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

Giants Fantasy Camp - Day 2

Last night there was hazing. I'm just not going to say much about this. Yup, all the rookies....let's just move on!

It was a beautiful clear day today, but no games. The infield dirt was still too wet. So instead of having only one game tomorrow, looks like we will be playing two to make up for some lost time. We spent today getting to know our new team and doing more throwing and hitting than I think I've done in my entire life.

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 no no-hitters pitched by the Giants 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.

We did a lot of batting practice today with Ed pitching and Greg watching. Two swings into it, he stopped me and repeated everything that Dave Miller had told me during our practice a week ago. Then he gave me one small thing to do differently and everything changed. All of a sudden I started hitting pitch after pitch nice and solid. Greg in the background was doing this running commentary: "yup boys, we have ourselves a new player. Gonna have to review that batting order. See what my coaching does?". It was pretty funny. Seriously, thanks to Dave for all the tips and Kevin for reminding me to stay loose.

This afternoon he called my room to tell us when to be down for our team dinner and the conversation went something like this:

Moonie : "This is Greg Minton from the Giants Organization. Is this the prospect who was hitting in the cage today against Ho Ho?"

Me : "Yup"

Moonie: "Well, I'm just letting you know that we'll be at your hotel at 5:45 this evening to take you to dinner and talk about your future Giants career"

Me : "I hope you are willing to talk numbers"

Moonie: "Oh, we'll do a number on you alright!"

Anyway, that's just an example of how these guys can break the ice and make you feel like part of the team.

I decided that since I have no idea what position I play, I would try something unexpected. They asked for catcher volunteers and nobody spoke up, so I did. (Yup, Kevin, me!) So tomorrow, I'm the starting catcher. I figure that I've spent plenty of time watching from that vantage point as an umpire, it is time I moved 24" forward and tried catching. The good news is that there is no stealing on past balls. I also have good knees, so that puts me in the minority here. We'll see!

We have a strong team. Like all baseball teams, the key is pitching and we have a couple of college league pitchers (5-10 years removed), so we look pretty good. A nice group of guys who all went to dinner together tonight. The evening was full of story after story and plenty of laughter.

Other than a slightly sore arm, I'm doing just fine physically. Tired, but good. Tomorrow the games.

P.S. I have been without a phone until today. But thanks to Scott who shipped me down a laptop so that I could replace the expired Beta OS with the released version, I am now connected to the world again. I didn't miss the phone part, but I did miss the camera. So, starting tomorrow, there will be more pictures.

Giants Fantasy Camp - Day 1

It rained on our Day 1. The rain put a damper on our first full day of camp. We weren't able to spend as much time on the field as we would have liked, but we did get a chance to throw, bat and field fly balls in the afternoon.

But, I gotta start with last night. Our first group meeting was in one of the hotel conference rooms. Turns out that this Rookie/Veteran thing is a big deal. There are 50 rookies and 62 veterans who have attended at least 1 camp prior to this year. Veterans sat on one side of the room, rookies on the other. The basic message of the evening was that the Veterans knew everything and the rookies were clueless, but would figure things out as the week progressed.

The makeup of the group is amazingly diverse. My locker (more on that later) is next to a 26 year old who is attending camp with his Dad. He is young, strong and a good player. Then there are people in their 60's. I don't know how old the oldest camper is, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was high 60's. There are also 4 women: 3 veterans and 1 rookie.

As rookies, we each had to stand up and tell the group a little about ourselves and take some good-natured ribbing from the staff. I was told that a few of the coaches would be up to my room later to play checkers on my plaid shirt. I got off lightly! We were also told hundreds of time to go slowly and build up speed during the week. One of the veterans present broke his wrist diving for a fly ball on his first day and first station last year. "None of you will be drafted to the majors, so don't try too hard to impress us" as the message.

This morning we headed over to the training facility. When we walked into the clubhouse, we found lockers with name plaques. In each locker was a beautiful creme color home jersey and a black away jersey (with the player's name on it). Everything that you needed to suit-up and play was in the locker including shoes (yes, and socks!).

The clubhouse is a wonderful room, complete with a dozen TV's, soft-drinks, water and, yes, even beer. We had the run of the facility including the training staff who was there to help anybody who needed body work. When I walked by, the training room line was out the door even with 3 trainers working as fast as they could. There were a lot of taped ankles walking around.

After dressing, we had a meeting in the main gym. Since the fields were too wet, and it was still raining, we were treated to stories from the coaching staff. Marty Lurie of KNBR was the facilitator, encouraging the some of the old timers as well as the younger ex-players to tell their stories. We heard from Russ Ortiz, Shawn Estes who talked a lot about players still in the game. Jim Davenport and Vida Blue had many stories to tell about some of the legends of the game (yeah, legends telling stories about legends).

