Bill's story: Yes, as improbable as it may seem, I took part in the Columbus Clippers Fantasy Baseball Camp held at beautiful Huntington Park, home of the Triple A Clippers, on August 16-18. For a 64 year old who had not touched a baseball in nearly 25 years, it was a daunting but very worthwhile experience. But to tell the story properly, I am going to supplement the fantasy by having Hall of Fame broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCarver bring you the action.
Buck: For those listeners who just tuned in, we welcome you to a sunny Sunday afternoon at Huntington Park. Yes, the Clippers will be hosting the Norfolk Tides a little later, but we got a pretty well-played preliminary game going right now, Tim, between two teams of fantasy campers. It is a 7-3 game heading into the bottom of the 7th inning. Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins' team trails the squad managed by former Indians pitcher "Perfect Game" Lenny Barker!
McCarver: I played over 20 years in the big leagues, and I can say there was no tougher pitcher I faced than Fergie Jenkins. 300 innings every year! Won 20 or more 6 years running. Never had a sore arm. And now that he is retired he runs a foundation that benefits many worthy groups. At this fantasy camp, Fergie's foundation will make contributions to the Mid Ohio Food Bank run by Matt Habash who is one of the campers this week. Military veterans are also benefiting. In fact four gentlemen who have served our country overseas are participating in this camp , Andy Francis, Justin Nuzum, Rod Jones and Brian Heft. Their expenses are being paid by the Crowne Plaza Hotel located on Nationwide Avenue, near to the ballpark..
Ferguson Jenkins and Len Barker
Rod Jones and Brian Heft
Buck: These campers reported to the park on Friday for the first of their three day stint. The camp is managed by Mike Talis who has been running this particular camp for 26 years, and a couple of the campers have made all of them!
Super Joe Charboneau, Cleveland Indians Rookie of the Year in 1980 instructed the players on the fine points of playing the outfield on Friday.
McCarver: I didn't hear that Super Joe replicated any of the amazing feats of his playing career such as eating glass or opening a coke bottle with his eye socket. But he did tell plenty of stories! And he is the host of a new reality show - "Catastrophe, Inc."
Buck: Two other major leaguers, Tommy Helms, National League Rookie of the Year for the Reds in '66 and Bert Campaneris, the great shortstop on the 3 time World Champion A's of the 70's tutored the boys on infielding and how to turn the double play. Tommy's best tip to the campers is that, "infielders get more girls! "
Bill with Tommy Helms
McCarver: Campy looks like he could still make the plays and run the bases. You know he was a 6 time stolen base leader in the A.L.
Buck: Friday's activities at the park included extensive batting practice under the stands and then on the field against live pitching.
The "Big Bopper" Lee May
McCarver: Yes. And Joe , some of the boys struggled getting their timing back. The players ranged from their 30's up to Medicare age. I saw rookie camper Bill Case, age 64, struggle horribly against the machine. He missed like 10 in a row. But Lee May, the "Big Bopper," gave Bill some advice that helped him get untracked a little bit. He told Bill he was swinging too early, and that he had to get his weight behind his swing. . And certainly there is weight behind the advice too because Lee May belted 354 homers during his great career.
Buck: Tim, the campers also were put through their paces by Clippers trainer Mitch Salisbury with calisthenics to get the muscles loosened up. Talis told the players at the outset of the camp that, "the trainer will be your best friend!" I understand that despite the range in ages, everyone got along famously. And they had the opportunity of dining with the ballplayers every night. I understand many great baseball stories which can't be repeated here were told.
McCarver: Yes, Case told me that he made friends with the much younger Shawn Jones, who was a camp favorite. Everyone teased Shawn in batting practice for using an aluminum bat. Like the big leaguers, the boys are using wood. Case also made friends with two of our military servicemen , Rod Jones and Brian Heft, both of whom were on the team with him that was managed by Ferguson Jenkins. The Jenkins team played the Barker two games yesterday, so the fellows had a chance to get to know each other and establish some team spirit. Alright Fergie's team - is still down 7-3 as we head to the bottom of the 7th.
Bert Campaneris and Lee May
Buck: Yes, the players are rarin' to go as this game winds down. The fans are starting to fill as we get closer to the start of the Clippers game. It isn't just family and friends viewing now. We probably have 1,500 people in the stands.
Bill Case will be leading off the bottom of the 7th for Fergie's team. He has played several innings for Fergie at 3rd base. Handled two chances cleanly ; had a little trouble with one of the throws across the diamond- it's a long way when you haven't made it for over three decades.
Bill patrols 3rd base for Fergy's team
McCarver: In his first trip to the plate, Bill hit a roller out toward second. It was bobbled several times. On the throw, the first baseman dropped the ball before picking it up. Despite all the mishandling, Bill was still out on a close play. The speed simply is not there anymore. Fergie with his friendly abuse pointedly asked Case, "Why weren't you running down the line?!" But sad to say, Case was giving it all he had. I would say Bill has "Peggy Lee speed!" What was the name of that song she sang? Wasn't it "Is that all there is?!"
Buck: Wait! What is going on here! Case is due up to bat but he is posing with his groupie-wife Lisa in the stands! Tim, that is taking the fantasy way too far! And Case's other fans Deb, Brett, and Dar , seem to be enjoying his antics.
The umpire has told Case to stop his schmoozing and get to the batters box. So now it appears we are ready for action. And Case stands in. Catcher Matt Habash waves centerfielder Shawn Jones to move way in. There is no respect on the Barker team for Case's power.
Barker and Joe Charboneau
McCarver: Joe, there is absolutely no reason why there should be any respect given. Case has barely been able to hit the ball out of the infield to date.
Buck: The pitcher is ready. Case swings! A drive to right! It is going to fall in. I don't believe it! The veteran has turned back the clock and started the rally with his single to lead off the inning.
Bill Case preparing to lead off with a single
McCarver: Hold on! They are are stopping the game. Talis's assistant Alan Rubin is retrieving the ball. It is going to go in Case's very small trophy case to commemorate his unlikely hit!
Okay, that is the end of the fantasy broadcast. Fergie's team did not take advantage of my timely single, and we lost 7-3. But it was a wonderful experience. This is one time when the old baseball cards came to life. What made the camp special was that all the major leaguers gave of themselves, and enjoyed the experience as much as the campers. Mike Talis has chosen the most amiable stars to enhance the experience. Lee May said it best when he remarked at the closing ceremony that he always looks forward to the camp with anticipation, and that Mike is the best "ringmaster" of all the fantasy camp operators. I could readily see why the guys come back year-after- year to savor this big league experience.
I must say the experience had me harkening back to my youth when I was 12 playing for my hometown Hudson Hornets. Like many kids my age, I dreamed that one day I would make my way to the big leagues- maybe even play for my beloved Indians! Well the dream ultimately faded, and none of that happened. But thanks to the Clippers Fantasy Camp, and my good friend Mike Talis, I (1) got a chance to don the Tribe uniform and play ball again with big leaguers on hand; (2) did not get hurt; and (3) managed to stroke a base hit in the big Sunday finale. That was more than enough to call the experience a success.
12 year old Billy Case Hudson Hornet second baseman - 1961-argyle socks were not regulation