Day 1: Sunday, Jan. 27
Coming straight from a business meeting to the Clearwater, Fla., site of Dream Week and the Phillies' spring training headquarters, I arrived at the Quality Inn on Saturday night. It was both comforting and amusing to see the "Welcome Dreamers" sign on the motel marquee and pictures of the Phillies dominating the lobby. I also stumbled across the 24-hour whirlpool that became so critical to my ability to function over the next seven days.
The charter from Philadelphia carrying most of the 59 campers arrived about 2 p.m. today. We received our room assignments and went to unpack. I was a little nervous about meeting the complete stranger who would become my roommate for the week. I had debated paying extra for a single room (the camp already was costing $2,500), but had been persuaded "to do it the way the regular ballplayers do."
My roommate Ralph was a jeweler, a skilled craftsman with valuable hands. Knowing this, it strikes me now how delightfully consistent with the spirit of the week that Ralph was going to play catcher, a position not exactly distinguished by delicate treatment of hands and fingers.
We headed over to Carpenter Field, the Phillies training complex, to try on our uniforms. Within minutes, usually reserved adults were transformed into giggly kids. As I sat in front of my locker, donned the burgundy and white uniform and traded hats to get the right size, the "real" world quickly faded and the fantasy began.
While at the complex, we walked onto the field. Having played shortstop 18 years ago for Carleton College in Minnesota, I was anxious to see whether I still could make the throw to first base from deep in the hole. Now, the distance seemed so great that I could barely see first base, let alone throw a ball over there. I left wondering if I should even try to play shortstop.
Returning to the motel, folks were soon out in the parking lot loosening up arms and tongues. Some returnees from last year (approximately 15 to 20 percent of last year's participants came back) were entertaining the rookies with last year's highlights. I joined the group and found I could barely throw the ball 50 feet.
At a welcoming reception tonight, the introduction of each ex-major leaguer brought back special memories. When pitchers Jim Bunning and Chris Short were recognized, my mind snapped back to 1964. Those two seemingly pitched every other day in a futile effort to prevent the Phillies' late September collapse; back then I had to keep my Philadelphia-bred Carleton roommate from slitting his throat as each day yielded a new horror story. Day 2: "You Folks Are Nuts!"
As we did every day, Ralph and I got up early and walked over to Lenny's ("Best breakfast in Clearwater") to eat. I wondered if the waitress ever got tired of wearing Phillies hats and shirts.
We had to be in uniform and ready to start training by 10. Because it was raining -- the only rain we had during our week -- morning instruction was held inside. We broke down by position, with Ralph joining the catchers while I remained with the infielders. We focused on making the double play and our instructors were Larry Bowa, Bobby Wine and Tony Taylor.
Bowa, still a starter for the Cubs after many years in Philadelphia, was doing Dream Week for the first time; Wine and Taylor were returning from last year. As with all the pros, I was impressed with their enthusiasm and energy. During the week, Bowa skipped lunch to work in the batting cage with one of my colleagues; Taylor came in early to teach the intricacies of cut-off plays; Wine was an indefatigable leader. The pros clearly made the week.
The morning also included opening remarks by former Phillies great Richie Ashburn, now part of Philadelphia's broadcasting team and overall Dream Week manager. Richie called attention to the presence of a honeymooning couple participating in Dream Week ("You folks are nuts!"). Our honeymooners, Corky and Tore, took the extensive static they received with good grace and did seem to have a good time. Corky's attendance, along with several other women, required several modifications in the usual locker room routine. As one of the veteran clubhouse attendants said, "That's the first time I've washed a bra!"
After the standard clubhouse lunch of soup and sandwiches, the weather cleared. Although the staff had made arrangements to have our afternoon workout in the gym of a nearby junior college, we were able to conduct drills on the outfield grass.
Infielders practiced double plays. Probably nothing develops a sense of teamwork and camaraderie quicker than turning over a quick 6-4-3. I concentrated on trying to tag second base with the proper foot. The lesson will have application in my Arlington softball league, although advancing age has pushed me toward the first base/designated hitter role.
My first time in the batting cage was rough. I had no timing and barely made contact. Following the day's drills, they kept the pitching machine on. I got 40 extra swings and started to feel comfortable.
Walking into the clubhouse after working up a good sweat playing ball in sunny 70-degree weather, I felt 15 years younger. When I called home that night, my wife told me about the terrible weather in Washington and reported both kids were sick. I hesitated, but went on to give her a reasonably accurate report of my day. Day 3: Thrown a Curve
Waking generated a special suspense at Dream Week. You just didn't know how your body was going to function as you took that first step out of bed.
