My good buddy Corey (you’ve seen his name because we frequently use his photos here on Knuckleballs) got the birthday present of his life from his folks this year – a trip to Twins Fantasy Camp. He has graciously summarized his experiences into a bit of a “daily diary” to share with those of us not as fortunate and jealous as H. E. Double Hockey Sticks.
Twins Fantasy Camp 2013
A Rookie’s Story: By Corey Sauer
On June 16th, 2012, while having dinner with my family to celebrate my 40th birthday I opened a present from my parents, and I was thrilled at what I found inside.
It was a picture frame with a letter under glass. The letter was from Stan Dickman, the guru of the Minnesota Twins Fantasy Camp, informing me I was all signed up for the 2013 camp.
I had wanted to go to Fantasy Camp since I turned 30 a decade earlier and suddenly, I had my chance, but I had to wait another seven months. Imagine having to wait for an entire summer (and fall) to pass by before you can play fantasy baseball…in the middle of winter.
Cut to January 5th, 2013. I headed south on Delta Airlines to Fort Myers, Florida, the Spring Training home of the Twins. Camp was slated to last from January 5th to January 12th. I was very excited to spend a week in sunny southwest Florida playing baseball and soaking up the rays.
Once I arrived in Fort Myers, I picked up my rental car (highly recommended) and drove to the Crowne Plaza Hotel at the Belle Tower Shops. The Plaza Hotel was only 5-10 minutes from the Lee County Sports Complex, where the Twins have Spring Training each year. LCSC is also the home to the Twins Minor League affiliate, the Fort Myers Miracle, who play their home games at Hammond Stadium, based at the complex.
Check-in at the hotel was quick and easy, and I was paired up in a room with a fellow rookie by the name of Andy Schmakel.
Registration for Camp took place in the hotel and was a snap, I got to meet former Twins relief pitcher Juan “Señor Smoke” Berenguer in the registration room. Juan was very pleasant and happy to meet a rookie.
What follows is a relatively brief summary of each day’s events and the highlights.
There were many.
Saturday, January 5th: ARRIVAL DAY
After checking in to my room and completing camp registration, there was a “Rookies Meeting” at the hotel. There were 39 rookie campers this year, including myself. We met in a small conference room, where Fantasy Camp guru Stan Dickman gave us an overview of what to expect during the week. Not 5 minutes into the orientation, Bert Blyleven walked in and dropped an F-Bomb before taking a seat. There was a roar of laughter.
After the meeting was the first of five banquets that would be held during the week.
Fox Sports North broadcaster Dick Bremer (himself a veteran camper) welcomed the group and mentioned that Kent Hrbek wouldn’t want anyone to know that the reason Hrbie arrived at camp on crutches was due to a “bowling injury”. Laughter from the crowd , then a torrent of laughing and clapping as Hrbek stood up and gave Mr. Bremer the finger. That set the tone for the rest of the week.
Sunday, January 6th: DAY ONE
The official first day of camp. Rookies reported early to get a brief orientation of the clubhouse, its rules and protocol for camp. Breakfast was served in the clubhouse dining room and would be a regular offering every day of camp, along with lunch.
Rookies and Veterans alike dressed in our provided uniforms and participated in a session of stretching led by former relief pitcher Bill “Soup” Campbell. It was made clear to us from the start (and we were reminded constantly during every game we played) to “TAKE IT EASY” when stretching and when playing ball. (Remember this statement later) Apparently, in the past they have had campers blowout hamstrings, damage knee ligaments or otherwise get injured on the first day and miss the rest of camp.
After the stretching session, all campers were divided into six groups and commenced with participating in a series of six separate “Instructionals”: Hitting; Base Running; Infield Drills; Outfield Drills; Pitching; Catching.
Former major leaguers, referred to as the “Pro Staff”, led each instructional.
My first instructional was hitting with Gene Larkin and Kent Hrbek.
After instructionals were completed, we reported to the dining room for lunch. After lunch, all 39 rookies were divided in to four separate teams in order to play two games in front of the entire Pro Staff for evaluation.
It was during the evaluation game that I was forced into pitching (I’m an outfielder, I cannot pitch). During my stint on the mound I “pitched” decently. In other words I threw the ball toward the plate and sometimes it was hit and sometimes it was not. The low point of my outing on the bump came when my camp roommate, Andy, came to the plate and my first pitch drilled him high on his left hip near his lower ribs. He laughed and smiled as he trotted slowly toward first base while I circled the mound with my glove covering my face in embarrassment. Andy had quite a bruise after that. He forgave me almost immediately. I bought him a beer later that night at the bar.
In my final at-bat of the evaluation game, Bert Blyleven suddenly stepped out on the mound to pitch to me. I had no idea what was going on. I thought perhaps this was what sometimes happened at camp, that Bert would show up wherever and provide some entertainment. He threw me three pitches. I took the first high and out of the zone. The second I swung at and fouled off. The third I made partial contact and chopped the ball slowly down the third base line. I ran it out and was safe. My roommate Andy was the catcher and he was unable to get to the ball in time to make a play. I got a hit off of Bert Blyleven. I later realized, Bert only came in to pitch just to get the game over so the Pro Staff could get back to the hotel and conduct the draft.
After the completion of the evaluation, everyone got changed and went back to the hotel where the Pro Staff tucked themselves away in a suite to conduct the Camp Draft. All campers were drafted onto eight separate teams, with at least two Pros coaching each team.
At the banquet in the hotel that night, the Pros formally announced their team names and then named each camper who had been drafted to their respective team.
I was drafted on to the Dream Weavers with Bill “Soup” Campbell, Tony Oliva and Camilo Pascual as coaches.
Monday, January 7th: RAIN OUT!
We awoke to overcast skies and the threat of rain. The schedule had us locked in for two 7 inning baseball games, one at 10:00 a.m. and the second at 1:10 p.m. After reporting to the clubhouse and enjoying another fantastic breakfast, all campers were dressed for baseball and began batting practice sessions in the indoor batting cages.
The rain had already begun while were eating, and by the time campers started B.P. the light rain was a steady downpour. We stretched, threw warm up toss, hit baseballs, joked around and waited for word from Stan whether we would get to play the morning game.
Then finally, the call was made. RAIN OUT. The storm system had parked over Fort Myers and was very sluggish. There was no way we could play either game.
Luckily, there was a contingency plan. Meet in the dining room and watch a highlight video of the 1991 World Series with the Pro Staff and stick around for Q&A with Rick Aguilera, Kent Hrbek, and Gene Larkin.
Afterward, we had our afternoon free before the evening Team Dinners where each team treated their Pro Staff coaches to dinner out on the town. Upon returning to the hotel following dinner, a special Autograph Party took place on the deck of the hotel restaurant & bar, Shoeless Joe’s.
On Sunday, each rookie had been given a full-size wood baseball bat with their name and the camp logo and year engraved on it. The autograph party was the perfect opportunity to collect signatures on the bat. Each player was very gracious, friendly and accommodating. My bat is loaded with autographs. Great souvenir!!