2015 Giants Fantasy Camp - The Blog

I really didn't expect my blog posts to garner much attention. My first year, I wrote them mainly for myself and shared them privately with family. Then it kinda blew up. People who searched Google for "Giants Fantasy Camp" stumbled across my writing and the response has been really positive. 

If I take a look at the stats, I get steady traffic during the "off season", but in the lead-up to camp and the days following, I see a few hundred visitors per day. That's amazing. 

But the best part is when people come up to me and say that the blog helped them prepare for camp or, better yet, helped them make the decision to come to camp.  During my first year, nobody discovered the blog during camp. Bill Laskey told me at the airport in San Francisco on the way home that he had found it and was going to read it, but that was it.  

Last year, a handful of people talked to me about. This year, I think a few dozen players made an effort to talk to me about it. Many people say that they read it multiple times,  once to decide to come and then again right before they left for camp. I have to admit that I re-read my Suggestion for Next Year's Rookies to make sure that I remembered everything. 

One morning, during the calm after dressing and before game time, I was hanging out in the stadium dugout just enjoying the day and a rookie (Alex?) came up and talked to me about the blog. He had just finished thanking me for helping him make the decision to come to camp when Benjamin Bratt walked by and started thanking me for the blog – basically repeating the same things that the rookie had just finished saying.  Now that was neat.  

Thanks Guys! 

 

2015 Giants Fantasy Camp - A Great Finish

I guess I should start at the end: we lost our second game of the tournament and were eliminated from the championship game. It was a good game and we went into the last inning ahead by one run. But the other team scored 5 and we ended up losing, 9-5. Turned out to be our only loss for the tournament. 

Our loss on Friday morning meant we were eliminated from the championship, but we still got to play another game that afternoon.  It was another walk-off win and this time it was Scott Foley, our best utility player, who drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 7th. I think we had three wins with walk-off runs scored in the last inning. Without a doubt this is the best way to win a game. Ironically, I also think it was Will Ferriera who ended up the winning run at the plate. 

For the record, I had a few plays where everything went right. I fielded a line drive on one bounce in short right field and threw out the runner at first. Had another simple play at second that went so normally that I didn't even think about it. I wouldn't call it redemption, but it certainly was baseball. 

At the moment, I'm sitting in the stands, enjoying the mix of warm sunshine and cool morning breeze, watching the championship game. It’s the top of the third inning and its a 1-1 game. There have been two dropped infield popups and one that went through the legs of the second-baseman. It's still a great game and everybody is having fun. There is a lot of laughter on the field. 

This is a wonderful camp. 

I need to talk for a moment about my post from a few days ago about my worst-performance day at camp. My thought at the time was that if I'm going to write about my on-field successes, then I should also write about my failures and the mental state that results. So I did and boy, did I get pushback. I guess I didn't expect my teammates to read it, but quite a few did. 

My teammate Tim Foley, who is a professional tennis coach, talked to me about how he has to deal with these feelings in his players all the time. One of the most interesting things he pointed out what what “choking" means in sports. He said a player chokes when the skills that they have demonstrated and honed fail to show up on any given day or play. Most of us at camp don't have "demonstrated" skills and none of us have honed them for play (at least recently). So, we can't choke. 

He also said that we can't control the outcome every time. All we can do is set ourselves up to have the best chance of success. He said that I needed to turn the situation around and look at all the things that went right on that play. First, I was in the right position on the field. I charged the ball nicely, and fielded it perfectly. It was hard hit, so that wasn't a given. I took my time with the throw which was also the right thing to do. Then you throw. It will either work or it won't. 

Another teammate, Jeff Huey put it even simpler. He said, "Ever have a bad day at work? Same thing." I shared the duties at second base with Jeff and I can't thank him enough for his support and generosity. There were times that I just wanted to hide in the dugout and he was having none of it. It didn't matter what the game situation was, he pushed me out onto the field. Not bad for a rookie. Thanks, Jeff!

The next day, walking into the clubhouse, I apologized to Will for missing the throw and he wouldn't have any of it. Scott Foley just told me he wanted to post a rebuttal. 

The best thing about this camp are the people. There are lawyers, engineers, actors (Benjamin Bratt is a rookie this year), ranchers, builders and retired school teachers who share a love of baseball.  We all come to camp to play baseball.  But, when you ask any camper what made them return, they all say the same thing: "the people.'

That sentiment says a lot about the atmosphere that Bill Laskey has created at camp.  He selects coaches who teach, encourage, and support players.  They all want to win, but they will never do it at the expense of the overall experience.  

When we get home, we all get asked if we will come back.  I will do this again but, next time, I'm bringing at least one son.  The only thing that I think could make this week better is having them along.  After all, it is about the people!

2015 Giants Fantasy Camp - Slide!

Each of my three years, I have made the conscious decision to not slide. Most of the over-50 players and probably two-thirds of the camp shares my concern about sliding. But for me, it's mostly because I have never slid on a baseball diamond. I was never taught the proper way to slide and sliding can result in some horrible injuries if you don't know what you are doing.  

Head-first slides aren't allowed at Fantasy Camp, but you can dive back to a base head-first. I did that this year without even thinking during the Obstruction Play. Nice way to get your uniform dirty and look like an intense ball-player.  

The next day, in our first tournament game, I was on second and attempted to steal third. The decision to steal may not have been the best but, because we weren't using signs, I thought my speed would be enough. It wasn't. I took off and looked to third which, all of a sudden, seemed a lot farther away that it was a few moments earlier. 

As I came into third, I could see the third baseman reach up to grab a high throw from the catcher and, without a thought, I hit the dirt. I'm not saying that it was the best or even a proper slide, but it was a slide. I think my mindless decision was a little late, so even though I went down, it wasn't fast enough to slide under the tag. But I did slide, and I did pop-up when my lead foot hit the bag and I ended up standing on third – out, of course.  

Tiny was coaching third, and I turned to him and proudly told him that that was the first slide of my life.  

He was unimpressed, but it didn't matter to me! I was jazzed.

 

 

2015 Giants Fantasy Camp - Dutch

My locker is next to Les "Dutch" Fickner, who has been at the camp every year that I have been here. I don't know how long he has been coming, but he and his wife have shown up for the past three years to enjoy the week. One year, we were teammates. 

 Courtesy : Andy Kuno San Francisco Giants Official Photographer!

Courtesy : Andy Kuno San Francisco Giants Official Photographer!

On the first day of camp this year, he was playing first and a throw tipped off his glove and hit him in the eye – this was the result. But a small cut and a black eye didn't slow him down at all.  

Before I talk about his baseball skills, I have to talk about the “chicken rule”. In Barry Bonds’ heyday, he was intentionally walked on a regular basis. Basically, if the walk wouldn’t move another player into scoring position, they walked him. Eventually, the Giants started selling rubber chickens at the stadium for fans to wave whenever Barry was intentionally walked, and they added a chicken to the outfield wall for every Giant who was intentionally walked, too.

So, at camp, we have the “chicken rule” to make sure that a team doesn’t intentionally walk your best hitter. Each team is given a rubber chicken that they can throw once per game after a batter is walked, and it means a pinch runner can take the batter’s place at first and the batter can stay in the batter’s box. 

On our team, every time we threw the chicken, it was for Will Ferreira our amazing hitter.  

Les' team threw the chicken for him. Black eye or not, Dutch can hit! 

2015 Giants Fantasy Camp - No Day of Redemption Yet!

The good news is that we won the first tournament game in the bottom of the last inning with two outs and our best hitter, Will Ferriera,  just crushed it. At the time, we were down by one run, and we had a runner on first. He came all the way around into home, and we weren't sure he was going to make it. I'm not talking about safe or out. We weren't sure if he was even going to make it home. This is the day that legs start to give out and he just gave it his best that he had. He and the ball arrived about the same time and in the tangle, the ball squirted away from the catcher, and the runner reached over his head while laying on the ground to tag home. Right behind him - and I do mean RIGHT behind him – was the batter, who reached over the top of everyone to high-five home for the win!

For the record, Tiny followed in our gimpy runner down the third base line with the same "Pump your arms" repeated over and over. 

