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.

The Rockies Bring Dawn Back to Illinois

This week’s post/entry comes from another Rockies Fantasy Camp Rookie. Dawn Hoover, with the inspiration from Stephanie’s post, chimed in on her excitement for February 5. To those who will be in camp with Dawn, you’re going to be sharing the field with the Rockies Season Ticket holder version of Cal Ripken Jr.

Hi Everyone!  While I’m making Christmas cookies and wrapping presents, there is a piece of me that is looking ahead to February. Now, that’s not particularly new for me as February’s start of Spring Training means that baseball season is just around the corner. It’s something to be celebrated in my house annually. This time though, there’s a different anticipation because I’m going to spend a week as a baseball player in my own right. Fantasy Camp has been sitting on my “want to do list” for a few years, and this year seemed as good as any. In fact, when starting to reconsider over the summer, friends made sure to remind me that I’ve worked hard for this and are not getting any younger.  (Thanks y’all…you know who you are)

Growing up in Illinois, I spent a good part of my childhood sitting on a tractor with my grandpa or my dad, listening to Cubs games, since Wrigley didn’t have lights yet then. Names like Ray Burris, Greg Maddux, Ryne Sandberg, Jody Davis, and Bill Buckner, all felt like friends as I’d spend time crossing my fingers and hoping they had a great game. Grandpa taught me to play catch by having me throw a ball up to the roof and catch it when it rolled back down. Whatever hitting I learned was with a wiffle-ball bat in the yard while Grandma made dinner. Years later, the love I had for the game as a child grew again when I introduced my son to the game after we moved here to Denver and fell in love with the Rockies. He played a little, watched a lot, and after he didn’t want his mom around so much anymore, I went to baseball games. The peace the ballpark provides before a game, the sense of history every time the players step on to the field, the smell of hot dogs, the crack of a bat, it all makes me feel at home.  So it was time to stop only absorbing it all, but to dive in and live it.

My son finished school this summer, my health and my work are decent (thank you to my boss for all of the tolerance of my baseball passion), and the last home game of the 2013 season was my 365th consecutive home game attended. All of those seemed to be cause to celebrate. Additionally,  I was blessed with the opportunity to throw out a first pitch this summer which should have gone better (entirely my fault, the Rockies personnel was amazing as always), and in 2012 the Rockies treated me to a pie in the face for one of their commercials featuring season ticket holders. With this kind of a track record as a fan, the possibilities for Fantasy Camp are wide open. All I know is, I’m enjoying the friends I’m starting to make already, and can’t wait to find that sanctuary within the park again.  This time, it’s just with a different view.

Until next time, have a fun and safe holiday season.

Go Rockies!

Gearing Up for Fantasy Camp 2014!

Hey everyone! We’ve awoken from our nearly year-long hibernation and since Fantasy Camp is about six weeks away, we thought we should get this thing up and running. This will be the 17th year of the Colorado Rockies Fantasy Camp and we’re excited to bring it back to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Arizona from February 5-9. It’s going to be epic.

About two weeks ago, we had some of the campers down to Coors Field for a little gathering. During the shindig, they had the opportunity to take some winter batting practice in the underground cages and got to enjoy some hors d’oeuvres inside the Rockies clubhouse while talking to and meeting some of their fellow campers. The campers consisted of veterans and rookies, just like a Major League club.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ve asked four campers (two veterans and two rookies) to contribute to this space with why they are doing fantasy camp or why they keep coming back, what they look forward to the most and maybe a good story or two from a previous camp. We’ll kick it off with an inspirational Fantasy Camp Rookie, Stephanie Sheldon, who is a huge Rockies fan and has a great story she so graciously shared with us. Oh yeah, give her a follow on Twitter (@rockiescutie08) as she’s aspiring to be a sports writer someday. After reading this entry, she’s headed in the right direction…

Greetings from Golden, CO! My name is Stephanie and I’m a rookie with camp but a veteran with dedication to the organization. I’ve been a die-hard baseball fan my entire life and specifically a Rockies fan since 1991 when word came that Colorado was getting a professional baseball team.