This morning wasn't too bad for Ralph or me. I was tight in the backs of the thighs, maybe because I didn't do enough stretching exercises in preparation for Dream Week. Ralph was bruised from the tough workout that instructor Larry Rojas had given the catchers.
Morning drills started with base-running instruction. After looking us over, Manager Ashburn stressed the key principle of Dream Week base running: "Don't get hurt."
Infielders then moved on to fielding pop-ups. In keeping with Ashburn's concern for our physical well-being, they should have issued helmets. While trying to follow the speck of a tiny ball against the bright Florida sun on this cloudless, windy day, all I could think about was how the words "hit in the nose by rapidly descending spheroid" would look on my health insurance claim form.
Following lunch, we prepared for our first intrasquad games. After watching us work out yesterday, the coaches drafted four 15-person teams. Each afternoon, we played a six-inning game against another squad.
My team, coached by Tony Taylor and former Phillies coach Maje McDonnell, was matched against the Bowa/Short Cubs. Ralph was catcher for the Cubs and I started at shortstop for Tony's Tigers.
Even though the Florida Instructional League umpires were told to use a wide strike zone, having a pitcher who could throw strikes was a prized asset. Today, our starting pitchers were wild, and we fell behind, 7-0. We then put on a furious rally, only to lose, 9-8, when two base running blunders eliminated the tying and winning runs. Good thing we had that morning base running lesson.
The only Cubs pitcher to throw near the plate to me was Bernie, a gynecologist with a good curve ball. With Ralph accurately assuming that I would be expecting a fast ball on a 2-1 pitch, Bernie's curve fooled me and I tapped weakly to the mound.
An enjoyable and necessary ritual was lounging around the motel whirlpool, recounting highlights of the day's action. I visited it three times a day.
After a fine dinner, highlighted by Ralph knocking a water glass out of the hand of the woman sitting behind us while demonstrating his pick-off throw to first, my legs started aching. I put on Ben-Gay and tried to sleep. Day 4: Putting on the Hits
Ralph and I decided to go to optional morning batting practice. The pitching machines were supervised by Homer, a patient and cheerful fellow. His advice -- "You've got two more, young fella" -- became the camp motto for me. As the days went on, my hands hurt so badly from making poor contact that these words generated feelings of relief, not disappointment. Still, it just didn't seem big league to skip valued swings in the cage because your hands hurt. Misguided machismo, I'm sure.
Each morning at 10, the entire group gathered to review the highlights of the previous day's action, providing a great opportunity for spirited banter between coaches and players. Today, a hitting award was given to Jack, the feisty 62-year-old second baseman on my team, for his perfect day at the plate yesterday.
Fines also were announced at this daily gathering. They were assessed for violations of locker room and on-the-field regulations (Ralph was nailed for a couple of bucks for forgetting to wear his batting helmet to the plate), with proceeds distributed to the locker room staff.
The first morning drill was on sliding. Bowa pointed out that my hands were on the ground as I slid, a practice that could curtail my ability to process paperwork.
After lunch, our team took pregame batting practice on a field with a 20- to 30-mph wind blowing out to left field. Being a right-handed hitter, I figured this was my chance to hit one out (left field was 340 feet, dead center 410). Despite Taylor's fat pitches, the best I could do was about 335 feet. Once a warning-track hitter, always a warning-track hitter.
Our team's hitting dominated today's game. I got lucky my first time up and lined one down the right field line on an 0-2 pitch. With the right fielder shaded toward center, I had no excuse but to keep going to third, looking for a portable oxygen mask upon arrival.
Our 15-4 victory, and one by Bobby Wine's team in the other game, left all four squads tied with 1-1 records heading into tomorrow's semifinals. You could feel the tension building in the postgame whirlpool assembly. Day 5: It's in the Cards
My lusty hitting was mentioned during the discussion of yesterday's highlights. At this point, my batting and fielding averages both were about .500.
Before morning drills, we did our daily calisthenics, led by a staff member well suited for the role of inspirational sadist. It was a scene of funny-shaped bodies contorted into ridiculous positions, with the sunny silence punctuated by moans of agony. Still, I looked forward to it.
We lost the semifinal game, 1-0, making the final out on a line shot to right with the tying run in scoring position. I did get a chance to field a ball deep in the hole at shortstop. Much to everyone's amazement, I threw the guy out.
Over the past several days, we had been posing for individual baseball card pictures. Apparently, some of the guys last year used their baseball cards as business cards. In this day of expanded advertising by professionals, I could see interesting possibilities for this group.