Our batter was mobbed by the entire team at home and we celebrated the hard-fought win. For our efforts, we got the afternoon off to let all the tired arms and legs relax a little bit. Tomorrow morning the winners bracket play in the stadium, which is always nice.

Oh, by the way, they did hit the ball to me: a beautiful, easy popup, and I dropped it. And, yes, all my hits went on the ground to third. If this would have been a movie, I would have caught the popup, hit a home run, and yesterday would have been forgotten. So much for fantasy! 

Teammates and coaches have been great and supportive by the way. Whenever anyone makes an error there are just supportive comments and helpful advice. Nothing remotely bad. 

At the time, of my drop, our ace, Will Ferriera, was on the mound pitching wonderfully.  As I tossed the ball back to him, he just pointed his glove at me and said, "All good, I got you, don't worry about it".  Then he struck out the next batter.  That's what I mean by supportive.  Errors at this camp are inevitable.  Luckily, so is the unfailing support of teammates. 

So, for now, all I can do is keep picking up the glove and taking the field. Focus, concentrate, and make the play. That’s it and... I AM having fun!

 Ok, hitting coaches, Wanna see why I'm hitting the ball to third?

Ok, hitting coaches, Wanna see why I'm hitting the ball to third?


2015 Giants Fantasy Camp - The Ugly

I've spent a lot of time blogging about the fun we have at camp. I also haven't shied away from describing my stupid plays and on-the-field errors. But nothing compares to today.

Today, I lost a game for my team. All me. No excuses. It was a tight game all the way through and we were down to the last out and leading by one. The other team had a strong hitter in the box, so I was playing a little deep at second. We only needed one out, and I'd gone through the different scenarios in my mind. Ball hit to short, cover second. Ball comes to me, take the easy out. 

And, the ball was hit to me. It was a hard hit, but just skimming along the ground, nothing difficult and I fielded it perfectly. I knew I had time because the ball was hit hard, so I didn't rush. I came up and threw a 30' throw to first - about 10 feet off line and just a little bit short. The first baseman had to come off the bag to field the throw. That was it. They scored a run on the play to tie it and then scored another run before we got out of it. 

It was our third game in the seeding round. It wasn't like a championship game or anything. It would have been nice to win because we would have played the team with the worst record to start the tournament. Now we will play the team with the second worse record. 

I feel like none of the tools that I expected to have are working for me. I'm having a hard time fielding. I muffed one in the first game today, a nice, slow roller that I just couldn't get a handle on. I couldn't handle a one-hopper from the shortstop when I was covering second either. I just bobbled the ball around while the runner came in. 

I haven't done anything with my bat except hit the ball on the ground to third. I'm really good at that and sometimes I get on base when I get lucky. In the first game I hit one right over the third base bag and that's always going to get you on base. But I just can't get the ball off of the ground. I haven't struck out, and I've walked a few times, but my inability to hit a line drive is maddening. 

Finally, I just can't throw. I don't understand this. If I stop thinking about it and just play catch, I'm fine. But in a game, or when I get self-conscious, I just can't accurately throw the ball. That's what got me today. I finally field a ball perfectly and I blow a simple throw. 

The only tool that I have that is consistently working are my legs. I've got speed and I can run.  Because my legs are working, I've done a lot of pinch running (or running for a batter who is unable).   

In baseball, you fail more often than you succeed. A game can come down to one caught or thrown ball. I tell myself that I didn't lose this game by myself. I mean, there were plenty of errors during the game. Dropped balls, errant throws and mental errors are all around us here at fantasy camp. The end score is a game is determined by dozens of big and little mistakes throughout the game. My mistake just came at the wrong time.

It's also just a game. This is just a week long camp so it really shouldn't matter, but it does. Maybe this says something about ego or that inner competitive drive that seems to be part of the male psyche. 

I also know that tomorrow I have to go out there again and it terrifies me. I have to walk in the locker room and say "good morning" to my teammates. I have to field grounders, handle line-drives and catch popups. I have to hit the ball and hopefully NOT at the third baseman. I have to run. I don't have a choice. I know it's just a game. I know we aren't curing cancer. 

And, I know I care. So, I'll try to put this behind me. Start a new day and see what happens. 

I hope they hit the ball to me.

 

2015 Giants Fantasy Camp - Hey That's Obstruction

Obstruction: The act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.

I enjoy running the bases. I don’t slide – I’ve decided that the risk/reward equation is too heavily weighted to the risk side – but otherwise, I'm fast on the bases and I mostly know what I'm doing.

There are some exceptions to that, and coach Felder (aka Tiny) doesn't hesitate to point them out. I haven't talked much about him, but he is awesome. I don't think he is ever quiet. He is always jawing about something. Sometimes he just makes things happen through sheer force of will. 

In my first at-bat, I had a 3-2 count and swung at a ball that was too low. Seriously, I saw it bounce on the plate while my bat took a swipe at least a foot above that. Tiny, who was coaching third, came running in yelling "He fouled it, he fouled it!". I didn’t, but he was so insistent and convincing that the umpire said that yes, he had heard my bat tip the ball, so get back in the batters box. The next pitch was a foot over my head and I trotted to first. It was all Tiny.

Sometimes people get nicknames that are the opposite of some physical characteristic. Not Tiny. He is pretty short. During his playing days, he made up for it by pushing the boundaries. He was the kind of fielder who would try to get runners out when they weren't expecting it. A baserunner might find the ball coming into second for a play when *they* though they had hit a clean double. That kind of thing. He was also really quick. 

It wasn't until he was in his twenties that he had instruction from a track coach who taught him proper form. How to pump his arms and how to keep his momentum all headed in one direction. His coach would tell him that running fast just happened if you pumped your arms faster and took longer strides. He stole a lot of bases after heeding that advice.

In our next game, we had runners at first and second. We are allowed to steal, but only once per inning, so you usually wait until you have runners at first and second so that you can move them both ahead simultaneously. I was the runner on first, so all I had to do was keep an eye on the runner at second. If he broke to third, I was supposed to break to second. 

On the first pitch to the next batter, that's exactly what happened. I saw the runner take off for third and I go. I could see by the defense that there is not going to be a play at second, so I rounded the bag and looked for my third base coach. When I did, I saw Tiny waving his arms and yelling "Whatcha doing looking at me? Look at the ball! Don't look at me, I don't have the ball". Turns out the ball was thrown right over the third baseman's head and into left field. But I was so busy looking at Tiny that I hadn't noticed! 

When these things happen in a game, the coaches always try to follow up when you come off the field. Tiny told me that my job was to know where the ball was, and use my judgement about going. And "Go" should be my default action. His job was simply to stop me. 

In our last game of the day, I was again at first when a long fly ball was hit to left field. There was a runner ahead of me, so I rounded second expecting the other team to make a play at the plate. But the cutoff man had a different idea and drilled the ball to second. I dove back head-first ahead of the tag.

Then, I was buried. When second baseman tried to field the throw he ended up falling on top of me. Seriously, I was completely buried. All I could hear was Tiny yelling "Paul Deas, get UP and RUN" over and over. I have no idea where the ball is because, well, someone is laying on me and not really trying to get off.

I scrambled out from under the second baseman and headed to third where Tiny is NOT giving me a stop sign, so I turned and headed to home. All the way home, there was this crazy, screaming third base coach running along side me. He was just repeating "Pump those arm, faster, faster, pump those arms". All the way to home. 

I headed to the dugout thinking "Hey, that's obstruction!” and knowing that a good umpire would have let me score either way! But the grin on my face was all to do with Tiny running alongside me yelling for me to pump my arms faster. 

2015 Giants Fantasy Camp - Back Again

Yes, I'm back. Don't ask me why because it is difficult to describe the draw that this camp has on its participants. I've had so much fun blogging about my experiences that I thought I would try again. You might think that there is nothing left to say but, luckily for me, there is always something new and different. 

My Rookie Year was a beast unto itself that I'm happy not to repeat, and my next year as a Veteran was a new experience. If you haven't read about 2013 and 2014, you should before you continue; otherwise, you will be lost. 

I know that last year I said I wasn't nervous, but in retrospect I was, a bit. But this year, I’m not nervous at all. There was a general anxiety in the lead-up to camp, but most of that was a hectic schedule on the day before. Once I arrived at the hotel on Sunday there were familiar faces, handshakes and hugs. This year there are 112 campers and 67 veterans, so the ratio is a bit skewed to veterans. There are also 32 people on the waiting list who aren't here. This is a popular camp, especially after a world-championship year.

