Monday at Fantasy Camp is when baseball games begin in earnest. Two seven-inning games are scheduled each day, Monday through Wednesday, with a break in between for lunch. A seventh “regular season” game takes place Thursday morning.
A large scheduling board in the locker room tells teams what color jersey to wear and which field to report to for each game. And, ah, the fields! The baseball diamonds scattered throughout the Indians’ spring training complex are immaculately groomed. The smell of freshly cut grass and the feel of the Arizona sun in January are nirvana, especially since many of the campers come from regions where winter is in full swing. Usually, the temperatures are in the mid to high 70’s. Perfect playing weather.
Remember when you were a kid and you could scrounge up enough friends to play baseball all day long? Fantasy Camp is like that experience to the nth degree. You automatically know you’ll have enough players to field a full team, and everyone is wearing a beautiful Tribe uniformed freshly laundered the night before.
Because this is Fantasy Camp, managers and coaches do their best to let campers play any position they choose, at least for an inning or two. Most players have a favorite position they gravitate to. Pitchers who can pound the strike zone consistently – no matter what speed or type of pitch – are highly valued.
Each game has two umpires, one behind home plate and one in the field. And while the strike zones can be generous, they aren’t gimmes. Throwing strikes consistently can be much harder than you think, especially if you haven’t pitched in a while. Plus there’s the pressure of throwing enough strikes before you throw four balls and give batters a free pass.
The way hits are scored can be very generous, too. Basically any ball that is put into play and results in the batter reaching base is scored as a hit. “Errors” are relative and pretty much ignored. Some players put up gaudy batting averages for the week, which would suffer if the scorers were the least bit strict. But the fun lies in hitting the ball and seeing what happens. As I mentioned in the first post of this series, skill levels run the gamut. You’ll see some real athleticism and great plays in every game, plus a lot of activity that is less than stellar. Campers take it all in stride and most have a great time just being kids again, playing a game they love.
When the games are over each day, you suddenly don’t feel like a kid anymore. No matter how much campers train leading up to January – and if you ever decide to go, training for camp is a must – it’s difficult to simulate playing 14 innings of baseball every day and the effects on your aging body.
Fortunately, camp also includes professional trainers! As the week goes on, the line for the training room before and after the games grows increasingly longer. Campers rely on the trainers’ skills for rubdowns, liniments, and complex tape-ups to keep them going. For me, soaking in an ice bath after the final inning is one of the most excruciating but necessary regimens I’ve ever experienced.
And no matter what the outcome of the games that day, a keg of beer is available on the patio outside the training facility. Not a bad way to end a day of playing baseball.