For example, the card for Bernie, the pitching gynecologist, could show him in full windup. The back of his card would read, "For a smooth delivery, call Bernie." Another card could show Ben, the slick-fielding dentist, making a tough play at first base. The message could read, "Need to fill a hole on the right side? See Ben." Day 6: a Pitched Battle
The disabled list was growing. Trainer John Fierro's room began to look like Grand Central Station, and there were several guys I wouldn't recognize today if they weren't wearing an ice pack. Nothing serious, however.
We played our final game in the morning so that the pros and other staff could play in the afternoon. By this point in the week, we were short on pitchers, especially since we wanted to save our good pitchers for tomorrow's big game against the pros.
This situation gave me a chance to do something I've always fantasized about -- pitch in organized competition. (My secretary will confirm that I dictate from the stretch position.) There probably still is a small dent in the wall outside the Metro general manager's office (I held that position from 1976-79) where one of my fast balls got away during a catch with a visitor bearing a ball and glove.
I went in at the start of the third inning with a 4-2 lead. Eight of my first nine pitches weren't even close to the strike zone.
Finally, I got the ball over and started having fun. It began to feel like pitching Whiffle Ball 25 years ago in my backyard, trying to hit the corner of the chair that served as the strike zone.
Entering the sixth inning, still holding the 4-2 lead, I give up a hit with one out. Up came Tore, the male honeymooner, who used his wife's light bat to rocket my high fast ball over the left fielder's head. Tore circled the bases, creating a 4-4 tie. I settled down sufficiently to get the last two guys out and we won the game in the bottom of the inning. So I got the "W" and a fantasy fulfilled.
After lunch, the staff and those pros arriving early for the game Saturday played a group of Dream Weekers. As a Minnesotan, it was a particular thrill for me to hit against Jim Kaat. He looked just the same as he did 20 years ago, when he pitched the game that clinched the pennant for the Minnesota Twins. He laid one in there and I bounced to third. Day 7: Hitting the Double
Ralph and I headed over to the training complex for the last time. Our task was to dress, clean out our lockers, and go to Jack Russell Stadium, home field for the Phillies' spring training games and site of today's action.
The format for today's benefit game was to have each of the four Dream Week squads play a four-inning game against a pro team. My team would play the third game.
There were about 1,000 people witnessing the action on a gorgeous day. Many were relatives of the campers. Chris Wheeler, one of the Phillies' announcers, did a full play-by-play of the game on tape. Chris also did a taped interview with all 59 campers during the week.
I stood behind the batting cage while the pros took hitting practice. It was clear they enjoyed seeing each other again, and their chatter made it seem like a real game.
For the first two games, the pros capitalized on wildness by Dream Week pitchers and slipshod fielding to obliterate the campers by a combined score of 24-2.
As our team warmed up for our four-inning stint, we were pained to see big Art Mahaffey warming up for the pros. All during the week, we had been told that Mahaffey, a hard-throwing right-hander for the Phillies in the early '60's, threw hard and didn't like to get hit. Since each of us was likely to get only one plate appearance, I shifted my fantasy from hitting a shot to avoiding a strikeout.
My chance to hit came in the first inning. As a result of wind-blown and hard-hit singles, there were runners on first and third with two out.
Mahaffey's first pitch was far quicker than anything I had seen all week, a strike on the outside corner. I made up my mind to swing at the next pitch regardless of location. It looked as if it was headed for the same spot as the first one, and my late flail sent the ball toward right field. With Jim Bunning playing an extremely shallow right field, the ball went over his head and I cruised into second base to the glee of the assembled multitudes.
With excellent pitching and fielding, we held the pros scoreless the first two innings, even producing a 6-4-3 double play. The pros then took over and we lost, 5-1.
Completing the day, Ralph's team went into the last inning trailing by only 2-1, and managed to get the tying run in scoring position with one out. Faced with the prospect of continuing this hot day in the sun, pitcher Claude Osteen responded to pressure from his pro colleagues by retiring the next two hitters with some wicked pitches not previously seen at Dream Week.
The closing banquet tonight was well attended by families and friends. Art, one of our Philadelphia lawyers, spoke for many of us when he said, "I hurt all over and I've never felt better."
I walked over to meet Mahaffey. Although I didn't think he would recognize me, he smiled as he saw me coming and said, "The ball barely missed hitting Bunning in the back of the head." Pitchers remember everything.
As the banquet and the camp came to a close, Ashburn summed it up best. "You know," he said, "in this world we live in, you get very few good weeks any more. This was a good week."