The coaches are largely the same, but Greg Minton (my coach from last year) isn't here this year, and we have a couple of new faces. The draft has already happened and I'm with Ed Halicki and Mike Felder (aka Tiny). Ed was another of my coaches from last year, but Mike Felder is a new face to camp - at least for me. 

There are a whole bunch of familiar names from the first two years, Rich Aurilia, Jim Barr, Vida Blue, Mark Davis, Hobie Landrith, Rich Murray and Mike McCormick to name a few. Joel Youngblood is doing his amazing hitting clinics again which I can't get enough of.

You might think that these guys wouldn't waste time remembering faces or names, but that isn't the case. Bill Laskey greets every camper by name welcoming back Veterans and introducing himself to Rookies. I went up to Ed Halicki and started to re-introduce myself and he stopped me by saying, "Oh, I remember you and I have some advice for you this year. When you want to tag runner, don't hold the ball in one hand and tag the runner with an empty glove!" Sigh. Yup, that was me, and he remembers. 

Today was about clinics and evaluations. You know the drill, you catch fly balls, field grounders and spend time in the batting cages. It was fun, but tomorrow's when things will really get going…

 

2014 Giants Fantasy Game - Last Day and Refections

I'm done playing. That part of camp ended with the two games yesterday. Today, we got to be spectators for the championship game. It was a beautiful morning in Scottsdale, clear and warm. This was the first time this week that there had been more than a handful of spectators in the stands, and campers trickled in over the first few innings.  

The game was good and the level of play was, well, improving! It's not like you are going to take a whole bunch of 40-70 year olds and improve lifetimes of bad habits in a week. But when you are playing in the championship game everybody steps it up a bit and the familiarity you have with your teammates enhances the level of play.

The game was just what you want from a championship game, close right to the end.  

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If you remember my blog entry from last year about the injury to Danielle, you'll be happy to know she was there. In fact, she got to throw out the first pitch. She is fully recovered and, yes, married!  

I took a look at the winning team's team picture at the start of camp and again during the awards ceremony. It's a great example of the bond that forms between teammates. In the first picture, you don't see anybody touching anyone else. In the second picture, you would be hard pressed to find two players who aren't hugging or slinging their arm around someone's shoulder!

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In the afternoon, the campers got to try to get a hit off the pros. Shawn Estes was the first pitcher and I don't think anyone touched a pitch. I was standing behind home plate watching the movement on the ball and it was incredible. The pros ended with Joel Youngblood on the mound (not a former pitcher) and the campers did start to have a little more success. But with the infield occupied by other pros and the batboys in the outfield, only a few of the hits resulted in a baserunner.   

This camp is a bit like a drug. After my rookie year I said that I had fun, but wouldn't be back. But here I am. My desire to experience the camp as a veteran led me here this year.  Now, I'm already making plans for next year. I'm not sure that I know how to stop.  

My second year was much better than my first for many reasons. The lack of unknowns was a big reason. I knew what was coming and I felt much more comfortable. But my body also performed better. I'm a little sore, but that's all. When I look back at my blog posts from last year, I was so sore on Thursday that I almost couldn't walk. This year, I got a little sore after two games on Friday, but woke up Saturday morning feeling great. I did wake up Sunday morning with the start of a cold, but I think that's just good timing. 

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I can't say enough good things about Bill Laskey and how well he runs this camp. This camp has a reputation as the best camp in the country and that's largely due to Bill. He sets the tone, and his attention to detail is impeccable. There are so few things to improve that I struggle to think of any.

Last year, I reflected a bit on my motivations for coming to camp. My feelings haven't changed much from a year ago, but I do have a better appreciation for the friendships that form at camp. I imagine that people who have been at this for 5 or 10 years feel this even stronger. 

"Baseball is a great game that connects generations," said Marty Lurie. I would add, that it also connects us to strangers, co-workers, and even to our own youth. It's just a game. But it is also so much more.

2014 Giants Fantasy Camp - Day 5; Just a Good Day

We had a heartbreaker today. After winning our first tournament game, we had the afternoon off and came back to the field fresh and ready to play. We had to win one more game and then we would be in the championship on Saturday.   

We were winning 5-4 going into the bottom of the 7th inning, so all we needed to do was to get three outs and we were there. But the other team loaded the bases and then scored a run on a little flare. The winning run was walked in, which was a particularly hard way to lose the game.  

As a rookie, you really bond with your teammates. There are no other familiar faces. After that, though, many of those former teammates are sprinkled around on other teams. I imagine that the players who have been here for many years feel like they are attending a high-school reunion each year. Jim Fish (our shortstop and power hitter from last year), was on the team that beat us. It will be nice to see their team in the championship game on Saturday.   

One of the other major differences from my rookie year is that I'm not nervous. When I come up to bat, I find myself kidding with the catcher or the umpire. When I take the field, I'm calm. I wait and hope that they hit the ball to me. I didn't expect to feel like this. During one at-bat in the main stadium where they announce the batters, I said, "Someday, they'll get my name right.” The umpire asked how I pronounced it, then turned around and yelled up the announcer's booth, "Hey, his name is Paul Deas. Get it right!" They did, from then on.  

My love for baseball has a lot to do with the intricacy of the game and the rules. It is a game of subtlety that I will never fully comprehend. Players know the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents, who can't hit a left-hander's slider and if the right fielder has a good arm. They study this and they live baseball. 

At lunch, a couple of the pros were sitting at the table when I took an empty seat. I'm not sure that any of the pros ever stop talking about baseball – which is wonderful. The pitcher was talking about the difficulty of putting together back-to-back World Series. When teams go the World Series, the players are playing late into October. And not easy games – tense, high-stakes, crazy-intense games. So when it's all done, they need downtime.

Typically pitchers take the entire month of October off. No throwing at all. Then in November they start to throw and light workouts. But after a World Series, they don't really get that month off, and then December is full of holidays and it's hard to get good work started. Before you know it you are back in training camp. Your body isn't ready and your mind hasn't had a chance to recover. This is especially hard on pitchers because so much of their job is mental.

 Dan, Steve, Paul (aka the Professor) and I waiting for our pitcher to warm up.

Dan, Steve, Paul (aka the Professor) and I waiting for our pitcher to warm up.

These are things that I have never thought about. I've also never thought about how I should walk back to third base after taking a lead on a pitch. I know that when you take a lead from third, you stay in foul territory because a runner who is hit by a batted ball in fair territory is out. When you are taking a lead from third, if you are in foul territory you may still get hit, but you won't be out. Ed Halicki is our third base coach and, after a pitch, said, "Hey, walk back in fair territory and never take your eyes off the ball." When I ask why, he tells me that if you put yourself between the catcher or pitcher and third base, they have a harder time picking you off. And, maybe, just maybe, you'll get hit by the thrown ball, and the ball will go rolling and you can score.

In this league, pick-offs aren't even allowed. But to Ed that's no excuse for not developing good habits, even for me.

Nobody takes themselves too seriously here, so it was easy to find the silver lining after our morning loss. That silver lining was a no-pressure afternoon game. People tried out new positions and, for me, that meant a stint at third. I was fine throwing one hoppers and, sometimes, two or three hoppers to first. It may not look it, but the throw from third to first is a really long way. Good thing our first baseman handles errant throws well. 

The other team had runners on first and second with no outs and the ball was hit to me at third. I knew that all I had to do was touch third, but fielding the throw had taken me toward second and when I looked up the runner was right there. He took another step, juked sideways. I reached out and tagged him – with my empty glove. I immediately knew what I had done, so I turned to throw to third which our on-the-ball shortstop, Tommy, was hustling to cover. But the runner was between me and third base and the ball ended up getting caught up in that mess and he was safe.

When you play baseball, you have to live the game. You have to study every aspect of the game. But most of all, you have to love the game.

 The pros have fun hanging out with the compatriots as well.  Here Ed Halicki is giving Vida Blue a bad time.  Probably the other way around! 

The pros have fun hanging out with the compatriots as well.  Here Ed Halicki is giving Vida Blue a bad time.  Probably the other way around! 

