Baltimore Orioles fans hoped Friday was the day their fantasy campers could get a measure of payback on the Pittsburgh Pirates camp. Baltimore squandered a three games to one lead in the 1979 World Series only to have the Pirates win game seven and hoist the trophy. They have not met in the post-season since. Today was to be Baltimore’s day.
That was 35 years ago. Now they’ll have to wait at least another year.
A morning downpour, that refused to stop, canceled the inter-camp day and while everyone at both camps understood, nevertheless there was extreme disappointment. It also marked the end of camp week just hanging around the long dreary day in anticipation of the closing banquet.
Ironically, USA Today’s weather page on Friday morning said the day would be sunny and warm on Florida’s west coast. They must use the same forecast service that missed the snow and ice in Birmingham and Atlanta earlier this week. I would love to find out who they like in the Super Bowl.
So another great week winds up on a downer. The weather took its toll all week and only some innovative scheduling by camp coordinator Joe Billetdeaux allowed us to get in as many games as we did. When all was said and done we lost two full games when you roll-in Friday’s rainout and other games shortened during the week by weather. We also lost another 45 minutes on the field each day as infield and batting practice had to be scratched to get the fields playable. The shortened schedule is probably why such a high majority of campers stayed injury free this week.
We did better than both the Baltimore and Detroit (of course) camps who had multiple days of cancellation. Next week the forecast is sunny and in the 80’s. Oh well.
Spirits were also dampened this week as camp legends Kent Tekulve and Bill Mazeroski weren’t with us due to circumstances beyond their control. There was certainly a beat missing.
For me it was another great, though short week. As I get older, the weeks get better and that’s probably no coincidence. I played okay for a camp geezer, hitting .438 with seven hits in 16 at-bats, a couple of RBI’s and runs scored. It was much better than the .350 I hit last year with the Pirates but not as good as the 16-30 and .533 with the Yankees in November. I always found National League pitching tougher to hit. Defensively, with one bad blunder aside, I was satisfied with what I contributed as bending down and then having to get back up again gets tougher by the camp.
Most importantly despite hearing over and over again before leaving for camp “don’t get hurt”, I didn’t. I’m convinced the 30 day before camp baseball workouts and nightly stretching of the hamstrings and quads makes a huge difference.
And the best thing I did this week was ride the coattails of 40 year old Thomas Brooks. Losing 11 of 12 games over the past two camps had to end and for a guy that lives in an actuarial world, I was pretty sure taking a chance on Thomas would be my ticket to the won-loss turnaround.
And it was. We finished 6-1, my best camp record ever. Thank you T-Bone. And he did just what I expected him to do with a 15 year advantage in age over the typical 55 year old camper. He lead our team in hitting with a .750 average with 12 hits in 16 at-bats, eight runs scored and eight RBIs. He was the fourth leading hitter in camp and for a day or two was the top batter. Camps do not keep pitching stats but Brooksie easily would have been among the best in that category too. Atta-boy!
And our team- lead by Thomas, David Miller, David Briles, Ted Geletka, Tom Jonik and Clyde Warren posted the highest team batting average in camp-.470 and the most hits – 94 while winning six of seven. Not too shabby.
My pre-camp baseball coach back in Birmingham, former big leaguer Jarrod Patterson, 40, told me during our final workout session a week ago how amazed he was at my baseball energy and added, “at your age, I just hope I’m still alive.”
While that might have stung me, it really didn’t. Because he’s right. I’ve been through an incredibly bad cycle of death and serious illness among both personal and professional networks over the last couple of months. And that just reminds me every day how lucky I really am.
So, to Joe Billetdeaux of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Julie Kremer of the New York Yankees fantasy camps- please hold a spot for me each January and November cause I want to do this until I can’t do it anymore. It’s too much fun. And as a bonus this coming November, my son Scott (and maybe Jason too?) plans to join me at Steinbrenner Field. And for those who don’t understand, the best frame of reference I can offer is guys who like to go hunting or fishing or golfing. That just doesn’t do it for me. Playing baseball, well past the time I have a license to do it, still races the engine.
To Thomas – thanks for coming along. Really disappointed you didn’t get the whole great Pirates experience. If you enjoyed the week half as much as I did with you here, who remembers the weather anyway? From a pride standpoint, thanks for showing me there were some wins left in my tank. And just between us- even though you both wore #17 for the Jolly Roger, you ain’t no Johnny Dickshot. And that is really good news!
To those back in Birmingham – especially our Medjet organization, my wife Andi and my best pal- the 102 pound chow/retriever mix known to the neighborhood as Ibis – I can’t appreciate what you went through while we were away. Sure we complained about the lousy weather in Bradenton but the devastation, destruction and community paralysis y’all suffered with the ice and snow storm, you have our utmost respect for the way you handled a city shut down for over 48 hours. We never will be able to appreciate what you went through but we are so very proud of all of you.
And of course thanks to my Dad who influenced me back in the 1960s to be a Pittsburgh Pirates fan (before seeing the Yankees light~.) Without that urging, I’m certain I would have missed this life experience.
At the opening banquet of this 2014 Pirates Fantasy Camp, banquet host and PNC Park personality Joe Klimchak opened his remarks by saying “as Roy Berger’s book says, this is the most wonderful week of the year.”
Weather aside, he right!
By Roy Berger for PeterGreenberg.com. Get your copy of The Most Wonderful Week of the Year and come back for more Pirates Camp Chronicles.