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Fantasy Baseball Camp: Let the Games Begin

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Fantasy baseball camp in Bradenton, Florida is heating up. Join Roy Berger for his third day at bat and find out what big event made him even prouder than hitting a home run. 

From coast to coast there couldn’t be a better day than today.  Working east to west–another gorgeous sun-splashed morning greeted us at Pittsburgh Pirates Fantasy Camp in Bradenton.  Two games on the schedule and after only one day of camp most guys were walking like they just got off a horse.

After morning briefing and a painful group stretch, the Pirates are the only camp I’ve been to that let’s you take live batting practice on the field before the day’s first game.  The cage is up and each team gets about 20 minutes to loosen up with the opposing team shagging.

When I got my cuts, wooden bats only in camp, I asked our coach Mike LaValliere to keep an eye on my swing.  Spanky was a left handed hitter even though he was a catcher and immediately caught a flaw, one of many I’m certain, in my follow through.  Adjusting made an incredible difference in flight.

As I stepped out of the cage Richie Hebner, a 17 year major league vet with the Pirates, Phillies, Mets, Tigers and Chicago Cubs called me over and said

“Berger do you play golf”.  I told him very poorly. He wanted me to show him my golf swing after which he said “you need to pivot with the back foot when hitting a baseball just like you do on your golf swing.”

This guy won a World Championship with the Pirates in 1971 and also was a batting coach with Boston and Philadelphia so I really couldn’t slough him off.

Bottom of the first inning.  Walk up to the plate with a very rested TB in hand. TheBat spent the night in the clubhouse so it was nice and peaceful.  Runner on second, two out.  Two balls and a strike.  Follow through, pivot and hit the ball further than I’ve ever hit it in my life.  As soon as it left TB I knew it was going to be good.  I saw the right fielder turn and start running.  Two bounces to the fence, 335 feet away, and I actually coast into second with a double. Probably could have easily made third but I took one look and third base seemed so far away. I thought a double is very nice indeed.

Inning ends and I’m running back to the dugout and I look at Hebner on the other side.  “That’s the last damn piece of advice you’re getting from me” he said and smiled.  My smile back was worth the whole week.

Truth is last year at Yankee camp in Steinbrenner Stadium I hit a similar shot that went into the right field corner 319 feet away also for a double, my first extra base hit in any camp.  Today’s was better. I hit the ball much more solid and the only thing that stopped it from still rolling was the 335 fence.  Darn, stuff like that at my age shouldn’t be happening!

Second time up TB found the groove again but with the right fielder backed up a few steps it turned into a routine fly ball for an out.  Third time at bat really left my head spinning.  Runners on first and second, nobody out and Bob Walk, a 105 game winner in the major leagues and Hebner’s coaching partner, calls time out and comes to the mound and actually rearranges the defense for me.  He shifts outfielders and repositions infielders. I’m standing there thinking to myself is this really happening too?  Jerry Nelson, 52, from Hudson, Ohio was pitching and was the hardest thrower I’ve faced so far this week.  With a fastball in the low 60s he got me swinging late and I popped out to short.  However I was really, really flattered by Bob Walk’s attention.

We went on to win the game in a rout 9-1.  That’s the good news.  The not so good news is we lost two more guys as Greg Gasparich, 45, tore a hamstring and literally adding insult to injury perhaps our best player Gary Dmitrzak, 52, from Bethel Park, Pa. was carted off the field with a heel injury. Gary had surgery on the same heel four months ago, the Doc told him to stay off it for six months and these guys don’t get their medical degrees by not knowing their trade.  Making matters even worse Dmitrzak and Brent McCall, our Achilles tear from Sunday, are brothers-in-law.  Not a good couple of days for this family.

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