2014 Giants Fantasy Camp - Day 4; Tournament and Success!

The tournament started today. There are two divisions, each with four teams. For the tournament, the lowest seed on each division is paired with the highest seed of the other division. Having lost all three games to this point, our 0-3 team had to play the other division's 2-0-1 team. Other than deciding who plays against whom, the previous games don't mean anything. From here on out, this is a standard single-elimination tournament. 

Some of you may know that I've been a pretty active umpire for a while. I don't know how many games I've done in my career, but it might be over 200. As I mentioned last year, you would think I could refrain from giving the umpire dirty looks on called strikes, but I can't help myself.

Some of my umpire instincts come in handy, but some make me look silly. Like when I'm in the field at second base and our pitcher hits a batter, I can't stop myself from throwing my hands in the air to call time. Luckily, I haven't actually yelled "Time" across the field. Maybe people think I'm just a little strange and then forget about it. I hope so. 

The other problem is that I always (and I do mean always) know where the ball is. I watch it like a hawk regardless of the game situation. When umpires lose the ball, all breaks loose on the diamond. Have you ever seen a play at second called by the home plate umpire because the field umpire was watching for a play at third? It happens.  

Most of the time, watching the ball with laser-like intensity is a good thing as a player. But not when you are on base and you should be looking for the steal sign from your third base coach. It's a hard habit to break. I'm working on it but I missed two steal signs today. 

On the positive side, I am always aware of the count and the game situation. Just like a player, an umpire always has to run scenarios through his head before each pitch. Thinking about forces, double-plays, and even infield-fly situations just comes naturally. I don't camp out at second base watching an outfield run after the ball because I don't want to obstruct the runner coming from first. (It also drives me crazy when someone calls this "interference". It is "obstruction" when a fielder not in the act of fielding impedes the progress of a runner. Thanks to Dave Miller, I know the rules better than most campers.)

Today, our team came alive! We didn't just win the game, we hit well and there were no errors. The final score against the previously undefeated team: 9-4. Our starting pitcher, Tommy Gerber, pitched the entire game and the opposing players never could figure out how to hit his pitches. Just like in Little League, this game is about throwing strikes and he did that in spades.  

Family 2014 2014-01-23 001.JPG

The other team's pitcher also pitched a complete game. His pitches were faster and a bit more predictable so we just got hit after hit. Depending on how they score it, I maybe went 2-3. One of those hits was my first quality line drive into left/center field. I still have my legs and speed which is either a tribute to Pilates or losing 25 pounds from last year, but I'll attribute it to both. One of the problems of always hitting the ball on the ground to third is that I have to sprint to first every at-bat. It was nice to have a relatively sedate run to first on my hit. Despite all the running, my legs feel good. I'm a little sore, but not the debilitating, can't walk type of sore. 

We have a strong, young player, Aaron Finigan, who has had some monster hits in previous games. He is also a strong outfielder with a huge range that is sorely needed. We have an amazing shortstop, Steve Uesugi, who seems to handle everything that gets close to him. He and Aaron are probably the strongest bats on the team. 

After my error in right field yesterday, I was looking to redeem myself. I had a great day at second, handling every grounder and popup that came my way. The bottom of the final inning we were trying to protect our lead and the home team had their top-of-the-lineup players coming to the plate. The first batter hit a hard grounder between me and first. It was a stretch, but I managed to reach it, fielded it cleanly and made a nice (and short) throw to first for the out.  

I know that we are only adults pretending to play baseball, but during the games, it feels like more than that. As adults, it's really easy to forget that feeling of exhilaration that sports can bring. When was the last time you threw your hands into the air and yelled? It's pretty hard to do that in the office. The camaraderie that has developed between 14 strangers in just a few days is also a treat. We support each other. Nobody is mean. When one of our players is too sore to run, someone runs for him. One of our players can't play defense at all anymore, and he has taken up a much needed role as our first base coach. He is great at it and without him, we would be something less. Win or lose, we are all having fun.   

I think that this feeling of exhilaration and camaraderie is one of the side benefits of coaching our kids' teams in the various sports. I'm not saying that we should relive our youth through our kids. I'm just suggesting that we treat their successes and challenges in sports as a gift. Our kids allow us to be part of their lives when we coach. Hopefully, we can all be good role models and make sure that sports is a positive force in their lives. This doesn't mean you have to win. Sometimes it is just celebrating the small successes. There are times when a good play to a 10 year old is way more important that the outcome of the game. One may become a lifetime memory and the other is often forgotten. 

When we came off the field after a 3 up, 3 down bottom of the 7th inning (that's all we play) there were smiles, fist bumps and kudos flying everywhere. We went from 0-3 in the leadup to the tournament to 1-0 and in the Winner's Bracket. 

And it felt great.

 

 

 Box or Chocolates

Box or Chocolates

2014 Giants Fantasy Camp - Day 3; Double Headers and an Error

I didn't expect to become known as the "blog guy".   About a dozen times during this camp, when I introduce myself as "Paul", someone will ask if I'm the guy with the blog.   It turns out that if you do a Google search for "Giants Fantasy Camp", my blog is first non-sponsored result!   I like the organic way that the blog gets readers.   Other than my single facebook post, everyone else who finds me is just using a search engine.  I like that.

Today I dropped a fly ball in right field.   But that's the middle of the story, so I'll start at the beginning. 

We played two games today and lost both of them.   I won't bother you with the details, but I just want to say that we were robbed, repeatedly. My teammates have a more colorful way of putting it.   In fact, some suggested that rename ourselves but, in the end, we stuck with our official name: "Box of Chocolates - Because you never know what you are going to get!" 

 

image.jpg

The first game was in the main Scottsdale Stadium.   This is an incredible place.   Beautiful field, major league scoreboard and even an announcer.   "Now stepping to the plate from Healdsburg, California, Paul Deeeeeees".    The pronunciation doesn't matter because I was always thinking about the 10,451 things that Joel Youngblood told us to do in the batter's box.  But when they say "Healdsburg, California", it catches my attention.   Like my subconscious mind says "Hey, I'm from there!" and then I realize they are talking about me.    It's a little jarring and way cool.   

I have come to absolutely love playing second base.   I sit there waiting and hoping for line drives.    I want them to hit to me.   I stress about the throw to first but, heck, that's just a short toss from second.   I can't park myself at second the entire game.   I have a teammate who doesn't have the legs for outfield and, like me, doesn't trust his arm for long throws so we switched off at second every few innings.   In between, I played various outfield positions.   

And this is how I found myself hanging out in right field with a left handed batter in the box, but someone who was a ways down in the batting order.   Because of that, I was not playing particularly deep and only slightly favoring the 1st base line.   Then he ripped one.  It was hit hard and high and I turned and sprinted.  Fly balls are in the air for four to six seconds and I had a good read but the ball was sailing.    I started to slow a little early.   I haven't learned to get myself into a good position to catch fly balls.   I think I should keep my speed up and then turn and come in as I make the catch.   But, I didn't.   I slowed up and tried to catch the ball while still on the run.   It ticked off the finger of the glove and fell.  As I picked the ball up and threw it back into the infield, I heard the opposing team cheering.   

It was my first error in my Giants Fantasy Camp experience and I was bummed.  Andy the photographer was on the field and I asked him after the game if he caught my blunder, but he was focused on the batters.  I was doubly bummed because I really wanted to post the bad pictures along with the good ones.   

Later in the day, I said something to Ed Halicki (my coach) about dropping the ball.   He turned to me and said, "Look, if you were a great baseball player and you dropped the ball, you have every right to beat yourself up.   But nobody here is a great baseball player.   You guys are all going to make mistakes and you can't let them get you down."   It's a perspective that I hadn't considered and it really helped.   Ed liked the idea so much that he shared it with the whole team.  

Ed was born to play baseball, unlike any of the 109 campers.

In the second game, I got a hit.   Nothing great, but a ball that was difficult for the third baseman to get to.  I hustled to first, beating out the throw.  I felt better. 

