Braves Fantasy Camp Jan16

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Braves Fantasy Camp

Exactly why does one go to Fantasy Camp?  I’m not entirely sure, but when your wife says, “Hey, you should go do this,” and points at the Braves Fantasy Camp email, you don’t give her time to change her mind.

Beginning next Tuesday, I’ll be reporting from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Florida where I’ll be participating in the 2nd Annual Atlanta Braves Fantasy Camp. Alumni players scheduled to appear include Tom Glavine, Dale Murphy, Steve Avery, Otis Nixon, Marquis Grissom, Javy Lopez, Sid Bream, and more.  The Kissimmee complex is home to the Atlanta Braves spring training activities.

Actually I didn’t decide that fateful Sunday morning when Rhonda first made her suggestion.  I considered it for some time.  When I couldn’t stand it anymore was in December at the MLB Winter Meetings in Dallas.  All this makes more sense when you realize that my friend who works with the Braves and is in charge of camp, Brian Lapidus, is also who we work with to run the fan photo program at Turner Field.  So we were also running a promotional photo program in Dallas at the Winter Meetings and Brian and Sr Manager of Promotions Alan Hearn were both there and over dinner one night the talk about camp reached such a crescendo that I couldn’t stand it any longer.  I decided I was going.A sample of the trading cards we were producing at the MLB Winter Meetings

To further froth up the excitement, our photo promotion in Dallas was taking photos and creating baseball trading cards for fans at an event at the Texas Rangers stadium in Arlington – for which we needed a few props.  So a colleague of mine from Printroom, Jeff Benjamin and I headed off for the exhibit hall where all the vendors for the meetings were displaying their wares.  Among them, all the big names – Rawlings, New Era, Mizuno, you name it. No matter what your intent, if you’re a baseball fan at all, it is a pretty cool place to wander around.  Well we came across a small bat company, Old Hickory Bat Company from Goodlettsville, Tennessee (how can you go wrong with that?) who had absolutely gorgeous looking bats.  They were Maple and Ash composite bats with beautiful stain – very photogenic.  I met former pro Ryan Bear and he was generous enough to let us use one of their bats for the photo program.  Among their wares was a new line of Old Hickory baseball gloves (see photo)  and the next thing you know, I’ve purchased a nice 12-inch infielders mitt.  My old glove is a huge softball glove – fine for the outfield, but infielders usually use very small 10-1/2 to 12-inch gloves.  Just what I needed.  NOW, I’m fully committed.  Ryan ends up giving me a deal and I take home the bat as well.  As I leave, he tells me it’s the GB2 and the GB stands for Gordon Beckham – turns out the former Bulldog and current White Sox star is one of their pro players who uses Old Hickory Bats in the pros.  It was meant to be.

Best looking bats and best company name award – Old Hickory.

Now returning home from Winter Meetings, I’ve got some work to do.  I get with my trainer, Tim Joyce from Fitness at Five, the gym near my office, and we change up my workouts from weights and bike ride-focused training to baseball.  Suddenly, I’m chasing tennis balls across a room and doing burpees with pushups and pull-ups (among other ghastly exercises).  One of the best unintended consequences of going to camp so far has been the opportunity to take this new goal and use it to focus my training.  I didn’t realize it, but the old regimen was getting a little stale perhaps.  Whether it was or not was no matter now.  There was a new excitement afoot.

My other coach is my wife Rhonda, who takes me out and helps me break in my new glove and hits me some mean ground balls to get my arm and infielding instincts dusted off.  Nice to be married to a player.  We’ve been out at least a few times with one of my best friends Mike Young who tossed it around with us and served as first baseman for Rhonda.

Sometimes training gets serious. Mike Young joins this session.

Lastly, I’m looking at that GB2 all perfect and unblemished and I’m thinking I’ve got to get out and take some swings before camp.  After a little research I find that there are a few indoor batting and baseball workout complexes in the area and I end up going to this one just outside of Athens on Jefferson Road called the Attica Sports Complex.  There I meet former pro player Adam Brandenburg who goes from turning on the pitching machine to let me take a few hacks to taking some time (along with Attica co-owner Bob Corbin) refining my swing and throwing me some live pitching.  Wow, this is getting out of hand!  I did some video and realized I was moving my feet improperly and dropping my hands.  Adam and Bob helped me adjust and I hope to post some new video soon.  I haven’t completely resolved some of the problems, but I’m on my way.  (See video here)

All I can say is there’s just a week more before camp opens, and already no one is having as much fun as me.  Stay tuned for reports from Central Florida beginning sometime next week. And thanks everyone in Athens and elsewhere for the support.