Today, more than 100 Tribe fans will report to the 2015 edition of the Cleveland Indians Fantasy Camp in the suburbs of Phoenix. Although I try to be content with what I have in life and not envy others, I must admit I’m more than a little jealous of those who will be having a baseball blast for the next seven days.
It’s not just a fantasy for me. I’ve had the pleasure of participating in Fantasy Camp four times already. Each time was one of the most fun weeks of my life, and each year was a treasure for different reasons.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to go to Fantasy Camp – and whether or not it’s for you – I will post a series of articles over the next week to give you insights and share some of my experiences. Mostly, I hope the articles will encourage you to go at least once if you can.
Full disclosure up front: Fantasy Camp isn’t cheap. The cost is around $4,500 for the week, PLUS the cost of traveling to the Phoenix area and back home. Camp fees cover your hotel accommodations (double room occupancy; private rooms are available for a higher fee), most meals for the week and transportation to and from the spring training facility in Goodyear each day. But if you don’t have that kind of disposable income, cost can be a huge obstacle. The experience is worth saving up for, even if it takes you a few years. It’s that special.
For me and many fellow campers I’ve talked with, another big cause for hesitation is wondering if your baseball skills (or lack of) make you “worthy” of playing at Fantasy Camp. But let me assure you, skill levels cover the gamut among Fantasy Camp players, and all are truly welcome. There are players who attend Fantasy Camp every season and play in hardball leagues throughout the year – and their skills show it. But there are many others who haven’t played in a real baseball game for decades. You’ll find that your teammates are the biggest cheerleaders you could wish for, regardless of skill level.
Technically, participants are supposed to be at least 30 years old. But I’ve seen multiple times where older campers have brought a son or daughter younger than that, and it was allowed. So players typically range from 30-ish to 70-ish. The vast majority of participants are men. Every camp I’ve attended had at least one female player.
The experience begins in September, when campers are invited to Progressive Field on a weekend to be measured for their authentic Indians uniform – which includes everything you need to play, except your baseball glove, cleats and undergarments. You get a cap, two jerseys (one navy blue, one white), mock turtle neck shirt, pants, belt, socks with “stirrup” stripes and an insulated dugout jacket. The name and number you put on the back of your jerseys are up to you.
Also at the measurement session, campers are invited to hit in the players’ batting cages beneath Progressive Field. It’s just the beginning of being treated like a Major League player.
On the Saturday evening after you arrive at camp in January, the Indians host a welcome banquet to officially kick off the camp. Former Indians center fielder and current TV sportscaster Rick Manning emcee’s the banquet to introduce all participating ex-Indians players – who will be the campers’ managers and coaches throughout the week. Each camper also introduces his or herself and the bonding begins. Anticipation is thick in the air as the campers get ready to finally embark on a fantasy coming true…