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I also got hit during my first at-bat in the afternoon game.   The pitcher was one of the solid players from my team last year.   He has a side-arm delivery, so it's hard for me to judge the ball early.  It was inside and, although I tried to get out of the way, it hit me on the left elbow.   Since I've been an umpire for years, I've had my share of baseballs to the forearm, but this was different.  It hit right on the bone and hurt like hell.   So much that I couldn't properly bend my arm.  The pitcher met me on the way to first to offer his apologies and by the time I came around to home (we had a good inning), the sting was starting to go away.   After the game the trainers put ice on my arm and on my shoulder (just a bit sore) and I walked around the club-house looking pretty bad.   I wasn't alone.

The camp is starting to take it's toll on players.   Most teams started with 14 players, but already many teams have 2 or 3 players who can't run.   Everybody still bats, but a runner stands behind a screen at home and when the hear the whack of the bat on ball, they take off to first.   There are a lot of pulled muscles, sore knees and general aches and pains.    

So far, I'm ok.  I can still run well.   By this time last year, I almost couldn't walk.  I'm hoping it stays this way because even though I sometimes drop fly balls in the outfield, I can still get to the ball.   If I get the ball, and drop it, I can still limit the damage.  Some people are so sore, they can barely run and these same hits become inside the park home runs.  

When you aren't very good at something, you have to celebrate the partial successes!

 

2014 Giants Fantasy Camp - Day 2; Let the Games Begin

Let me just start by saying that today was a blast!   It started good and got better.   

In prior years, the days each started with Kangaroo Court.   Anybody who got caught doing something wrong would get accused and given a chance to defend themselves.  The court was friendly to the prosecution and distainful of the defense.   Fines were levied freely and doubled if a defense was even offered.  The exact workings of Kangaroo Court are under a gag order, but I can share that it was always in good fun and the fines went to charity.

This year, no more Kangaroo Court.  Instead have some of the coaches get up and tell stories.   Marty Lurie from KNBR and amazing baseball historian was the Master of Ceremonies.   We heard from Vida Blue, Hobie Landrith along with a few others.   Each offered a story of their playing days.   Marty says that baseball stories connect the current generation to the great players of the past.  They create a shared sense of community and shared passion for the game.   I'm not going to retell them here because I couldn't do them justice.  There are some nice tidbits in last year's day 1 blog.  

One of the story tellers was Trevor Wilson who pitched for the Giants for 7 years starting in 1988.   In 1992 Trevor struck out three batters on 9 pitches becoming only the 27th pitcher in Major League history to record a perfect half-inning.   Something that Trevor said really hit me because it dovetails nicely with some of my thoughts on careers.     

A few times a year, I get the opportunity to go to our local high school and talk to kids who are interested in a career in engineering or computer science.  I really enjoy these talks and, based on the feedback from the students, they do as well.   During one of them this year, a student asked when I knew that I wanted to be a programmer.   I told the story of walking into the computer lab at Stanford (personal computers didn't exist), being enthralled and acing all my programming classes.   Then, I finally put into words something that has been a central part of my life.   From a career perspective, I was born to be a programmer.   

Finding a career, I told them, is figuring out what you do better than most other people.   Some people are great at math or physics, or are amazing artists, writers or musicians.   These skills may lead to obvious professions.   But, maybe you are a really good people person and are easy to be around, warm and gregarious.  Perhaps your career might take you into hospitality or sales.  Every student in the room is better at something than their neighbor.  My point is to get them to think about their own skills and explore what that may mean for a career.     

I wasn't thinking about baseball.       

Then Trevor Wilson got up and talked about a particularly tight game situation that he had to face as a pitcher.   You know the kind: bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, no outs and trying to protect a one run lead.  When asked if he was ok entering the game, he said, "of course", like it was the silliest question in the world.   After all, he said, "this is what I was born to do".   Of course, he got out of the inning and they won the game.

Trevor Wilson was born to pitch.  I think I'll tell this story next time I'm at the high school.

I was NOT born to pitch and you won't see any pictures from this week with me on the mound.   I'm ok with that, because I'm pretty sure that Trevor is a crummy programmer!   

After the stories, we had team practices and then, in the afternoon, our first game.  What a blast.  No, we didn't win, but we had a good game.   Not much hitting, but our defense did a fine job.   We had an opportunity to try out some of our pitchers and everybody moved around nicely on the field to try different positions.  There are a lot of parallels between our level of play and 11-12 Little Leaguers.   They probably run faster than most of us, but we make up for our legs with a lot more situational awareness.  

I mentioned Andy Kuno, our camp photographer, in yesterday's post.   He just happened to be in the right place when a hard liner was hit to me at second.  I came down with the ball, threw to first and we had a double play.   This is an example of the magic that happens at camp that makes people come back year after year.  

By the way, in my mind's replay of this catch, I was at least 30" off the ground.   I guess pictures don't lie.  

  Double Play Ball!  

Double Play Ball!  

 

 

2014 Giants Fantasy Camp - Day 1 ; It's nice to be back!

I didn't have much time to prepare for this trip.  It snuck up on me.   So, when I was packing on Saturday night, I re-read my Suggestions for Next Year's Rookies blog entry.  It seems that I only have about a 50% hit rate in following my own advice, but it was still useful.   I did pack lightly and I did make sure I had plenty of empty space in my suitcases for Bill Laskey give-aways.

I also went bat shopping with my son, Kevin.   We selected a nice wood bat that I'm enjoying, but I forgot about the batting helmet.   I did a lot of quadricep strengthing, and plenty of stretching, but didn't manage to get to the interval training.    Last year my quads got so sore that I almost couldn't walk.   Hopefully, this won't happen again.

Today was about uniforms, pictures, tryouts and clinics.   I ended up with the same locker as last year.   There are also a lot of familiar faces around.   It might take a moment for their names to come back, but they do.   All of this lends a familar and comfortable air to the first day.  A far cry from my experience last year.

  My 2014 Player Card

My 2014 Player Card

The weather is beautiful.   Last year we couldn't get on the field for days and the camp organizers scrambled to adapt.  This year, we just took to the field and started taking fly balls in the outfield and grounders in the infield.   Vida Blue hit grounders and I didn't even think twice about it.  Rich Aurilia did the infield coaching and clinic.   Someone asked Rich about how to position yourself as a second baseman to cover the bag in double play situations.  He went through more combinations than I thought possible.  It struck me that most of his footwork had to do with shortening the throw to first.  In a game of inches,  inches matter.  Feet really matter.  As a second baseman, if you can find a way to cut your throw to first down by a foot, it matters.      

  Rich Aurilia gives pointers

Rich Aurilia gives pointers

The camp photographer, Andy, is awesome.  His biggest problem is that he has to be everywhere at once.  I don't know how he does it.    He posts the pictures every evening so that we can download them.   He catches the good moments as well as the bad.   It's fun to go through the hundreds of pictures trying to find yours.  You see a lot of good... and a lot of bad.  He only got one sequence of me catching a fly ball.    

  Last year, I dropped my first fly!

Last year, I dropped my first fly!

In the afternoon we had a couple of sit-down clinics where the pros give you tips about various aspects of the game.   I get the impression that they aren't teaching us so that we can be better players.  The details and techniques that Joel Youngblood provided about hitting were impressive.   But, the demonstration (using players) of the right and wrong way to bat weren't aimed at us.  Instead, it's like he was passing along things so that can, in turn, pass them along.   I wish I would have attended camp before I tried to manage a team.  I wish that I could find a way for Joel to come to our local Healdsburg Little League so he could have a direct pipeline to the young players.      

Late in the afternoon the coaches went away and drafted.   I'm happy.  Same coaches as last year; Greg Minton and Ed Halicki.   I like their desire to win tempered by their need to make sure that everyone has fun.   As Ed said in our team meeting, "This camp is supposed to leave a good taste in your mouth.  Anything that gets in the way of that is what we want to avoid."  

From last year's blog: 

I was drafted to a team managed by Greg Minton (aka Mooney - don't ask) and Ed Halicki (aka Ho Ho - don't ask). Both former pitchers and great guys. Ed Halicki has the distinction of having pitched a no-hitter for the Giants on August 24th, 1975 against the New York Mets. The cool part about this (besides the no hitter), is that there were only 1 other no-hitter pitched by the Giants after that until Jonathan Sanchez on July 10th, 2009 and Pamela and I were there to see it! I kept saying to her, "Do you know what is going on?" and people around us would give me angry looks and just mouth "don't you dare".