My whole life revolves around baseball. I just graduated from baseball scouting school and I’m an aspiring sports writer/broadcaster/reporter. My dream job would be anything involved with the Rockies organization. I am in the beginning stages of starting a baseball blog which will focus on the Rockies. I love watching baseball but I love playing it as well.

Growing up, I aspired to become a Silver Bullet (Denver’s Professional Women’s Baseball team). It is unfortunate that Denver doesn’t have that team anymore. I am fortunate enough to come from a baseball family. Whenever we weren’t at Coors Field, baseball could be found on our TV. To this day I never miss any Rockies games throughout season. I joke all the time that I am married to the Rockies because I put them first in my life.

Many years ago while I was in high school, I heard about the fantasy camp while at a game. I remember thinking that my “dreams of becoming a Colorado Rockie” were about to come true, but then I saw that you had to be at least 21 years old. I vowed from that point on that I would save money until my 21st birthday so I could purchase the greatest present ever for myself. However, just after I graduated high school someone close to me got diagnosed with cancer. Time was now spent tendering to this very important special someone, who on a side note was a major Rockies fan as well.  Camp seemed like a dream that would occur years down the road.

In November 2012, this loved one lost their courageous battle with cancer and thus, I am going to camp this year on a gift from that person. It is their last gift to me and I can’t think of anything greater. They are giving me the gift to live out my dream.

The Hills Take the Title

The combination of Rob Scahill and Mark Strittmatter proved to be one of leadership and determination as their club, The Hills, took the 16th Rockies Fantasy Camp Title yesterday afternoon. The Hills defeated Laser’s Legends 12-5 on the main stadium here at Salt River Fields. John Hefner tossed 2.1 scoreless innings and Tim Carlson went 4-4 with 5 RBI to lead The Hills in the title game.

Derek Krause, who was named Camp MVP, helped lead the Legends to the title game. Congrats to Derek on the honor!

Earlier in the day, Dante’s Dudes shutout Vinny’s Cousins 6-0 in the consolation game to earn third place. PJ Marcely led the Dudes by allowing just 2 hits and striking out 11 in a complete game shutout. Marty Marcely got it done at the plate for the Dudes, going 3-3 with a 2B.

Today is the final day of camp, but the fun isn’t over until today’s Coaches vs. Campers game on the main stadium at Salt River. Each team will get three innings against the Coaches.

As today’s camp closes, the Rockies have been honored to host and fulfill the baseball fantasy of so many this week. The campers are among the most enthused Rockies fans in the world, and we can’t wait for the 2013 season to get going.

Thanks to all who participated, and as always, Go Rockies!

Big League Trainer At Fantasy Camp

Wrapping up another fantasy camp from the training room. So far so good on the injury front. With the exception of the usual (sore shoulders and elbows, pulled muscles, and a few bruised ego’s) we have had a very productive and healthy camp.

With two more games today and one to go tomorrow, we are now 21 innings away from finishing up camp with a two year emergency room-less streak. I’m already feeling guilty about writing this because it goes against my superstitious nature. Oh well, sometimes you have to take chances in life.

As of this morning’s census, we have already gone through 37 bottles of flex-all, 500 advil tablets and 800 pounds of ice. These numbers will surely grow by tomorrow evening as campers prepare for today’s Championship game and tomorrow’s Campers vs. Staff challenge. By the way, I have played in 14 Campers vs. Staff challenges, and I bring a 14-year hitting streak into tomorrow. Is that good?

Anyway, that’s it for now from the training room. Here’s hoping for 24 more hours of good health (and more importantly good luck) as Rockies Fantasy Camp 2013 heads towards completion here in Scottsdale.

