Braves Fantasy Camp Redux Dec29

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Braves Fantasy Camp Redux

Author’s Note: I attended Braves Fantasy Camp last year at the Braves spring training facility at Walt Disney World in Florida.  I intended to write a complete report – but I realized what I wanted to talk about wasn’t actually the things that happened at camp, but as silly as it sounds, the impact those things had on my life – the impact BASEBALL can have in your life.  In fact, my inability to reconcile how to report the activities of camp while preserving their philosophical impact in less than a 500-page novel basically shut down my blog for a year.  My blog assignment was the fantasy camp story and I couldn’t finish it.  I wouldn’t let myself go on until the story was written.  Well, like about 60% of my fellow campers from last year, we’re going back to camp for a second time.  It’s just too fun.  Plus, like many prospective major leaguers, it sometimes takes more than one camp to deliver the performance that gets you to the big leagues.  Returning for a second year caused me to take a look at things all over again and think about just what it’s like to go to camp.  So I try again below to put things into the proper perspective.

TA gets a hit off former Braves pitcher Brad Clontz in the Campers vs Alumni game. See video at http://vimeo.com/35957728

Fantasy camp was over.  Coming home from camp is such a total letdown.  It’s like for a moment while you’re there, everything makes sense.  Everything is like it’s supposed to be.  You’re playing, there’s your uniform, yesterday’s stains are gone, your shoes are clean, you look around the clubhouse and there’s Javy, and Glavine, and Sid.  You know, we got a game today.  Let’s go!

And then all of a sudden, you’re back home.  There I was the week after camp at the University of Georgia Performing Arts Center’s beautiful Hodgson Hall watching the Thursday Night Faculty Performance Series.  Some of the most accomplished players in music.  This one a woodwind performance – clarinet, oboe, flute….  And I’m staring at the stage thinking about being at camp.  Looking at the shape of some of the musicians on stage reminds me about some conditioning drills I could do, about a better routine for the batting cage.

There is a moment in every baseball lover’s life – it may come while playing in a Little League game or in a backyard, it may be watching a game on TV, it may be going to a high school game or maybe if you’re lucky enough, even a big-league game.  But once that moment takes hold, you are hooked.  You play every year until the other parts of life invade and refuse to allow you go any further.

Then at some point later in an attempt to recapture faded glory, you pick it up again but to make up for your diminished skills, the ball is bigger and the bases shorter.

That’s the way baseball is.  There’s just something about it that is in harmony with the universe – three strikes, three outs, nine innings, nine players, a diamond.  Romantic too, this game – springtime, renewal, a fastball and the crack of a ball striking wood (not aluminum – ever).  When it gets in your blood, it’s hard to get out.  It’s a game where statistics dominate, and are of such quantity that their analysis alone has spawned its own science as well as bureaus and encyclopedias.  It’s one of the few sports with no clock and where the defense, not the offense, controls the ball.

But most of us grow up playing on that local field with those rocks along the infield whose sole intent is to make an otherwise innocent routine grounder a potential black eye; whose right side batter’s box is so dug out that you could sprain an ankle just stepping up to the plate… there’s a difference between that and baseball Shangri-la.  Only therein lies the perfectly manicured fields, the perfect uniformity of the French press coarse-grind red clay in the infield, the painted bases, not a weed in sight.  And what’s even more fascinating is what’s behind the scenes: the Clubhouse with the staff of equipment guys, trainers, caterers – all there to make sure you have clean shoes, uniform and socks, ice and ibuprofen, and beer, food and chewing gum.

These pearly gates are guarded and entry is permitted only to the gifted few.  To know what it’s like inside these walls, to know this as the standard of how you work and hone your skills is the dream of nearly every grown up Little Leaguer this side of Williamsport.  And no amount of money can buy entry into this world – until now….

Everybody's Braves hero, Dale Murphy.

Now for just some simple amount of money – money that is worthless after you’re gone by the way – you can taste a baseball experience sublime – what it’s like to try out to be a Major Leaguer.  The experiences might include batting against a Cy Young winner or warming up your arm with a league MVP.  But probably more satisfying than even those experiences is the experience inside the clubhouse – becoming a part of the team, learning your role, how you fit in.  It’s joking around with the guys in that atmosphere where the dynamic includes rookies and veterans – your teammates – and in this case those veteran teammates just happen to include heroes of the not so recent past.  But even that has a feel of authenticity; a rookie makes the team and plays beside one of his heroes in the twilight of a career.

Authenticity.  That’s what this camp is about – what it’s really like.  And once you’re there, it’s not just playing the games.  It’s realizing something that you sort of thought you knew all along and then it becomes clear.  That this is what your life was SUPPOSED to be like.  Where everything makes sense.

See video slide show of 2012 Braves Fantasy Camp here… http://vimeo.com/36200759