Then there is Greg Minton who went three full seasons (269 innings) without throwing a pitch that was hit out of the park. That record still stands today. Being a pitcher wasn't his idea. He was a shortstop and a darn good one. But with incredible shortstops like Ozzie Smith in the league, the coaching staff decided to try him out as a pitcher. It stuck.

 

2014 Giants Fantasy Camp - Pre-Story

If you read my blog from last year's Giants Fantasy Camp, you'll know that I am not much of a baseball player.  To be fair, before last year, I didn't even know if I could play the game.   Growing up I didn't play little league and, when school sports came into play, I was fast, so I ran track.   But, after sheparding kids through little league and now enjoying my life as an umpire, I certainly have a passion and love for the game that I didn't have in my youth. 

After my rookie year at the Giants Fantasy Camp, I even said that I doubted that I would come back.   Last year's camp was a gift from my family.   A gift that put me miles away from my comfort zone.   I was terrified.     

Don't get me wrong, I had a great time last year.   I found out a lot about myself and had a great week playing the first organized baseball of my life.    It was a stressful week being a rookie and, yes, nobody ever lets you forget that you are rookie.   Rookies are nervous - all the time.   Just figuring out where to be and what to do was nerve-racking.   Add Joel Youngblood hitting you fly balls and nervous doesn't even begin to describe the feeling.   But by the end of the week, things fell into place.   

The reason I came back had everything to do with NOT being a rookie.   I know where to be and what to do.   I know that Rich Aurilia is just a nice guy with a freakish skill that allowed him to play professional baseball.   I know that I can field ground balls and catch fly balls.   I also know that I can't hit anything but ground balls to third.  I'm still working on that!   

My rookie year may be have been a gift from my family, but this year it is a gift to myself.  I'm back in Scottsdale, Arizona: this is NOT my rookie year and I want to play ball!

Giants Fantasy Camp - Suggestions for Next Year's Rookies (and Veterans)

A number of people have asked me if I have suggestions or tips for next year's players.  Here goes!

Preparation for Camp

  • Don't worry about your skills.  All levels were represented at the camp.  Don't get me wrong, if you get a chance, play catch, get the batting cages and take some infield before you show up in Scottsdale.  But, if you aren't the best batter in the world, don't worry.  I stretched a lot, but didn't do any conditioning.  The lack of conditioning was a mistake and resulted in my soreness toward the end of camp.  I haven't tried it yet, but here is what I would suggest.  Go out to your local track or baseball diamond, warm-up and stretch.    Then do interval training by jogging for 100 ft, sprinting for 100 ft and then walking for 100 ft.  Keep doing this in different order and vary the distances.  Start off slowly and build up over a few weeks.  When you can do 20 of them, you are doing pretty well.
  • If you can't run, someone will run for you.  But, if you can't throw, it's hard to participate.  Be sure you don't have any injuries that preclude you from playing catch.
  • Update: In 2015, a camper suggested that I put a note in here about taking a hitting lesson at a local batting cage.  It's great preparation.  Spend an hour with an instructor when you visit the batting cages!

What to Take

  • Take compression shorts and a cup. If you are going to be playing infield, or catching you should wear your cup, however many players don't. You take your chances if you chose to go without! The compression shorts are the only missing piece of equipment in your locker.  Your compression shorts should be thigh length, not the full length ones, and white doesn't show through your cream colored pants.  Seriously, if you showed up with buck-naked with just compression shorts and a glove in your hand you could get dressed and take the field.  Everything else is provided.
  • You won't need many other clothes.  You'll be wearing your street clothes for an hour in the morning and a few in the evening.  The rest of the time, you'll be in your uniform.  A pair of jeans (the single exception to What Not to Take) and a few t-shirts and you'll be fine.
  • There are a lot of giveaways (thank you Bill!).  When you head home, you'll have multiple bobble-heads, and plenty of other nice memorabilia.  Leave behind the extra clothing so you have room for the freebies in your suitcase.
  • My glove had some lacing break on the first day of camp.  They didn't have any leather strips to replace it, and I spent the entire week waiting for my patch job to fail.  It didn't, but next time, I'm taking some basic glove repair supplies with me!
  • A glove.  If you are a catcher, feel free to take your own gear (exception: see What Not to Take Below)
  • Take a bat and your own equipment.  I didn't take anything and that was fine.  But, next time, I'm taking my own batting helmet and my own wooden bat.  Otherwise, you have to use what they supply which isn't the same for every game.  So, I found myself using 32" , 33" , and even a 34" bat.  Not great.
  • You won't need spikes.  They provide nice turf shoes that I wore all week long.  When the grounds crew gives you permission, you can wear cleats, but nothing more than rubber cleats is required.  Again, I don't think you need them, but no harm taking them if you want to.  Oh, don't take soccer cleats - people will make fun of you.
  • If you don't know how to slide, definitely don't wear cleats.  There are plenty of people who don't slide.
  • If you want autographs, take stuff.  A couple of days during the week there are autograph sessions.  Have your stuff organized so you aren't trying to get that Jim Davenport card out of the plastic sleeve that it has been in for the past 20 years while people are waiting.  The pros are happy to sign, but be respectful of their time and the length of the line.
  • Take a friend.  If you go to camp in pairs, you will be placed on teams together.  It takes a bit of the social anxiety out of the picture.
  • There are people that you'll need to tip, so some cash is a good idea.  Small tips for breakfast wait-staff and larger ones at the end of the week for the ball-boys and trainers.  Nothing outrageous, but be ready.  I had only a 100 bill when I arrived at camp and stressed a bit about getting it cashed.  Oh, and if you get fined in Kangaroo Court, you'll need to pay your fines which all go to the Junior Giants program.  Fines are usually $5-$20 depending on what you have done wrong and how much you argue about it :-)

What NOT to Take

  • Don't take anything that is Dodger Blue.  If you have bat bag, make sure it is black or orange.  If it is blue, leave it home.

While you are there

  • Wear Sunscreen.  It is provided for you in the training room by the gallon.
  • Hang out at your locker.  Each day, I awoke at 7:00am, showered, grabbed some coffee, and headed to the ballpark.  From 7:30 until 8:00 I read the paper and drank my coffee.  It was fun chatting with the other players as they filtered in.  Then at 8:00 I started to get dressed and then went out for a lap around the stadium and some catch.  The batting cages are open starting early and often there is a coach present.  If you feel like hitting, go for it.  However, quality is better than quantity.  It's better to take 40 quality swings than 800 poor ones.
  • Use the trainers.  My first inclination is to say to myself, "I'm not that sore, I'll be ok".  Don't do that.  If you get a sprain, go see them.  If you are sore, get in the ice bath at the end of the day, it does wonders.  These guys are free, available and good at their jobs.  Use them.
  • Go easy.  They will tell you this over and over again.  Take it seriously.    There are a lot of sprains when people are headed out of the batter's box to first.  Go easy.
  • It's easy to be unaware of your surroundings.  I was only aware of the hotel, the stadium and the playing fields.  After camp, I was shocked to find out that the hotel is only a block away from Old Town Scottsdale and plenty of restaurants and shops.  Look at a map and use one of the early free evenings to explore.
  • I never showered at the ballpark but plenty of people did.  I just changed into my street clothes and showered back at the hotel.  Personal preference.
  • Encourage stories.  You never know what you will hear if you just ask one of the many pros at camp.
  • Introduce yourself.  On the way upstairs, I was chatting with Vida Blue and decided to say, "By the way, Vida, I'm Paul".  He asked for my last name and thanked me for introducing myself.  A lot of guys talk to the pros.  Remember, you know their name, but they are highly unlikely to know yours. 

When you are back home

  • Keep active.  You are going to be sore for a few days, but don’t go from active to couch potato.
  • Talk to people and tell them what you experienced.    Share some of the stories that you heard.
  • Play catch with your kids every chance you get.

Giants Fantasy Camp - Last Day and Reflections

I survived! All my worries about pulled muscles and my anxiety about my baseball skills are behind me. Other than some of the sorest quads in the world, I'm still in one piece. Today was our last game: an abbreviated 5 inning game. In the top of the first inning I played right field. I realized, shortly after taking the field, that I was standing on the same field, in the same place as Danielle was yesterday when she was hit in the mouth. And wouldn't you know it, the first batter hits a shallow pop fly to virtually the same spot. All I was thinking about was, "Don't let it hit you in the mouth". Luckily, I didn't have any sun to contend with, so all went well.

