Thursday and Friday that wrap up the week at Fantasy Camp include at least one opportunity to play on the field in Goodyear Ballpark – the stadium where the Indians (and the Reds) play their home spring training games.
If your team wins its division as the outcome of seven games played Monday through Thursday morning, you play on Thursday evening under the lights at Goodyear Ballpark for the Fantasy Camp Championship. A big cookout also is held at the ballpark, so the other campers gather to watch the championship game. In 2009, I was fortunate enough to be on a team that went undefeated for the camp, including the final game for all the marbles. It was great fun to play in that atmosphere.
In addition, all campers have the pleasure of playing in Goodyear Ballpark as they face off against the ex-Indians for a one-inning “game” on Friday. Here’s how it works: Your team bats straight through its full line-up (usually 11 or 12 batters). If someone reaches base but doesn’t score before three outs, the bases are cleared and play resumes. After your team hits, it’s the ex-Indians’ turn to go on offense. If they score a go-ahead run at any point, the “game” is over. So it’s possible that a camper team could score zero runs (which is often the case), and the first ex-Indian to bat hits a home run (not typical, but entirely plausible). Game over.
I’ll always remember my first time to face the ex-Major Leaguers. Lenny Barker took the mound to face my team. As I watched his signature high leg kick (well, maybe not quite as high as it was in his prime), it took me back to a dreary evening in May, 1981 when I turned on the TV to catch the Tribe game against Toronto – and saw Mr. Barker toss his renowned Perfect Game.
Now, this same pitcher was mowing down my teammates, one by one. Although the former Indians come to Fantasy Camp with a great sense of graciousness, camaraderie and fun, they still don’t want to be shown up by rank amateurs. And while Lenny wasn’t throwing in the 90’s, he wasn’t exactly lobbing marshmallows, either.
I was penciled in low in the batting order that day, so I had the advantage of watching Lenny’s approach to multiple hitters before me. Most of my teammates, understandably so, were taking the first pitch all the way to get a feel for Lenny’s delivery and velocity. And Lenny knew the situation full well. So his first pitch to each hitter was a fastball, right down the middle. Strike one. After getting ahead of the hitter, he was liable to start mixing in some junk. And if there’s a pitch you want to face less than an ex-Major Leaguer fastball, it’s an ex-Major Leaguer breaking ball.
Before I dug in to the batter’s box, I decided if Lenny stayed true to form and threw the first pitch down the middle, I was going to take a hack. As the stadium announcer said my name and I crouched into my hitting stance, Lenny was already starting his wind-up and leg kick. Sure enough, here came a fastball down the middle.
I swung hard (for me, anyway), felt the impact of solid contact and heard a most satisfying crack of the bat squarely meeting the ball. To my amazement, the humpback liner easily cleared the second baseman (I bat left, throw right) and hit green in front of the right fielder. A clean single! I practically floated down the first base line, touched the bag and made the turn as I watched the throw come into the shortstop covering second.
Joe Azcue, former Tribe catcher, was playing first base that game. “Nice hit,” he said. As I went back to the bag, I couldn’t help but smile and say, “Perfect game, my a**.” Mr. Azcue chuckled. I had broken up Lenny’s no-hitter against my team, and no one else followed with a hit. But for me, the game couldn’t have been more perfect.