Monday, Jan. 11, 2010
Its a perfect, sunny day in Glendale, Ariz.
We have our caps. We have our cleats, as well as our shiny new White Sox uniforms.
Time to take the field.
A few minutes into our very first practice, a high fly ball travels to short left-center field. Next month, Carlos Quentin or Juan Pierre will be here to catch it. But in the meantime, its up to Rick Larson from McHenry.
Rick has his glove. Rick has his shades, but when the ball comes down, Rick will unfortunately have something else.
A bloody, black eye.
Welcome to the first day of White Sox Fantasy Camp.
Around 80 of us have traveled a couple thousand miles to be here for the week-long event. Some to relive their childhood, some to test their skills against former White Sox greats.
Another is here to document it, and not make a fool out of himself in the process.
That would be me.
But judging by the first 24 hours, its only a matter of time before I am the brunt of some humiliating jokes, because as I am quickly learning ... nobody is left unscathed, and that includes the former players who are acting as both coaches and stand-up comedians.
Here is a brief sampling of the ribbing that goes on all day, every day. And keep in mind, this is the clean stuff:
Hey everyone, Moose Skowron is here. Most of you probably dont know this, but Moose is mentioned four times in the Old Testament.
Ron Kittles version of boredom is when he hears someone talk, and hes not talking about Ron.
Robin Ventura is the only person with five hits off Nolan Ryan. Unfortunately, two of the hits were to Robins chest and three were to his head.
Yes, its been almost 20 years since Nolan gave Robin that noogie sandwich in Texas, and hes still hearing it. Always will.
Were all here to play baseball, but also to have fun and hear stories.
Oh, the stories. Heres one Tom Paciorek told all of us before our initial workout. And Im paraphrasing:
One day in the 1980s, Rick Sutcliffe is on the mound pitching for the Cubs in Pittsburgh. The first batter smokes one over the wall. Home run. The cannon at Three Rivers Stadium goes off. BOOM!
Next batter comes to the plate. Sutcliffe throws. Same result. Home run. The cannon sounds again. BOOM!
Sutcliffe sees Cubs pitching coach Billy Connors taking a slow walk towards the mound.
Get back in the dugout! shouts Sutcliffe. Im fine.
Sorry Rick, Connors says. I have to come out here. They need more time to reload the cannon.
We played one game today, we'll play two a day starting tomorrow. My team is coached by Paciorek, Carlos May and Mark Salas.
Hows my baseball ability you ask?
Although I have played softball for years, I hadnt participated in an actual baseball game since Little League. And you wonder why I became a sportscaster?
Growing up, I was known for two things: having great range at shortstop and then sailing my throws over the first basemans head, nailing everything and anything in sight; people, bicycles, dogs, cats. Everything but the first basemans glove.
As a result, I heard a lot of Ooooohs, which were immediately followed by a chorus of Awwwwws.
Fortunately, I played left field today. Im not overthrowing anybody.
I went 1-for-3 with a single in that first game, but we lost to a team coached by Kittle and Richard Dotson, 5-3. But thats nothing compared to what happened to Ventura and Harold Baines team. They got crushed, 28-2.
Being the intrepid reporter that I am, I went over to Robins locker afterward for a postgame comment, only to see that he had changed his name on the top of his locker to Buttermaker.
Robin, what happened??
It didnt go well," he said. "And Im not naming names.
At least not yet.
As for our friend Rick who got hit with that baseball three minutes into camp, it appeared that his week was finished.
But in the third inning, a figure came walking out of the clubhouse and onto our baseball field. He picked up a bat, walked over to the plate, and dug in. Kittle was on the mound, and he delivered a fastball.
A 45-mph fastball. Hey, its fantasy camp.
And despite having a large bandage over his swollen, black eye, Larson smashed the first pitch he saw through the infield for a base hit.
And for one moment fantasy met reality. Rick Larson ... youre my hero.