Danielle did show up at the awards ceremony after the game. She had been through a few hours of surgery to fix her teeth and her fractured lower jaw. She held ice up to her mouth the whole time, but did get a standing ovation from the crowd as she took the field to get her "Trainer's Award". She lost two teeth completely and she'll have to drink through a straw for 4 weeks, but she seemed in good spirits (maybe that was the pain medication).

Our shortstop, Jim Fish, got the camp MVP. He ended up going 11 for 13 at the plate. He had 5 triples, and 2 doubles in that mix. He made no errors in the field and was an exemplary teammate. It was good to see him rewarded for his efforts. I'll say it again, if you are the superstar on a team, be a great teammate. Encourage others and pick them up when they make a mistake. Everybody will love you and your team will be better because of you. The prima donna superstar who gets down on other players and spends a lot of time angry on the field should be fired.

I spent a lot of time this week asking people why they had come to the camp. Among the rookies, there were a three common themes. About a third of the newcomers had been given a gift by wives and family. Obviously that's the group I fall in to. Many of these newcomers had never played organized ball and, even those who had played, stopped well before high school. This was the nervous group who obviously loved the game, but were unsure of their skills on the field. In a sense, coming the camp wasn't their idea!

Another third of the rookies were there because it was on their "bucket list". The whole bucket list concept is something that I have a hard time with, but it's how they described it. It was just something that they had always wanted to do and finally had a chance. All of the people in this category that I talked to had played baseball through high-school or college and just wanted to do it again.

Finally, the remaining group knew other people who had been to the camp before and wanted to join in the fun. Even though they were rookies, they seemed to know what to expect, had a built-in support group and had a blast without any of the awkwardness that the rest of us felt.

Obviously, there are people who attended for other reasons but, regardless, everybody at the camp had a deep love for the game of baseball.

I've also been wondering how I feel about all this now that it's over. I never had the "Fantasy" to play baseball. At most, I've had a lingering regret for not having played in high school. When the coaches would ask if there were any of our baseball fantasies we hadn't achieved yet, I think I just stared blankly. Some people really wanted to get on the mound and pitch, or play shortstop. Others really wanted to try to get a hit off of Shawn Estes, Russ Ortiz or Vida Blue. That wasn't me.

For me, this wasn't about putting on a Giant's uniform or pretending to be a baseball player. It was just about playing. And it was awesome. I would do this again here at the Giants Fantasy Camp. I would do it in Healdsburg at Recreation Park, if I could. I think I would have just as much fun in both venues. I would miss the instruction from our amazing coaching staff. I would also miss the locker room, the training staff, having our laundry done every night and finding polished shoes in my locker in the morning. But the games would be just as great.

I am proud of what I accomplished this week. I didn't hide on the bench or defer when someone asked if I wanted to play a position (other than pitcher). I played about 2/3 of all of the innings (in 5 positions) and didn't have a single error. I caught every fly ball, fielded every grounder and made every throw. I only struck out once in 12 at bats and walked twice. I hit a lot of grounders that didn't make it out of the infield and had two solid hits. I *think* this means that I batted 200. Our team's record was 4-1-1.

If you are a baseball player, you have probably found plenty of things to shake your head at in my posts. I hope that my writings have given you a chance to appreciate some of your experiences and skills that you take for granted.

I am NOT a baseball player, but I love the game and had an unbelievable week. Thanks Dave Miller and the 20-somethings who ran me through a practice at the high school. And, thanks Pamela, Kyle, Kevin, Colin and Nelson for giving me a gift that I didn't even know I wanted!

Giants Fantasy Camp - Day 5; Celebration, Kudos and Disaster

Today was tournament day. But it started with an engagement! If you remember, I said that there were 4 women players in camp with the 108 guys. All but one are veterans, but there is one rookie named Danielle. Because there are so few women, everybody knows their names. They don't get any special treatment from pitchers though. All the pitchers are trying to throw their best stuff for every batter, no exceptions. They are really gamers, they run hard, they swing for hits and they chase down fly balls. They also have to take quite a bit of crap from the other campers and they tend to dish it right back. Danielle's day started well. Before the first game at 10:00am this morning on the main Stadium Pitcher's mound, her boyfriend proposed. Her mom had come into town for the event, but it was a surprise to her. She said "Yes" to cheering players on both sides and a few fans in the stands as well.

We didn't have top seed in the tournament, but we were close. We played a team that we should have beaten, but we didn't. Let's see if I can use proper baseball speak here; our bats were stupid. I think that means that we hit the ball well, but right to where the defense was. Smart bats hit the ball to where the defense isn't.

We took our first loss in stride and headed back to an afternoon game that didn't mean anything. In a tournament this short, there is no clawing your way back from the losers bracket. You lose one, you are out of the running. The good news is that we just got to have fun. Nobody was worried about mistakes. We used a few pitchers who hadn't had a chance to pitch and people moved around positions.

I was playing second base and the batter hit an hard line drive up and to my right. I don't know how long it takes for a baseball to travel from home to my position on the field, but it isn't enough time to think or make decisions. You just react. I turned to my right, jumped up and to the right and put my glove in the right place. I wasn't even sure the ball was in my glove until I landed and reached in to check. There were high fives and kudos all around when I came into the dugout. That was cool.

Then disaster struck. It was in the 6th inning and one of our players hit a fly ball to short right field where Danielle was playing. It was about 4:00pm and the sun was a bear for anyone on that side of the field. She shielded her eyes, got under the ball, but it tipped off of her glove and hit her square in the mouth. The ball was on the ground, but her teammates could have cared less. All 8 players on the field and the entire dugout emptied as they formed a circle around her in the outfield. Each field has a trainer present at all times, and he was next one out.

Her two top and two bottom teeth were on the grass and the ones to the sides were damaged. The trainer didn't want to move anyone who had that severe of a blow to her head, so she sat with her teammates and the trainer until the ambulance arrived.

It could have happened to anyone. Nobody felt like playing baseball anymore, so as the ambulance drove off we all retired to the clubhouse for the day. The news travelled like wild-fire and put a damper on the rest of the campers as the other games wound down.

I rode back to the clubhouse with Bill Laskey, the camp director for the past 15(?) years. He said that over the years they have had broken ankles, broken ribs with punctured lungs, broken collar bones, blown knees and plenty of sprains and pulls. But he had never had a ball hit someone in the mouth.

I have a little experience with this because of Kyle. I don't know exactly what Kevin and Kyle were doing, but I know that Kevin was mad at Kyle and Kyle knew it. Anyway, Kevin picked up something pink and threw it at Kyle who ducked and hit his teeth solidly on the bathroom countertop breaking off his two top teeth.

Kyle came barreling down the stairs with his hand covering his mouth and said "Dad, I hit my mouth", took his hand away and he was holding his two front teeth. It was an awful thing to see. My first thought was, "I don't think they can fix this". I was wrong. Although he had to go through a few periods of looking like a boxer, eventually he had custom made teeth to replace the two he snapped off. He has a beautiful smile today.

It turns out that all Kevin threw was a little cloth figure that couldn't have hurt a flea. He felt pretty bad about it.

This wasn't the only strange thing that happened that day. Pamela wrote all the unusual occurrences down on a little note that was on our refrigerator for a long time. Here are the strange things that happened on that day in April.

* Kyle broke off his two front teeth trying to avoid being hurt by a pink piece of cloth. * It hailed. Not small hail, but big, huge hail that covered the deck and made you want to avoid getting hit by it. * We had a small earthquake; one that we all felt. * My dad broke three rotor tillers in the yard. Not small breakage, but big things like shafts and tines. * Baby Kyle (Stuart and Natalie's son) was born

Just like all of us remember what happened on that day because of Kyle and his teeth, Danielle will also never forget February 1 because she got engaged before game 1 and got hit in the mouth by a baseball in game 2.

I'm just guessing, but I think that's pretty rare!