Hobie Landrith, a catcher with the Giants starting in 1958, is 84 years old and still dressing down in his uniform for these Giants camps. He told a story about what it was like to play with Jackie Robinson. He said that as a catcher he prided himself on his throws to second, both to catch runners stealing from first or those trying to steal third. He said that in a game, there was a runner who was on second who was dancing around taking a bit too long of a lead, so he called a pitch out and threw a beautiful strike to the second baseman who tagged the runner out. Later in the game, it happened again with a different runner and Landrith, being pretty sure of himself, threw another perfect strike to the second baseman. Just as the second baseman caught the ball, Jackie Robinson slid into third. What you could do against most players, you could not do against Jackie Robinson. (Reality check: I had lunch with a dude who played baseball WITH Jackie Robinson!!)

Later, after pictures, we met back in the gym for some instruction from the pros on all-things-baseball. Jim Davenport (Gold Glove 3rd Baseman), said that hitting instruction was simpler in those days. He said it was just "see ball, hit ball". When he hears people talking about technique today he is baffled by the language. When he was playing if you couldn't "see ball, hit ball", they just brought in someone else who could.

I was particularly impressed with Joel Youngblood. Not only his knowledge of baseball fundamentals, but also his teaching style. I'm secretly hoping that I end up on his team.

After lunch the skies were clear and the field was draining, so we headed out. A trainer ran 112 people through stretching and running to loosen up then we broke up into groups. We each got a round in the batting cage, and a chance to catch (or drop) some fly balls (I did both). We didn't get to do any infield today since the dirt was wet.

The field is incredible. Every much as green and perfect as AT&T park. In addition to the stadium field, there is another field, four batting cages and a host of other practice areas.

Oh, by the way, we have ball boys too! Four high school seniors who have straight A's and were given permission by their principal to skip school for a week. We don't have to shag our own foul balls. These kids spent the whole day out there with us getting equipment ready, cleaning up areas and generally being helpful.

I did ok today. I didn't catch every fly ball that came my way, but I did have pretty good range in the outfield. The balls that I did miss were difficult. One over my head that I tried to catch on the run, but didn't. Another that was really short and went in and out of the glove as I was running toward the infield. The good news for me is that I read the ball fairly well, so I either caught or touched every ball. When I needed to turn and run, I did. A small victory that I'll take.

At all the stations the coaches were hanging out with clipboards making indecipherable marks next to names. I imagine that what they wrote down was pretty simple. There were good strong players that are obviously going to be in high demand. Then there are many, many players who are in the middle. There were also a few whose outfield range was 10 ft to either side or missed every pitch in the batting cages. By the way, none of this affected how much fun everyone was having. From the best players to the ones who struggled, there were smiles and good times had by all.

Teams have already been drafted and are posted in the clubhouse. So, I'll know tomorrow whose team I'm on. And, then the games begin. Weather permitting we play 2 games every day from here on out. Should be fun!

Giants Fantasy Camp - The Pre-Story

Well, there is no turning back now! I'm winging my way to Phoenix for a week long baseball experience. I have no idea what to expect or how I'm going to do, but I do plan to relax and enjoy myself. But, how about a little background first.

For Father's Day 2012, my family decided that I would enjoy spending a week in Scottsdale Arizona at the San Francisco Giants Fantasy camp. I had never heard of the camp, but everybody else who is a fan of the game appears to know about it. For one week (the week right before spring training starts), over 100 adults from 25-65 show up at the Giants training facility to experience the life of a professional baseball player. Except that I think we're short a bit of talent and a lot of youth.

Knowing nothing about the camp, I found myself sitting reading over the brochure while I heard Kyle say "I think he likes it!". All I could say was "Wow!". All I was thinking was "But I have never played baseball!". But, the more I read, the more interesting it seemed. There was a lot of focus on making sure the experience was fun for all skill levels and how everyone shared a passion for the baseball. I think this was Kyle's idea - maybe it was a good one.

My problem was that I am passionate about the game, but my passion started 8 years ago when my friend, Dave Miller, asked if I would like to umpire "a game or two". One season and 25 games later, I was hooked. I did games with 7 year olds and I did games with 16 year olds. Small field, big field, good games and bad games, it didn't matter, I just loved umpiring. I studied, I watched videos and I even spent a week at Umpire boot camp in San Bernadino.

What I found was a game so much more complex than most of the world truly understands. I enjoyed the challenge. On any given pitch anything can happen. And, as an umpire, if you don't know the rules better than the coaches, you are in trouble. You have to make quick decisions, be decisive, keep track of your partner and, most of all, get the calls right. It's a kick!

