January 2014

Fantasy Camp is a Family Affair

Everyone here at 2001 Blake Street is very excited for Fantasy Camp, Spring Training and the start of the 2014 season as February 5th is right around the corner. But first we have Rockies Fest tomorrow (Saturday). Come on down to the ballpark for some fun and mingle with some of your favorite players.

Our next blog post comes from another veteran, Kevin Keating. It will be his 12th camp as he brings his wife and kid with him…they are veterans, too. In his post, he talks about how he got started and his 10 reasons why he comes back. Enjoy!

I got “The Call” in December 2000 that I had waited for since I was a child.  By then I was 41 years old, but my boyhood dream remained.  The caller was my friend and Colorado Rockies pitcher, Jerry Dipoto.

Jerry knew of my lifetime love for baseball and my unrealized dream to become a big leaguer.

“What are you doing the first week of next February?” he asked.

“Nothing unusual.  Why?”  I responded.

“Good. Because our family’s Christmas gift to you this year is Rockies Fantasy Camp.  You’re going to go as my guest, and you’ll play on my team.”

I had no way of knowing then how much this incredibly generous gift from the Dipotos would change my life.

Before camp, I was already a Rockies fan because Jerry and I had been good friends for years.  And by the end of that tremendous experience, I had also become an extended-family-member of the Rockies organization.

And I’ve been a regular ever since, missing just 2 of the 14 years since then–once when I was ill and again when our twin boys were born.  This year will be my 12th, my wife’s 10th, and our sons’ 4th camp.  For us, it’s both an annual vacation and a family reunion with all the friends we’ve made over these past many years.

There are many great things about Rockies Fantasy Camp that make each year so enjoyable.  And even though every camp is different, a few things never change.  Here are my top-10 reasons for making my return an annual necessity that I have been asked to chronicle here for this year’s incoming rookie class.

#10–The Play:  The games are fun and almost always competitive.  Just like the big leagues, good pitching usually beats good hitting, but similar comparisons end there. Unlike the majors, good hitting and especially good pitching are scarce.  Most fastballs have an arc to them. And interspersed among the many routine and the very infrequent great plays in the field are those that simply defy imagination or explanation.  Yogi would say “You gotta see ‘em to believe ‘em.”  True.  And just witnessing Fantasy Camp play firsthand is worth the price of admission.

#9–The Video:  Fortunately, the video pros are there to capture all the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Their motto:  “Never let a good blooper go unfilmed.”  And they don’t.  All participants are provided with a CD after camp that documents our shared experience from beginning to end, which always includes on-field bloopers that would make the Bad News Bears look like the 1927 New York Yankees.

#8–The Trainers:  “Start slow and taper off from there” is the best camp advice I ever received.  It was true at my first camp, and it’s even truer now that I’m 54.  And I thank God for the Rockies team trainers.  They are the best in their field and can piece together almost any injured camper and keep them ‘game-ready,’ though I use that term loosely.  Suck up to them immediately—make every one your new BFF.  Every year I rediscover muscles that I forgot I had.  Without the trainers, I’d be in traction by the third day.

And forget the hot tub.  That’s for sissies.  Real men and real women GO COLD.  I like to break the ice when I hop in.  Try it—you’ll be miserable, but glad that you did.  In one of his movies, my favorite philosopher Clint Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”  True.  Women, too.  Even though camp is only five days long, treat it as a marathon, not a sprint.  Difficult as it is to hold back, don’t push yourself too hard.  Pulled hamstrings won’t end your fun, but they will end your play.

#7–Individual Attention:  All campers become members of the Rockies extended family.  As such, you are guaranteed a fair-share of attention.  If you want extra attention, assign yourself a “cool-sounding” nickname. Ask that it be put on the back of your jersey in lieu of your last name—just to make sure that it gets noticed.  Here are some oldies-but-goodies that come to mind—not all of which were self-ascribed:  “BIG SLOPPY”; “THE GENERAL”–not to be outdone by “THE COLONEL”; “THE POLISH RIFLE”; “SPARTACUS”; “SUDSIE”; “DEKE”; and “LITTLE DEKE”;  And my personal favorite, “GO FAST,” which for years was proudly sported by the camp’s slowest runner.

But having a cool nickname can come at a cost.  I used KEAT-ROSE for a while until I didn’t run out a ground ball one day.  Boy, did I pay for that, which leads me to….

#6–Kangaroo-Court:  My good friend and fellow camper, Alan Czarnowsky, likes to say that “If Fantasy Camp was any more fun, it would be illegal!”  That’s probably true.  My upper-cheeks are usually the sorest part of my body at camp’s end, a product of incessant laughing.  Be prepared to laugh, laugh hard, and laugh often.

Your day and laughter begins every morning with Kangaroo Court, one of baseball’s most revered but little publicized traditions.  There, the many who are guilty of indiscretions against our national pastime during the previous day are held accountable and fined accordingly.  One example can be running the wrong way on the base-paths; another might simply be missing a belt loop on one’s uniform pants.  I once forgot to wear my belt.  The next day my coaches Walt Weiss and Mark Strittmatter returned the “missing belt” to me at Kangaroo Court.  Oddly, the belt they produced was many times longer than the one I thought I had been issued (see photo).   On top of the public humiliation, I also received a five-dollar fine.  Nothing is sacred, and nothing goes unnoticed.

