Sunday, December 24, 2006
Buckman tries to become Batman
My wife and 2 daughters found the perfect gift for my 40th Birthday, 5 days at the New York Mets fantasy camp in January 2006, with some of the Mets favorites from yester-year. They joked that I had to attend while I was still physically able. At first I thought, are they nuts? What will the director of store operations for a dollar store franchise do on the training field of the New York Mets? I mean I have coached my 2 daughters in softball for the last 8 years, and consider myself to be in better then average shape, but baseballs are smaller and move much faster then softballs, and I am moving a little slower these days. After getting over the exorbitant costs of the trip, I have started to actually get excited and nervous about what lies ahead at fantasy camp. I have found myself day-dreaming about making a great play or getting a key hit, and also have had thoughts of getting carried off the field, and even worse making a complete fool of myself by striking out for a record 10th time at the camp. I have to admit, the letter advising some stretching exercises and callisthenic started most of these worries, and I have actually been stretching each morning in the shower. I'm determined to go there with an open mind and give it my all and see where the chips fall, or me for that matter. Seven weeks from now I will don my #13 Mets uniform and make my mark on the field at Port St Lucie.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Cleats, gloves, cup?
With 2 days before Christmas, I find myself wondering about my adventures to be at Fantasy Camp. I am slightly worried that I have not received a final confirmation of my flight and itinerary, however my wife says, that has been par for the course for the information. I have acquired a pair of new Mizuno cleats, which I tried out then sent back to Zappos for a half size larger. Why don't they sell cleats in a wide width? Also added a Wilson first baseman's glove to my belongings, "Just in case". Last item on the list to obtain is the cup and supporter. Still have more research to do on this one.
Friday, December 22, 2006
The quest for the cup....
Fifteen days before the camp starts, reviewing the paperwork on what I need to bring and the list of Mets players attending. This year's list of former players includes:
- Ron Swoboda
- Lenny Randle
- Duffy Dyer
- Felix Millan
- John Stearns
- Howard Johnson
- Anthony Young
- Jerry Grote
- Bobby Floyd
- Jim McAndrew
- Al Jackson
- Joe Pignatano
- Pat Zachary
- Willie Montanez
- Rafael Santana
- Tim Bogar
- Ron Hodges
- Guy Conti
- Buzz Capra
- Randy Niemann
- Bobby Wine
- Doug Flynn
- Mickey Brantley
I have everything in order except for the cup. Never needed one before as an adult, but they strongly recommend one. Problem is I get a skin rash from elastic, so after searching the Internet for days looking at jock straps, I found one they make in a brief style, with all elastic sewn inside. It hasn't arrived yet, so I contacted the company, they say it's out of stock, don't know when it will ship. Back to the internet to order another one from a different company. An hour after ordering it, I get an email, you guessed it, order canceled; out of stock. I panic and order 2 more from different companies. Today's inbox has great news, the "out of stock" jocks have arrived, they will ship express to me. So I warned my wife that I have somewhere between 4 and 6 new jock straps being delivered. I think I have the jewels very well protected.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
DAY 1- Heaven on Earth...
Wow, what a day! Arrived at camp, checked in the villa, and headed to the Port St. Lucie baseball fields. As we entered the locker room, we saw row after row of locker cubicles with our uniforms hanging neatly on the rod. Like a kid in a candy store we searched the aisles for our jerseys. Once located we found both home and Away uniforms with jerseys, pants, socks, belt, jacket, and a great duffle bag. Our last name adorned both the jerseys and the locker. A quick test fit of of the uniform and off to the field. Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti was hitting fly balls to us in the outfield, then John Stearns was pitching batting practice. After missing the first 3 pitches, I made a decent comeback, hitting the next 7. After my BP, I was entertained by a great story from Guy Conti, current Mets bullpen coach, as he was explaining to a group of us how Pedro Martinez drags the top of his foot as he pitches and how it has affected his toe over the years. Opening night dinner was a blast, we met all the former players who will be working with us. This is amazing!
Saturday, January 28, 2006
What a feeling to see my name on an official Mets Jersey hanging in the Mets clubhouse at Port St. Lucie.