I started off thinking that I had to get to the point that I didn't make any mistakes. Boy, the first year some of the mistakes were amazing. I called a kid out twice. He was on first, headed to second and was the first out of an attempted double-play. The ball didn't make it to first in time for the out there, but the kid who was out on second was jogging off the field toward third base when the first baseman threw the ball to third. They tagged the "runner" and I called him out again. Loud and clear. Not my finest hour!

After a while I realized that umpires are just human and make mistakes just like the players. Watch any professional game and you'll see players who strike out and umpires who miss calls. Our job is to just do our best to get the call right and over the year, I think that I've gotten more and more of them right.

But, I hadn't played the game. I was fast in High School so I ran track. 100 and 220 yard sprints that I almost always won. Meanwhile over on the diamond next to the track, the baseball players were practicing. I hated track. I should have played baseball, but I didn't.

Thanks to umpiring, I know the rules. I know the situations and what to expect when the ball is hit. I've seen a lot of curve balls. If you think you know what a curve ball is, and you haven't seen one up close, you are mistaken! Imagine a pitch that you think is going to be behind you breaking feet to end up over the outside corner of the plate for a strike.

One of the benefits of being on the field with kids is that you get to hear them talk. What they say to each other and to themselves is, sometimes, unbelievable. Anyway, I remember this one kid who was being served up curve ball after curveball. He bailed out of the batter's box twice in a row only to have the pitch end up right over the plate for a strike. I hear his coach encouraging him, "It's OK, Johnny, you can do it!". The kid standing in the box gently letting his bat swing back and forth by his feet is staring at the ground and mutters under his breath "No I can't!". He wasn't dejected, he was more amazed at how thoroughly he was outmatched. After another wicked curve ball, he headed back to the dugout with a smile and shaking his head. It's how I think I would feel if I stepped up to the plate against a college player!

Wait, I think that's what I am about to do!

Anyway, over the next few months I tried not to think about this too much. Then, the emails from the camp director started showing up in my inbox with plenty of suggestions for stretching, playing catch and otherwise, getting ready. So, in December, I decided that it was time to get started. First, my kids were great. Colin and Kevin both continually encouraged me to play catch. The first day, I threw until my arm was sore (not that long), each time, I felt better and less sore. But throwing and catching isn't learning the game. I had to do more.

The true measure of a friend is someone who will drop everything to help you and I realized that I needed help. So, I called Dave Miller and asked if he had some time to do a few workouts with me on the high school diamond. It was during winter break so Kevin, Colin and a few of their friends all joined me on the field. We started with fly balls to the outfield from a pitching machine. Ok, I can catch fly balls, but Dave points out that I'm just camping under the ball and when I catch it, I am in no position to do anything with it. So the drill moves on to timing it so that you are moving forward toward the cutoff man. Then we add two outfielders who have to call the ball, and back each other up. After 45 minutes, sweat is running down my face and I'm huffing and puffing when Dave asks if I want a break.

Next we do batting. I've never been taught how to bat. You just take a bat and hit the ball, right? Nope. I know that we are just glossing over things, but it is all I can do to keep up. Hands by your ears, weight on your back foot, load, shift your weight, take a step forward, throw your hands at the ball, oh and relax.

Finally, we move on to fielding where I can't seem to spin the right direction. I'm just taking ground balls at 2nd and turning all the way around toward first (with my back to 2nd) and still spinning until I can make the throw. If nothing else this week in Arizona, I want to take a ground ball and make a nice throw to second.

In the midst of this getting ready there are many things that I stressed about. Did I have the right glove? (Thank you Kevin!) Did I need batting gloves? Do you wear a cup? (still no idea, but I am prepared) Do I need socks? The last question I blurted out during a phone call with the coordinator who assured me that no question was too dumb. His response was something like this:

Bill : "Ok, here is how it works. You show up at the clubhouse in the morning in your street clothes. Go to the locker with your name on it. Inside will be a uniform with your name and everything you need including turf shoes. Got it?"

Me: "Yup"

Bill: "You put everything on, and play baseball for the day. In the evening, put your uniform back in your locker and the next morning it will be hanging up clean and ready for your day. Got it?"

Me: "Yup"

Bill: "Including your socks. Any questions?"

Me: "Nope"

Dave did another batting session at the field and I visited the batting cages a few times. Before I knew it, the day had come. Kevin came to the batting cage with me the last time. He told my parents later that I wasn't going to embarrass the family name, so I take that as a good sign!

So, here I am on my flight and to an experience that is far outside of my comfort zone. There are a few other campers on this plane. I was hoping to see a lot of 55 year old obese dudes, but that doesn't seem to be the case. They look - well a lot like me. The first two were in the bar at the airport talking to a security guy about their upcoming week. One was a pitcher, one a catcher. I still don't know what I am.

Stay tuned.