Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Time Again for Baseball Fantasies

The Boys of Summer return to the playing field soon, kindling fantasies in boys of all ages and all seasons.

fantasy_camp_details_275x235

A fantasy baseball camp for Yankee fans.Real Yankee fans.

Chicago Cub fans, for example, will fantasize of what could be if their beloved team in the pajama uniforms wins its opening day game and stands atop their division standings for one fleeting moment before the hope of spring yields to the usual disappointment and despair of summer.

Others take their fantasies more seriously and turn them into actual experiences. A good friend of mine made his dreams come true by attending the New York Yankees Fantasy Camp. He had the time of his life hanging around with Major League legends.

The camp wasn’t about learning how to slide or catch a fly ball with two hands. It was all about pretending to be a big leaguer a cooler place than your backyard. My friend recalls the game when he faced Hall-of-Famer Whitey Ford, who was the starting pitcher in eight World Series Game Ones.

Whitey_Ford_1954

A competitive Whitey Ford who would think nothing of beaning a fantasy camper.

Ford may be long of tooth, but the wiry Queens native can still pitch. After working the count on his first at-bat against Ford, my buddy slapped a hit into right field. Ford looked mad.

On my friend’s next at bat, Ford revealed his old competitive fire and threw his slow-poke version of a bean ball. That’s a memory – getting brushed back by a ticked-off Whitey Ford at a fantasy baseball camp. My friend still has the ball Ford threw at him.

My baseball fantasy camp took place in Denver when I was just 10 or 11. The Denver Bears in those days were  New York Yankees AAA farm club. It was the team that sent Marvelous Marv Throneberry to the Bigs.

The camp I attended featured Yankee utility infielder Billy Martin, who showed us kids how to play second base. He demonstrated the right stance, how to look ground balls into your glove and ways to read where batters would hit the ball. Then he shared his secrets on making the double play.

“Okay kids, if some hot shot slides into second base with his cleats up, you have to jump to get out of the way,” said a leaping Martin. “But if that guy does it twice, make sure when you jump that you land on his chest. Land with your knee right in the middle of his chest.” I faintly recall there was another word he used before “chest.”

billy-martin-hit-in-1959

A hospitalized Billy Martin after a player hit him in the face.

Anyway, those of us listening intently to this “inside-the-lines” survival tactic began to worry when Martin added, “Let me show you.” Martin picked one hapless kid in our group, made him lie down next to second base and proceeded to demonstrate the jump-and-thud technique. Of course, he didn’t actually land on the kid’s chest, but none of us would have been surprised if he had. Billy seemed a little amped up.

It came as no surprise when later in his career Martin became the fiery manager of the Yankees, quarreling with umpires, shoving disrespectful players and feuding with owner George Steinbrenner. As we learned at second base, you never could tell when Martin was ready to jump on your chest.

So, when people tell me baseball is boring, I tell them they need more fantasy in their life. Baseball games move slowly enough to allow a lot of time to daydream.

 

 

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