DAY 2- May the games begin
After changing into our uniforms, we rotated a series of 4 stations; infield, outfield, pitching, and then concluded with hitting. Mickey Brantley gave excellent instructions on the basics of hitting, while Howard Johnson tried to guess our professions. Once lunch was over, we learned which big league player had drafted us, I was on Zacs Dogs, coached by Pat Zachery & Bobby Wine. We then headed to the fields to play our first game. We were behind in our first game 4 -0, when we battled back to score 3 in the top of the 7th on a triple by one of our players. This lead to a bazaar play that was awarded the "bonehead play of the day". The other team believed our runner had missed 2nd base. After a discussion the pitcher stepped off the mound and "lollipopped" a throw to 2nd base. Our runner at 3rd then raced home and scored the tying run. When the umpire called both runners safe, the manager of the other team, Duffy Dyer, screamed at his team's stupidity for failing to call time out before their appeal. Our game continued for 2 more innings where we scored 2 in the top of the 9th, only to lose by one run in the bottom of the 9th. I was overmatched and only managed to foul off a pitch while striking out twice. Our 2nd game was suspended for darkness after 4 innings, we would finish it the next morning, before
we played our scheduled doubleheader. Earlier talk of going out to dinner was over-ruled and most of us simply went to bed at 9.
I had the pleasure of meeting Darryl Strawberry during my Mets Fantasy Camp experience.
Friday, January 27, 2006
DAY 3-The tides have turned
We finished our suspended game with a loss, in a see-saw battle. After a quick meeting under the tent for the day's briefing, we headed out for game 3 on our schedule. I went 2 for 4, and we won! I was boasting how we would run the table now and we were on a 4 game win streak. We were treated by a visit from Darryl Strawberry! I had a photo taken with him on my way to lunch. After lunch, we played game 4. I was in left field this game and had plenty of action chasing down hits left and right. In an embarrassing moment, I lost a ball in the sun and covered my head for fear it would cold cock me. My manager, Bobby Wine let me have it for 2 innings about the play. Later in the game, I had another ball hit to my left, a shallow fly ball. I made a diving, rolling, falling effort, and sucessfully made the catch! Bobby Wine called it my "Ron Swaboda" catch! Wow, I just made a play that compared to Ron Swaboda's famous catch in the 69 World Series, life is grand! We won that game to bring our record to 2-2.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Howard Johnson from the 1986 World Championship Mets team was very patient as he posed for photos with us. Hojo was a quiet guy, but real friendly once you engaged him in conversation.
Day 4-The Day I met Gary Carter...
The day starts off innocently enough in our first game, as we play our usual see-saw battle scoring 4 in the first and giving up 3 in the bottom of the inning. The umpire is making horrendous calls, strikes on pitches as high as our neck, and out calls when the runner was clearly safe. Suddenly we notice Hall of Famer, Gary Carter, walking the fields and entering our dugout. He shakes all our hands and asks for a game synopsis. He watches us bat for half and inning and witnesses another one of our runners get called out at first, when he appeared to be safe. I begged Carter to appeal for us, he turned around as he was leaving our dugout, and said we were screwed. This game I came up to bat with 2 outs and runners on 2nd and 3rd. I hit a slow roller to 3rd and sprinted to 1st to try to beat it out. I hit the base then heard the ball hit the glove. Next thing I hear is the umpire yelling "He's OOOOUUUT". I yell a scream of no, and run to the fence to collect myself. After throwing the helmet back to the rack, and yelling a few explicatives to the umpire, the game continues, and we win again! 3 in a row now! Now comes the complications, there were 3 teams tied with a 3-2 record, so to determine who would play the 4-1 team for the championship they put the 3 teams with identical records in a hat and pull out our team's name. That means we get a bye and the other 2 teams play each other in an extra innings type game, where if either team has the lead at the end of an inning they win, and play us in the same style game to determine the challenger of the 4-1 team. Two innings later, we play the winner. We hold them in the top of the first, then our leadoff guy hits a double. They walk the next batter intentionally, we single in the winning run! We are in the championships!!
Without a moments delay, the championship games starts. We are the away team and score one in the first. That would be the last time we had the lead in the game. They scored 4 in the first, then 5 more over the next 6 innings. We were only able to muster 2 more runs, as our bodies broke down from the furious activity of the last 4 days. It seemed everyball they hit went 300 feet plus. We did have excitement at the end when our starting pitcher roped one down the first baseline, all the way to the wall. He labored around the bases, scoring an inside the park homer. It wasn't until we shook their hands at the end of the game, that we realized most of them were much bigger then us. We later learned that their team had 8 players who were veterans of the camp, having played in prior years. Our team only had 2 players who had experienced the camp before. Bottom line was the better team won. We held our heads high, and showered for the Awards dinner that night. We had an absolute blast as we signed team balls for each other, had autographs signed by the pros, took pictures, and had a few cocktails.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Day 5-Us against the Pros
The last day of our fantasy camp was the coup de grat. Our teams would have our chance to play against the pros on Tropicana field. We earned second place in the tournament, so that meant we played the pros in game 2. Great, not only are the pros, they will be very fresh
pros. As we watched Jim McAndrew throw the first game for the pros, he seemed hitable. Someone mentioned that he is 52 years old he should be hitable. Well after game one, the pros make a pitching change, now AY, Anthony Young, will be throwing against us. ANTHONY YOUNG??? That guy is the only
player for the pros that is 1 year younger
then me. He's only 39, and is clocked at 86 miles per hour in his warmups. Needless to say, he mowed us down fairly quickly. I believe in all our team had 2 hits against him in our brief 3 inning game. I am proud to say I was not one of his many strike out victims. I flailed at the first pitch that was way outside, then fouled off 4 in a row. One off Jerry Grote's bare hand which was sweet justice since he was a grouch the entire camp. Finally, I got decent wood on one and grounded out to the shortstop. At the start of the camp, I was very fast getting down the line, however, I have to admit I had nothing left in my legs on the last day, and was out at first by 2 steps. We held them to no runs until the last inning, when with 2 runners on, a sharp single was hit to me in right. Although I fielded it cleanly and made a good throw to our cut off, it was a few over-throws later, we're done, pros win, 2-0. Shaking hands with the entire staff of pros after the game was surreal. Felix Millan, John Stearns, Tim Teuful, Buzz Capra, Willie Montanez, just one hero after another. It was a perfect end to a perfect trip!