From left to right: Walt Weiss, Kevin & Mark Strittmatter

From left to right: Walt Weiss, Kevin & Mark Strittmatter

#5–The Camaraderie:  Love baseball?  Love the Rockies?  What better way to spend five days than with others who share your passion?!  Have you ever tried to get the attention of one of your favorite players before a game by yelling at them:  “Hey, So-and-So, notice ME—I want your autograph!”  After camp, try this the next time you see Vinnie Castilla walking around the batting cage at Coors Field:  “Hey Vinnie, it’s (insert your name) from Fantasy Camp.”  See what kind of response you’ll get.  I don’t want to speak for Vinnie, but I am willing to bet–whether he remembers you or not–he’ll flash you his million-dollar smile and greet you with, “Hey Cuz—how’ve you been—good to see you!”  And if time permits, he’ll probably run over and give you a big hug too.

#4–The StoriesThe fun doesn’t end when camp does.  When you get back, everyone you know will ask you, “What was Fantasy Camp like?”  And provided that no one from home was there to bear witness to the truth, you can say whatever you want.  No one will know how well or how poorly you played—until you tell them.  For example, I played so well a couple of years that the Rockies asked me to stick around for a Spring Training tryout.  Sadly, pressing personal obligations and responsibilities compelled me to decline their offer and return home to resume my life outside of baseball.

#3–The Baseball CardsFor a nominal fee you can buy a block of your own baseball cards, using your choice of the many action photos for the card’s front that the pro photographers will take of you. Imagine handing these out to your friends and family.  I like to autograph mine and send them out with Christmas cards.  And here’s the best part:  YOU FILL IN YOUR PLAYING STATS that they print on the reverse, and there’s no oversight from the Elias Sports Bureau.  Until my wife started coming to watch me, I hit .800-plus every season!

#2–The Reunion Game:  During the regular season, everyone is invited back as guests of the Rockies for a reunion picnic and to watch our favorite team play.   Wear your jerseys, because before the game we’re all down ON THE FIELD, where we’re recognized during pregame activities.  I like to blend in with the other big leaguers walking around.  I also like to sign autographs for friends I plant in the stands.  It’s a great time to have all your friends and family come to Coors, especially since we all get to play a game ON COORS FIELD as soon as the Rockies dispatch their day’s opponent. And our friends and family get to stay and watch us take the field!  Imagine being in full Rockies uniform, looking up at the scoreboard and seeing your face staring back at you from the BIG SCREEN as you walk up to the plate to the thunderous ovations of friends and family!

#1–The Dream:  I fell in love with baseball in the spring of 1969.  I was 10 then when I first dreamed of becoming a big-league player.  It was the only thing I ever really aspired to be.  I still have that dream.  And so every year I leave our home on the cold East Coast and travel to sunny Arizona and the Rockies Fantasy Camp, to see old friends, and to make new ones. And where, for a few days, my dream becomes a reality.

–Kevin Keating

The Veteran of the Bunch

Happy New Year everyone! We hope things have gone well for this first week of 2014. We’re just 29 days until the start of Fantasy Camp and just 18 days until Rockies Fest. Baseball is right around the corner and we’ll kick it off with our newest post from our veteran of the bunch, Alan Czarnowsky, who has been with us for 14 years.

My name is Alan Czarnowsky.  I like baseball, and I like being around people who like baseball.  But, I really love to play baseball.  Those are reasons that I go to the Colorado Rockies Fantasy Camps.  And upcoming 2014 Camp will be my fourteenth time to participate.

I’ll be joined at the February Camp at the Salt River Fields in Scottsdale by other returning “veterans” – Don Karras, Kevin Keating, Roger Harbert and his two daughters Tara and Tammy, Tom Sanders, Bob Bastiaans, Sam Rubinson, Drew Goodman, Steffan Tubbs – just to name a few (hopefully I did not miss naming one of the returning Camp veterans).  Rick Mathews headlines longevity in the coaching department – he’s been a part of every one of the Rockies Fantasy Camps.

In his 1990 bestseller book, Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball, George Will, an American journalist and author, wrote: “Baseball, it is said, is only a game.  True.  And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”

To play on Mr. Will’s witticism, I might add: “The Colorado Rockies Fantasy Camp is just a vacation.”  If you have attended a previous camp, you know what I mean.  If you haven’t, you will soon be treated to a very wonderful time.

I want to thank the Colorado Rockies for hosting this annual event.  The Rockies organization is first class, from top to bottom.  Part of that reputation is earned by the hard work and effort put forth by Jason Fleming and his staff, who are the folks responsible for the success (and fun) of Fantasy Camp.

Given the number of individuals who regularly return, Jason often refers to the Camp as a family reunion.  To that, I say that friends are the family you pick for yourself.  And, I made some life-long friends from people I’ve met at Fantasy Camp.

Tonight, where I live in Montana, the snow is piled high, and temperature is heading to zero.  As my beautiful bride Sally says, “There’s not many Fahrenheits running around outside.”  All this cold weather reminds me of what Roger Hornsby, one of the best major league players of his era, once said, “People ask what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell them what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

I guess that’s what I’m doing tonight – staring out the window and thinking about Fantasy Camp.  Happy New Year to all of you and your families!  See you soon.

Until next time, stay warm Alan.