Giants Fantasy Camp - Day 4

I haven't been this sore in decades. It isn't my arm or my shoulders. Just every single muscle from the quadriceps down. In case you didn't know, there is a shit load of running in baseball. And, it isn't normal running. There is no jogging here. When you are moving from base to base, it's a sprint. When you are chasing down a fly ball, it's a sprint. Basically, my day was periods of complete inactivity (from a muscular standpoint), punctuated with flat out running for your life from the tiger who is chasing you. Luckily, we have trainers. And they are busy! We had two games today. I had a sore calf after the first game and went to see the trainers for the first time. The guy probed a bit and I said "ouch" a bit. Then he proceeded to do a 3 minute tape job on my ankle that completely took my calf pain away. I played another 3 hours of baseball and never thought of it again. After the last game, I went back to the trainer to get the tape removed and into the ice tub. Yup, we're talking whole body ice bath. It's tough for the first few minutes and then you get used to it. I came out looking like I had been in the sun too long, but feeling much better. We'll see how it is tomorrow.

Our team finished the divisional games today. There are two divisions each with 4 teams. We won two and tied one. So, I guess we are undefeated. Tomorrow we start tournament play that culminates with a championship game on Saturday. I don't expect we will make it that far, but the quality of our play has increased dramatically. It would now take a Healdsburg Little League Senior team to beat us :-)

I said yesterday that I got the first base hit of my life. Then I went to the batting cages early this morning where Joel Youngblood gives instruction between 7:30am and 8:45 everyday. The guy is intense. This morning for the last 1/2 hour he played a game that was designed to force you to hit quality hits. His philosophy is that anyone can hit a baseball. But batting isn't about hitting the ball, it is about getting a quality hit.

The game is simple. You step up to the plate. He soft tosses a pitch. If you hit a line drive, you get another pitch. Otherwise, you go to the back of the line. If you hit a grounder or a popup, your out. With a line of 10 eager batters you cycle through quickly. I saw a few people get 7 quality hits, but most took only a single pitch. This game really made people focus on how they were hitting the ball, not just hitting it.

By Joel's standard my hit yesterday wasn't a quality hit. It was a grounder that made it out of the infield. I fixed that today. I hit a solid single. A line drive over the short stop and right in the gap between left and center field. It scored a run from second which is where I ended up at the end of the play. I was jazzed to say the least!

There are some difficult things about baseball that experienced baseball folks never think about. I think that this list is not going to be what you are expecting. Most of these things become automatic after a few years, but they aren't automatic for me.

1) The hat thing. Do you know how many of us got to the on-deck circle without a batting helmet? Sounds like a hard thing to miss, but trust me it isn't. Then, when you get back to the dugout and take it off, you gotta remember to put your hat back on. Otherwise, you find ourself in the field with your bald spot showing.

2) The glove thing. Batting gloves maybe wonderful, but after getting the on, you have to remember to take them off when you are on base. Otherwise some fielder looks at you and says "why you still wearing your batting gloves?" And, why do base runners hold their gloves in their hands like ice cream cones? I'm afraid to ask.

3) Looking for signs. Remembering to step out of the batter's box and look at your third base coach for instructions is one of the last things I am thinking about when I come up to bat. The first 100 things are things that Dave gave me to remember.

4) The equipment thing. You have a lot of stuff in the dugout that you have to keep track of. You leave your hat behind when you put on the batting helmet. You leave your gloves, well, all over the place. Keeping everything together and organized is an art I haven't mastered.

5) Throwing the ball around. I thought I had mastered this, but evidently not. When a play is made in the infield and there is nobody on base the ball gets tossed around the infield to random players until someone hands it to the pitcher. Don't ask me, I don't know how people figure out who to throw to.

6) It's really hard not to give the umpire incredulous looks. As an umpire myself, you would think I would be better at this. I'm not.

7) The thinking. OMG. Every single pitch, there are multiple things going through your head. If they hit the ball to me, what am I going to do? That's where I thought it stopped. No. You gotta think about what you are going to do if they hit the ball to other people too. Or what you are going to do if they attempt to steal. Or pick off a runner. There is no time to think after the ball is hit, so you have to think about it before.

8) Did I mention that there is a lot of running in baseball? It isn't like other sports because there is no sustained running. Just bursts. One of the things that I remember about playing basketball is that in the first 5 minutes of a game you get really tired. Then you reach a level that you can sustain for an entire game and you don't think about it anymore. All running in baseball is like the first 5 minutes of a basketball game. There are times when you are expecting to run like when you are playing outfield. But running to first after a hit is pretty far down on my list of what I am thinking about in the batter's box. Right below looking for signs from the third base coach.

9) A teammate who talks and and offers advice is invaluable. If you are a good baseball player, be one of these. The best part of my time at second is having Jim Fish, our shortstop talk to me. He reduces my stress and it also increases his confidence that I'm going to be where I need to be when he needs me there. Because of this, I have always been there at second to take his throw. Whew!

So many things that baseball players do have been burned into their habits. They don't think about their helmets because it is part of the ritual. It's like muscle memory, but for the brain.

But, my muscles are sore.

P.S. I think that tomorrow I'll have actual game pictures. I'm just waiting for them to post! I have never blogged publicly before. I am getting between 25 and 60 unique visitors a day. Thank you guys for reading!

Giants Fantasy Camp - Day 3

Before I get to the game, let me just say that pitching is crazy hard. The coaches put all of us on the practice mound to try our hand. It was humbling. I will never again attempt to pitch in front of anybody. I certainly will never attempt it again in front of two ex major league pitchers. Enough said.

Oh, and my catching career ended before it got started. Turns out that we had three catchers who were quiet in the meeting when he asked for catchers, but had each brought their own equipment to camp. Hmmm... Not only were they catchers, they were all really good.

Since the fields were still marginal this morning, we only played one game, but it was a full 9 inning game which we won 9-2. We were behind 1-0 and then 2-1 until the 5th inning when we starting getting hits. It was fun and amazingly hard.

I was playing 2nd base at the start of the game. The first batter hit a hard grounder.... to me!!! I fielded it and threw (carefully) to first for the out. A completely routine play and an easy one. It was also the first time in my life that I made a play in organized baseball. In the 3rd inning I hit a grounder past (not under) the third baseman, for my first hit in my life. I was one for three. I grounded out to shortstop, had a single and reached first on a fielder's choice later in the game.

There is so much to keep track of. When on base, I missed coaching signals and almost got picked off at first. But I did end up stealing second and scoring from there on a nice double by a teammate. Not many of the catchers can make a good throw to second, so there was a lot of stealing.

The level of play is, shall we say, not high. We won today because our team made only 1 error and we had pitchers who could throw strikes. Some of the pitching was at about 20MPH, but they were strikes. Every player made mistakes and nobody got on anyone's case. Our pitcher cut off a throw to home from a position 5 ft in front of home which allowed a run to score. Our ace pitcher walked his first 4 batters (the only pitcher who had trouble). Our first baseman had the wrong foot on the bag multiple times. Tons of those kinds of errors, but not scorekeeper errors. However, any Healdsburg Little League Juniors team would wipe us off the field!

The best part of the game for me was the support from other players. The shortstop who would say to me "you got second if it comes to me right?". A hard line drive to my right was over my head and as I was recovering from my reach, I heard the first baseman yelling "Go! Go! You are the cutoff man!". There was this kind of support for everyone and from everyone.

Early on, I said that I thought I was in the middle of the skills represented here. I actually think that I'm in the lower part of that middle. I am just learning things about playing this game that other players completely take for granted. Things that I've seen happen a million times, but never paid any attention to. Like, what happens after the catcher throws down to second at the start of an inning. I'm proud of myself that I know I'm supposed to be backing up the shortstop who takes the throw. I don't expect the shortstop to toss me the ball. Then I don't know that I'm supposed to throw it to third who then gives it to the pitcher. Instead I leave the third baseman with his hands out to his side with an expression of "What am I chopped liver?!?". At the start of a subsequent inning I went to throw to third and the new third baseman had no idea why I was doing it - I'm not alone!

As promised, here is a link to some of the action photos. I don't have any game pictures yet, but these were taken during clinics. Other than the obvious team and single pictures, they aren't posed. I didn't filter so it is what it is. Also, that is Vida Blue next to me in some of the photos.

Click here for Action Photos