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Fantasy Baseball Camp: Returning to Pittsburgh Pirates

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Baseball fans flock to Florida for spring training, but every January, contributor Roy Berger does one better. He takes on the ultimate fan experience:  fantasy baseball camp. Follow along this week as he trains with the Pittsburgh Pirates camp in Bradenton, Florida.  

I got the look this morning.  I know the look and it’s meant to lay guilt on me. It’s effective. He’s been with me virtually all his life and there’s no mistaking the look.

When the suitcase comes out the eyes sink and the nose hits the floor. It’s the look I get from my wife Andi, but she gets a twinkle and a little smile when the suitcase appears.

Not Ibis. I know just what this 4-year-old, 85 pound chow/retriever mix is thinking. It’s “Do you have to leave again?” He’s become my best friend though the competition wasn’t that great. I give him treats. He actually listens to me. It’s a win-win.

This time the look was a little different.  Instead of the regular Samsonite travel carry-on suitcase, it was the very large Adidas tote bag filled with stuff he doesn’t regularly see — caps, baseball gloves, long and short sleeved undershirts, batting gloves and a couple of old baseball uniforms. Heading to a meeting in Chicago I’m not.

“That baseball thing again” Ibis was thinking. “You going back to Yankees fantasy camp?”

Despite a wonderful experience in Tampa last January, I told him nope, heading to Bradenton, for the Pittsburgh Pirates camp. My first fantasy camp experience was three years ago in 2010 with the Pirates as they honored the 1960 World Championship team, my earliest baseball memory.  I had a wonderful experience in 2010 with the memory of the 1960 Bucs. Those long ago idols have now become legends. At 57 I also proved to myself I can still compete. Though barely.

After that, I had a throw-away camp in 2011 with the Detroit Tigers as it was the only one that fit my schedule. Last year a wonderful week with the Yankees joined by a long ago colleague–BarryO–as we are both present-day Yankee fans.

If nothing else I have three baseball cards and a dent in the bank account to show for the past three years along with some great experiences and memories that at this stage in life I never could have imagined.

Top 5 Baseball travel experiencesI had a college friend from Pittsburgh drop me a note after Yankee camp last February and ask where I was going next year. My plan was to go back to the Yankees. He asked “Why not Pittsburgh again?” Been there, done that.

He asked what it would take to get me to go back. Didn’t give it much thought so told him the safest thing I could, “if the Pirates have a winning season this year I will go to Pirate camp in January.”

Talk about a sure thing. The Pirates haven’t won more games than they lost since 1992, 19 years ago. It’s the longest streak without a winning season in professional sports history. In case you are ever faced with the final Jeopardy question, the next longest streak was the Philadelphia Phillies with 16 straight losing seasons from 1933-48 followed by the NBA Sacramento Kings and NHL Vancouver Canucks with 15. The NFL record for futility is 14 years and the Tampa Bay Bucs.