Monday, January 23, 2006
Best May be yet to Come!
The great gift given to me by my most thoughtful wife has one final chapter. In June, we will go down to Shea and each of us will get to play a few innings on the field at SHEA STADIUM. The following day, we will have tickets to the picnic area at Shea where we will be announced, in a ceremony before the game. Stay tuned for my thoughts on this experience in June.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
All smiles as my name is announced to the crowd at Shea.
Reunion at Shea-Day 1
The last leg of my Fantasy experience with the Mets has arrived. I had been given two complimentary tickets to Sunday's Mets vs. Giants game, June 4th, then I would play on the field at Shea
the following day, with my old team from Port St Lucie, in what was being heralded as the "Reunion game". I decided to bring my dad to Shea with me for the Mets game on Sunday. We were in the picnic area and were treated to an extensive buffet lunch. An hour before gametime, they lined us up alphabetically, and marched us onto the field at Shea from the Outfield fence. We lined up along the first base line. As we walked in front of the right field stands we waved at the crowd as if they cared who we were and why we were there. Walking past first base, I tell the guy in front of me "hey this is where Mookie's grounder went through Buckner's legs". Looking into the stands from the field is surreal. The seats were half full since it was still an hour before gametime, but I tried to imagine the energy when you looked up and saw wall to wall people packed in their seats. As we stood in front of the Mets dugout, we saw Jose Reyes in the dugout. He stood alone tossing a ball in the air then over to the bat rack to take some swings. This is all an hour before gametime. it is obvious that he would play for free he just truly loves the game. The public address announcer proceeded to introduce us by name one by one to the crowd as a video camera filmed us and our images appeared on the big screen at Shea. A still photographer took our photo as well. After every name was announced, they had a special tribute to one of the camp players who passed unexpectedly a few months after our camp at Florida. His wife and children were representing him and completing his fantasy camp experience. It was an emotional moment, but we all took solace that he did get to experience the games in Florida, and meet some of his childhood idols with the rest of us. We were corralled back to the picnic area and watched a very competitive game. We were treated to home runs by David Wright, Jose Valentin, and the rookie Lastings Milledge. This was the memorable game where Milledge hit the homer to tie the game in the 11th inning then gave a high five to every fan in the front row on the first base line. Although he was lamb basted in the newspapers, the crowd thought it was a celebration of his success and his excitement about coming through in the clutch for the team. Unfortunately the Mets lost the game in 12 innings, but little did I know that was to be the only black mark of the event. Tomorrow I will be on the field in uniform at SHEA STADIUM!
Saturday, January 21, 2006
My Day at Shea!
