Although I wasn't turning 60 until Sept. 25, 2013, my wife, Amy, decided to give me my birthday present on Father's Day that year.
With my family all around, she gave me a loose leaf folder. When I got to the page where the big surprise appeared, I found out I was going with her to an exclusive health spa in Arizona for a week of "couple's dynamics."
After nearly 34 years of marriage, my wife knows that I would rather watch a week of "Dancing with the Stars" than do something like this. But I faked a grin, thanked her and turned to the next page. I was relieved when I saw the words, "I was only kidding."
It turns out I was going to the New York Yankees Fantasy Camp in Tampa, Florida, in early November. I was so overcome that I started to cry like a baby and jumped up and down like a lunatic! This was my dream of a lifetime.
That said, preparing for fantasy camp is hard work. The Yankees gave me a suggested workout schedule: Stretching becomes paramount, and it is very important to work on the quads, hamstrings and groin muscles. I hired a trainer from my gym twice a week for 10 weeks to get me into shape to play the game.
About 115 guys attended the fantasy camp. They're generally between 30 and 70 years old. We were divided into eight teams and played two full nine-inning games a day, every day from Tuesday to Friday. Former Yankees -- 24 of them -- served as managers, coaches and pitchers. We played in a round robin tournament against the other teams.
On Saturday, my team, The Bombers, played against the former Yankee Major Leaguers' team, The Greats. A game would last two innings. The rules were pretty simple: 12 Bombers got to play in the field (five infielders and five outfielders), plus a pitcher and a catcher. The Greats would field a team of 10 players (four in the outfield, four infielders),
The Bombers got six outs per inning so that each of our players would get at least one at bat against The Greats. As luck would have it, we got to face Jeff Nelson, a 6-foot8 guy who had appeared in nearly 800 games in his Major League career. Jeff throws a slider that is equivalent to rolling a curving baseball off a tilted kitchen table -- at 85 miles an hour! Yikes!
In our first inning, six guys went to bat; one guy hit a foul ball. Everybody struck out. The Greats scored one run in the beginning, but our pitcher managed to shut them down for the rest of the inning.
In the top of the second inning, we got a walk. Our next batter managed to bounce a single into rightfield. The next hitter knocked a shot down the third base line for a double, and two runs scored. It was now 2 to 1. Soon it was my turn to bat. I took the first pitch (STRIKE 1). The second pitch (STRIKE 2) Third pitch, swing and a miss by a foot (STRIKE 3). I had no chance!
Bottom of the second inning, [former second baseman] Homer Bush at bat for the Greats: strikes out. Next batter, Shane Spencer, who was a big power hitter for a few years with the Yankees in the late '90s, hits a bullet to the left of second base. I pick it, take one step and throw to first: OUT by a step! Shane gave me a thumbs-up! I have actually thrown out a Major League player! Next batter, Jim Leyritz hits a ground ball to our shortstop who threw him out at first. We've beaten The Greats! Miracles do happen!
I haven't played hardball since I was in high school, but for a magical moment in time, I got to be a kid again. I was able to feel the absolute joy of competing and winning. It is a feeling that I haven't felt in a very long time. This is why, at least for me, it was the Greatest Game Ever Played!
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