More Spring Training fun: 5 Places to Catch Baseball’s Spring Training
All teams play one league game this week at McKechnie and then we go back on Saturday to play against the former Major Leaguers that are here this week in what is called the Legends Game.
We came into this morning’s game at 2-0 and the only undefeated team in our division. The Traynors were 1-1. We left McKechnie a couple of hours later as one of only two 3-0 teams remaining.
Before today’s game our manager Bill Virdon looked at me with a grin and said, “Roy, do you want me to put you in the line-up today?” In my wildest dreams I never expected a Yankee manager, former or not, to ask me that question.
I was about to say, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play,” but opted for, ”You have no choice. I’m playing!”
Despite getting an early 6-0 lead, we had to hang on for an 8-6 win. It was actually a good game and probably our most competitive. I had a decent day. A hit and walk in three at bats and didn’t hurt the club in the field.
Check out Roy’s first games: Fantasy Baseball Camp: Stepping Up to the Plate.
Our starting pitcher again today was David Briles, the son of former big leaguer Nellie Briles. Nellie pitched for many years during the spring at McKechnie and it was a thrill for David to walk out on the same mound his late dad pitched all those years.
The other team started a lefty. In fact it’s the third lefty I’ve faced in three days. Normally a left-handed pitcher to left-handed hitter match-up favors the pitcher. It’s especially true at 57 years old when the reflexes slow down and you see the ball about a half-second late.
First time up against the lefty I got lucky and stuck a 0-2 pitch through the left side of the infield for a hit. The second time against the same pitcher I walked, which ultimately lead to two runs and the difference in the game.
Third time up was against a 60-year-old righty who, 12 weeks ago, had quadruple bypass surgery. It was so important for him to be here this week he accelerated rehab so he could play. I hit a solid line drive that the shortstop had to leap to snag. He also doubled our runner off second. One of those shots that should have been a base hit the same way the one in the first inning probably shouldn’t have been. I guess it evens out.
Check out the other entries from the Fantasy Baseball Camp series:
For our last at-bat in the seventh inning the Traynors put in the oldest camper—77 years old and here for the ninth straight year—on the mound to pitch. And wouldn’t you know he set us down in order. It’s pretty special to see things and people like that and the sheer commitment of many others.
There was also a real nice turnout in the stands for the game at McKechnie today. When the game started there was one person in attendance. However, by the time the game ended, the crowd had doubled. I’m not kidding. It had the feel of a Florida Marlins home game.
Through three league games we are 3-0 and I’ve gone four for eight with two walks and four RBIs. It’s also probably no accident I haven’t scored a run yet. Those bases are really far away from each other and them legs ain’t what they used to be!
Tomorrow we have another doubleheader which wraps up League play with the top two teams in each division going to the playoffs on Friday. We have clinched a playoff spot and need one win tomorrow to clinch our division. Of course what making the playoffs ultimately means is one or two more games and countless Advils.
Kangaroo court this morning mainly featured fines and transgressions from the games on Tuesday.
There were only two exceptions: one camper was fined for asking ex-Major Leaguer Jerry Reuss, “So is this your first fantasy camp as a camper?”
The other fine was for me. Steve Blass said, “Where’s Berger?”
Uh oh. I had a feeling it was coming. He asked, “How come you didn’t wear your Yankee warm-up again this morning?” I guess I wasn’t quick enough to cover up that NY logo yesterday.
The camp was kind enough to leave a Pirate warm-up for me in my locker on Tuesday afternoon so I wore it to the morning meeting today.
Blass said my fine was only $1 but I could appeal it. He explained he was also the judge for appeals and if I lost the fine it would be tripled. I shut up, paid the buck and feel I am $2 ahead of the game.
I feel good right now and looking forward to my legs getting in bed all by themselves tonight. We play two games tomorrow so it may soon be a different story.
By Roy Berger for PeterGreenberg.com.
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Pt. 1, Fantasy Baseball Camp: Choosing Your Camp
- Pt. 2, Fantasy Baseball Camp: Preparing for the Field
- Pt. 3, Fantasy Baseball Camp: First Day on the Diamond
- Pt. 4, Fantasy Baseball Camp: Stepping Up to the Plate
- 5 Places to Catch Baseball’s Spring Training
- Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Cooperstown, New York
- Adventure & Sports Travel section