The time has finally arrived. I'll actually be playing baseball ON THE FIELD at Shea Stadium! I've invited my Dad and Uncle down to watch the game. (They are both retired and probably are the only people who would enjoy sitting in the stands at Shea for 8 hours to watch us.) I arrive at Shea at 9:30, and we enter through the Mets offices entrance marked "Authorized Personnel Only", I already feel like a big shot, even if it is only for one day TODAY, I am authorized. I get an envelope with a DVD of our experiences in Florida, and 100 baseball cards that have my picture on the front and my stats from the camp on the back. I'm instructed to follow the signs to the locker room, and my guests will follow the signs to field level seating. The signs direct me to the old Jets locker room, that still has the weight machines the Jets used. The air conditioning unit is leaking and there is a musty odor in the room, but we quietly change into our uniforms, I will be playing on the "away" Mets team today so I dress in my gray uniform. I grab my glove and follow the signs that say "Field" on them. I pass a locked door that is labeled Mets training room, then I see daylight at the end of the tunnel. Through the doorway is the field and I am entering it from the Mets dugout! Batting practice has started as I numbly find my way to some of my teammates who are shagging fly balls. After re-acquainting we learn we will hit BP at 10:30. We grab some breakfast, there is a buffet table set up on the field in front of the visitors dugout loaded with fruits, breads and beverages, then don a helmet and choose a bat. The guys decide that we will hit alphabetically, that means "Conners", or Mannix as I am affectionately known as, goes first. Kevin Baez is pitching and has been for 45 minutes. He looks exhausted, giving me a sense of confidence as I stride up to the plate for my ten hits. (I am thinking Lord, please let me make contact at least ten times.) I swing and miss at the first two then talk myself into stepping back taking a deep breath and just enjoying myself. I fouled a couple back, then hit a few hard grounders. I think to myself remember what Mickey Brantley said at camp, hold the bat in the fingers, explode at the pitch, and be confident. I lace four line drives in a row and hit a fly ball into the gap in right center. I have my teammates attention now as I hear them shout "ata boy Mannix". Next one is roped to first and hits the protective screen hard. Two more line drives to the outfield and one last fly ball, now my teammates are in a stupor. "Way to start us off Mannix!", I accept the high fives from my teammates and relish in the fact that I just had a productive batting practice at Shea Stadium. I find my Dad and Uncle in the third row and verify that I did not tarnish the family name. They congratulate me as I watch the rest of my team take their turn in the batting cages. Kevin Baez is done, and Ron Swaboda is pitching now. His pitches are not anywhere near the beauties Baez was giving me. After BP, the team decides to take a celebratory jog around the outfield.
As we pass the Mets bullpen someone tries the door and it is open. We all clamor into the bullpen and then climb the ladder to the viewing bench set up for the relief pitchers. We sit up there and soak in the moment as we talk about the other pitchers who have sat here from Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell to Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver. We head back to the food table, shag a few flies, eat lunch and prepare for the start of the game. We will divide into two teams of fifty players representing the ten teams from Florida. Our team will hit first and take the field in the 9th and 10th innings. The batting lineup is posted, our team will start alphabetically, that makes me the leadoff batter for the game. Their pitcher is mediocre as I watch him warm up. "Now batting for the Mets, Michael Conners", I hear on the enormous PA system. I decide that I MUST take the first pitch to savor the moment at the plate at Shea. It of course it is strike one. Two pitches later I rope one to the right of the first baseman, who makes a falling stop, but the pitcher doesn't cover. He bobbles it and I beat him in the race to first base! "Infield single" Kevin Baez says as he high fives me as the first base coach. I take a huge 8 foot lead since they are not holding me on and race to second on a grounder to third. I slide safely into second just ahead of the throw and congratulate myself for getting the big lead. Nobody holds me at second and my lead is almost halfway to third, when the batter hits a slow roller in front of the plate. I race to third and watch the throw go by the third baseman into left field. I get up from the slide and score the first run of the game! High fives from all 50 teammates. My team "Zac's Dogs", bats around plating 5 runs in that first inning. The other 4 teams bat in the 2nd through 8th inning and only manage 3 more runs between them.
The other team has scored 9 and we are losing 9-8 with two outs in the 9th inning when my turn to bat comes up again. Keep in mind for the entire game we were bragging to the other players and our own coaches that Zacs Dogs are the only team here at Shea able to produce runs. We have gloated ad-nausium for the past 8 innings and the rest of the team and coaches were a little tired of it. As I walk to the plate with our team down by 1 with a runner at second, my teammates start to chatter, "show them what Zac's dogs can do Mannix". I am very confident as I have already singled and scored, I jump on the first pitch, a fastball, and line it into the gap on right center for a double, and bat in the game tieing run!! "Nice hit" the second baseman exclaims as I stroll into second with a stand up double. I hear the PA announcer say "Conners is having a great day going 2 for 2 with a single and now a double". The next batter smokes the pitch down the first baseline, all the way to the wall and scores behind me for an inside the park homerun, as we take the lead by two. Once again all 50 teammates high five the two of us, and some even bow as we walk by in honor of our accomplishments. Anthony Young, (A.Y. as we know him), comes over for a hand shake and says "I give you guys props, you talk the talk AND you walk the walk". At this point I have died and gone to heaven. We take the field for our two innings and give up no runs. My dad gives me a baseball to get signed for him and I quickly get all five major leaguers to sign it including, Ron Swaboda and Ed Charles from the 69 Mets, Kevin Baez, Anthony Young, and Rodney McCray. This has been the most magnificent experience of my lifetime, short of my wedding day and my children's births, and I owe it all to the woman I absolutely adore, my wife Lori, whom I will never be able to thank enough for "forcing" me into doing this.
Friday, January 20, 2006
My official stats on my baseball card.