Twins Fantasy Camp Part I

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.

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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

"R" stands for Rookie  photo credit: Corey Sauer

“R” stands for Rookie
photo credit: Corey Sauer

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

My locker at Twins Fantasy Camp. :D We are in the Minor League facility at the Lee County Sports Complex. photo credit: Corey Sauer

My locker at Twins Fantasy Camp. :D We are in the Minor League facility at the Lee County Sports Complex.
photo credit: Corey Sauer

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.

photo 1After 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.

me hanging out with (from left to right) Juan Berenguer, Camilo Pascual, and Tony Oliva during the marathon that Game 1 became. Both Camilo and Tony are my team's coaches, along with our manager Bill Campbell. Great day today. :D photo credit: Corey Sauer

me hanging out with (from left to right) Juan Berenguer, Camilo Pascual, and Tony Oliva during the marathon that Game 1 became. Both Camilo and Tony are my team’s coaches, along with our manager Bill Campbell. Great day today. :D
photo credit: Corey Sauer

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.

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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.

photo 2Afterward, 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!!

photo credit: Corey Sauer

photo credit: Corey Sauer

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Now watch for Part II (and more photos) coming soon!

6 thoughts on “Twins Fantasy Camp Part I

  1. I agree, very good stuff! I’ve always wanted to do that some day, too. I’d have to spend about 3 months at a gym getting ready before going, though.

    The doubling up in rooms has two advantages, that come to mind, in addition to the obvious (keeping fees lower than they would be otherwise). First, it gives campers a little taste of minor league pro ball life, where they do have room mates on the road, and second, well… let’s be honest… for some campers, it’s probably not a bad idea to have campers on a “buddy system” just to make sure there’s someone around to call 9-1-1 at any hour, day or night! :)

  2. Pingback: Knuckleballs – Twins Fantasy Camp Part II

  3. I had actually requested a single room months prior to the Camp. When I arrived at the hotel for check-in, the folks at the reception desk said the hotel was overbooked and no single rooms were available. So, reluctantly I accepted my designated room assignment (what else could I do?) and hoped I had a roommate who was tolerable.

    It ended up working out great. Andy Schmakel was my roomie, he was 34 years old and a veteran of Afghanistan, who now works stateside for the Army in upstate New York. Andy is a Minnesota native and ended up winning the Rookie of the Year award for this year’s Fantasy Camp. As I recall, he batted .692 for the week while performing some arduous duties as a catcher for the Hrbekskis (it was 83+ degrees every day, and playing at least 2 ballgames a day takes it’s toll).

    It was nice having someone to talk to about the day’s events and to sit with at each of the five banquets. I have never been to Fantasy Camp before and so I didn’t know any of the campers when I arrived. Having a roommate helped break the ice in the first two days. By the time Monday and Tuesday arrived, we had been placed on our respective teams, and once I started playing ball, I got the chance to know my teammates. By the end of the week, I became friends with a fellow outfielder named Shawn Roerick who really helped me to keep my perspective about how Fantasy Camp baseball is played, what to look for from pitchers, etc. He was a great mentor to have. Shawn had a great attitude, put a lot of heart and effort into playing and stayed upbeat no matter how he played or how the team played.

    All said and done, I had an absolute blast and never took a moment of it for granted. It was the most fun I have ever had playing baseball. I will definitely be going back.

    And I will definitely remember to do a lot more strength and conditioning work on my lower back and legs. My poor hip, quads, and calves were in agony by Thursday of Camp week. I was in the hot tub and cold tub in the trainers room every day. Next time I will be stronger and more flexible. :)

  4. Jim, you alluded to injuries and having a “buddy” for emergencies. There was a collision during a game that I was not playing in that involved one player’s knee driving into the forehead of an opposing player. The player who was struck in the head was purposely immobilized and taken to the ER for evaluation. Fortunately, he suffered no broken vertebrae and no damage to the spinal cord, though he was diagnosed with severe whiplash. I’m betting his roommate was at his beck and call for the next few days.

    Another player who had a locker next to mine in the clubhouse was a starting pitcher and in one game he pitched TEN INNINGS in that 83 degree heat and South Florida sun. He ended up passing out and collapsed during the banquet later that night and EMT’s were called in to attend to him. They took him to the ER and he spent the night at the hospital for evaluation. We found out later it was extreme dehydration that caused him to essentially drop like a fly at dinner. He missed a day of camp out of precaution and came back to play. We faced him in the Friday playoff game and he pitched all seven innings and he was real tough to beat.

    The Pro Staff kept reminding us TAKE IT EASY and HYDRATE. But it was so hard to let up when running the bases. The juice just flows and I felt like the Flash out on the base paths. Every time I rounded a base, I could hear “Soup” Campbell shouting, “Easy! Easy! Easy!”. But my body was saying “F*** THAT! I WANNA RUUUUUUN!!!!!” :D

    I was in heaven despite my bum legs and the admonishments of the coaches. I had a number of hits during the week, and at least 4-5 of them were infield hits that I beat the throw to first. I just love to run.

  5. I suppose if you put any 100 30-50 year old people together for one week of athletic competition of any kind, you almost have to expect one or two trips to the ER. I know that even now in my mid 50s, my mind still occasionally writes checks my body can’t cash. If you put me on a baseball field right now, I’m sure I’d be one of those guys willing to stand on the mound until my arm fell off.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Corey. It sounds like it was well worth the trip!