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Act Your Age? Never! Pirates Fantasy Camp, Part 4

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UntitledYou don’t have to act your age at fantasy baseball cam, but the years age might catch up with you and when it does injuries happen. Despite a benched teammate, find out if Roy Berger’s team manages to pull out a win in part four of his adventures at Pittsburgh Pirates Fantasy Camp.

It finally happened, it just took a little longer than usual.

First though, I have to digress and give wishes and thoughts to everyone back home in Birmingham, Alabama, where a snow/ice storm blindsided the city Tuesday with hundreds of thousands of people stranded. People have left their cars and walked to shelter; four members of our Medjet staff are spending the night in our office while the rest of the organization was lucky enough to find hotels within walking distance.

Thomas Brooks’ wife, Missy, has made it to a near-by hotel that is sold out so she will spend the night in the lobby.  She is one of the lucky ones.  My wife tried to leave our house but couldn’t get the vehicle up a hill and returned home safely.  She too is lucky.  The rest of the city has taken refuge where they can find a warm room and meal, while there are thousands of cars at a standstill on the highways and streets. Kids are still stranded at schools because their parents can’t get there to pick them up. Incredibly the stories go on and on. Alabama doesn’t handle inclement weather very well in the first place but this storm was not expected. Before the majority realized what was happening, it was too late to do anything about it with cars sliding off the road and most just not moving.  Just to let you know Bama- we are thinking of you.

You come to fantasy baseball camp for the opportunity to do something you shouldn’t be doing at your age.  It’s the rest of the experience that keeps you coming back. Playing baseball in your 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s is the lure of major league fantasy camp.  It’s the venue and rubbing elbows with past greatness and most importantly the comradery that leaves you thirsting for more.

And that’s what Tuesday was at Pittsburgh Pirates Fantasy Camp, as all eight teams and 96 campers got the opportunity to leave all-encompassing Pirate City to play in a major league spring setting with games at downtown McKechnie Field.

McKechnie is the oldest stadium in continued use for Grapefruit League games, first opening in 1923 and renovated continuously over the years including a major transformation last year.  The 8,500 seat stadium has housed the Pirates since 1969 and it sparkles.  As did today’s weather- sunshine and 75 degrees with apologies to everyone else around the country and especially back home in Birmingham.

Amckechniefieldnd the thrill of the stadium setting never gets old and in large part is what this experience is all about.  Where else at 61 years old can you play a meaningful game in a park where the big leaguers will be in less than a month with 8,475 empty seats watching you?

So late Tuesday afternoon at McKechnie, with three unbeaten teams including us still remaining, we took the field against another unbeaten and arguably the most talented- Team Traynor, coached by former pitcher Bruce Kison and outfielder Lee Lacy.

The game had a big league feel at the downtown ballpark, PA system in full glory, and a very close and tense contest that was 2-1 in the fourth inning before we broke it open for a convincing 11-3 win to move to 4-0. We are now within one win in Wednesday’s doubleheader of clinching a Thursday playoff spot.

Brooksie, as Thomas is known in baseball chatter, had another big day going 3-3 with two RBI’s including one in the fourth inning that helped break the game open.  Fortunately he did all that before getting hit with the ‘Berger camp curse’ and removing himself from the game.

Thomas strained a quad muscle, struggled to get to third base, and then said no mas and limped off the field.  He was greeted at the top of the dugout steps by the Pirates trainer who helped him to the bench and recommended he get back to Pirate Cit for treatment.  Thomas says he will be ready to go on Wednesday but who knows at what speed?

Untitled 2Normally my mates get hurt early, either before camp or on the first day, as the three previous travel partners have.  At least Thomas got almost four games in before he was felled. His injury tempered the win and also my good afternoon as well with two solid base hits in three at-bats and for the first time since Sunday really felt good about the way I hit the ball.

The rubbing elbows at every camp is with the ex-major leaguers that serve as coaches and mentors. Our coaches, Rennie Stennett and Omar Moreno, were both key pieces that brought the last World Series championship to Pittsburgh in 1979.

Both are Panamanian.  Stennett is 62 and Moreno 61. Stennett, a second baseman, played 10 years in the majors with the Pirates from 1971-79 and then San Francisco for a couple before retiring in 1981 with a career .274 batting average.  He’s best remembered for having the only perfect 7-7 day at the plate in 1975 during the Pirates 22-0 rout over the Cubs.

Rennie won a World Series ring in 1979 and ironically second base was opened for him when the Pirates traded Dave Cash, also a coach at this camp, to the Phillies in 1973. His play also forced the Pirates to deal Willie Randolph to the Yankees in 1975.                 .

Moreno was a fleet footed center fielder with a lifetime .252 batting average and 487 steals.  He was with Pittsburgh from 1975-82 and also a key in the 1979 championship run.  He lead the National League in stolen bases in 1978 and 1979 and stole 96 more in 1980.  He finished his career with stops in Houston, New York with the Yankees, Kansas City and Atlanta.

In fact on Tuesday night, Stennett and Moreno joined the rest of their 1979 teammates and a bunch of campers and watched the highlights of the 1979 World Series in the evening lounge.  The Pirates won again.

As the camp week wore on both got more comfortable with the 12 hacks playing for them and have become more hands-on as this team started to win.  They communicate with each other in Spanish and it becomes a little unnerving when they look at you and talk to each other in a tongue you don’t understand.  You know they are telling each other “that Berger really sucks” but come on guys, just come out and say it in English!

Which brings us to Wednesday morning and Thomas’ potential early flight home.  He told me no matter what I said, he’s staying.  And that was really good to hear.  Not only because he’s been everything I expected both on and off the field but more importantly because I called Southwest yesterday and already canceled the flight.  Which was fortuitous because the Birmingham airport will probably be closed anyway.

Big doubleheader on Wednesday with playoff spots for Thursday still very much in the air.  And speaking of ‘in the air’ Thomas’ status might be.  But with my first winning record secured in over two years, I want him here!

See how this year’s camp kicked off in part one, part two and part 3.

By Roy Berger for Get your copy of The Most Wonderful Week of the Year and come back for more Pirates Camp Chronicles.