-Scott Gehret, Rockies Assistant Athletic Trainer

Title Game is Set

In the first games of the day, Laser’s Legends edged out The Hills 4-2 to earn their third-straight victory and clinch a spot in the Championship Game – played tomorrow afternoon at 1:35 p.m. on the main field here at Salt River Fields. Despite the loss, The Hills clinched a spot in the Championship Game as well thanks to a loss by Dante’s Dudes to Vinny’s Cousins.

Both The Hills and Laser’s Legends are now 3-1 going into the final game of league play, which began at about 1:45 p.m. today.

Following the afternoon games, the campers will get a chance to pick the brains of our coaches, and Rockies legends, in a bull session that begins tonight at 5:00 p.m. Great stories are always told at these sessions, and more are sure to come out tonight.

Check back later for a special guest blogger as well. And continue to go to rockies.com for video features throughout camp.

Day 3 is Underway

Following another gut busting Kangaroo Court from George Frazier, the campers are now taking batting practice in preparation of the final day of league play today. Each team will play two more games today, at 11:00 am and 1:45 pm, and when those are concluded we will have our championship game set.

The Hills is 3-0 and can clinch a spot in the title game by winning one of their two games today. Laser’s Legends (2-1) and Dante’s Dudes (1-2) are battling to get in to the title game as well. A Win for Laser’s Legends today would also secure a spot in the final contest, played tomorrow at 1:35 pm on the main stadium here at Salt River Fields.

Highlight videos are posted on coloradorockies.com and make sure to check back here for updates.

Play ball!

FROM THE CROW’S NEST

Blogging from the “Crow’s Nest” between the Rockies’ practice fields at Salt River Fields, the weather is heating up and so is the intensity of the action on the field.  “Laser’s Legends” and “Dante’s Dudes” just wrapped up their first games of today’s doubleheader, with George Frazier and Mike Lansing’s team earning a 6-5 win.  On the neighboring field, “The Hills” was able to dispatch “Vinny’s Cousins” 11-10 in exciting walkoff fashion.crowsnest

Campers now have a quick break for lunch before heading back out to the fields for game two which will pit The Hills against Dante’s Dudes and Vinny’s Cousins versus Laser’s Legends.

Just a quick update for now, but no matter how you break it down, everyone is having a great time and life is good here at Fantasy Camp.

DAY 2…HERE WE GO!

6:30 a.m. – The days start early here at Rockies Fantasy Camp and many Campers are rolling out of bed at this time, no doubt stiff and sore from the first day of action, and the first bus to Salt River Fields is about to depart from the Camp hotel.  Yesterday, the busiest day of Camp with the player draft, practice sessions, first game and an overall “feeling out” process, is in the books and now the week will begin to hit its stride.

After the first pair of games, there were some strong performances and both “Dante’s Dudes” and “The Hills” notched wins in their first contest, downing “Vinny’s Cousins” and “Laser’s Legends” 12-7 and 8-5 respectively.  Headlining the top first-day performances, Bret Milner of Dante’s Dudes went 3-for-3 with a single, double, a hit-by-pitch and a monster home run over the left-field wall. Other day one standouts included PJ Marcely, also of Dante’s Dudes, John Hefner of The Hills and Steve Bahmer of Vinny’s Cousins.

Campers and staff are going to grab a bite to eat at the Salt River Fields cafeteria and get ready for the first “Kangaroo Court” session of the week, overseen by the vengeful and unforgiving Judge George Frazier.  Kangaroo Court banter is always hilarious and it will be interesting to see what indiscretions Judge Frazier will bring to the courtroom this morning.  After Court, there will be doubleheader action today with games beginning at 10:00 a.m. and 12:45 p.m., so stay tuned for final scores and updates.

Like always, remember you can stay connected to Fantasy Camp in real-time by following the Rockies on Facebook, @Rockies on Twitter and checking for video updates to coloradorockies.com.

Day two…here we go!