I have been out to the CenturyLink Sports Complex several times this week primarily to watch some baseball as about 107 men and women participate in the annual Twins Fantasy Camp which runs from January 10-17. This year there are eight teams playing each other on four fields all day long.
Stan Dickman who owns and runs the camp does a fantastic job and he has a staff of former Twins greats that coach the teams, give the players hitting and pitch tips, tell stories and just plain have fun with the fantasy campers. It is not cheap, rookies pay about $4,295 but returning veterans get by with paying $3,795. Having said that it is not cheap, I also need to say that you do get a lot for your money and you won’t get treated any better any place. Stan treats his campers like family and the fact that over 70% of his campers return year after year proves it. I am not going to list all the benefits that campers have but you can check them out on the Twins Fantasy camp website.
I mentioned that the staff is made up of former Twins greats. Here are some of the former Twins greats that I have run into this week, Bert Blyleven is the Fantasy camp commissioner and you see him going from field to field looking for players he can bring up on charges and fine at the daily Kangaroo court. Wouldn’t that be fun to sit in on? When he is not busy writing notes in his ever-present tablet he is interacting with the family members and fans that hang out at the ballpark to watch the games. Others Twins greats that I have run into this week were Tony Oliva, Tom Brunansky, Kent Hrbek, Greg Gagne, Frank Viola, Rick Aguilera, Tim Laudner, Juan Berenguer, Mickey Hatcher, Frank Quilici, Bill Campbell, Steve Braun, Phil Roof, Julio Becquer, Gene Larkin and I am sure there are others that I have not seen. These Twins greats are all willing to spend time talking with fans and family members, have their pictures taken and sign all kinds of autographs. It is like a huge family reunion where everyone knows everyone and the players and the Twins greats are all on a first name basis.
I noticed right off the bat that the fantasy games are a bit different then the normal games that I watch out here in the spring at Hammond Stadium and on the adjoining fields. The action is a tad slower, each of the games has two umpires, the players may not be as athletic as they would like to be, catchers have trouble getting the ball back to the pitchers sometimes, there are 10 players on the field as the teams utilize four outfielders, courtesy runners are utilized when needed, in one game I watched I noticed that both shortstops were left-handed, I saw a left-handed third basemen, and even a left-handed catcher, I wonder where he got the left-handed catchers mitt? The play is entertaining, sometimes you can’t help but laugh at a play that may or may not have been made, but you know what, the players cheer for each other and they are playing as hard as they can because they want to win, just like the Twins do. They all want to get to that championship game on Saturday that will be played in Hammond Stadium.
But you know what I didn’t see? I didn’t see pitchers stepping off the mound and adjusting their cups, I didn’t see batters stepping out to walk around and adjust their batting gloves after each pitch, I didn’t see the catchers walk out to the pitcher’s mound every few pitches, there wasn’t as much spitting as you see at a normal baseball game and only once did I see a batter complain to the home plate umpire about a call and he was a pitcher that said “I hope I get the same call when I am pitching.”
But the action isn’t always on the field, today former Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee stopped by for a visit and he held court with the fans, fantasy campers, and former Twins players alike with his story-telling. The man is 68 plus years old and he looks like he could take the mound for the Twins in 2015 and win 10 games or so. Matter of fact, according to the “Spaceman” himself, he still plays ball all over the world and last year he claims to have pitched over 340 innings including a couple of one-hitters. Wish I would have taken my camera out there today so I cold have taken his picture but I didn’t. I should know better than to go out to the ballpark without my camera.
I was talking with Bert Blyleven the other day behind the home plate screen at one of the fields when Twins TV announcer Dick Bremer stepped up to the plate and of course Blyleven gave him “an easy out coming” call that got Bremer to look around and smile. Bremer ended up popping out to the third baseman this time but Bert told me that Bremer can get ahold of one now and then. He told me a story about how Bremer a few years back pulled a home run over the left field fence that was a grand slam and the ball darned near hit Bert’s car that was parked near by.
I also wandered over to Hammond Stadium to see what progress was being made on all the work being done there. Even the workers there were friendly and stopped and chatted with me about their work and didn’t yell at me to watch out for all the wet concrete that seemed to be everywhere. According to the workers that I talked with, everything is on schedule and that fans are in for a treat when they come out to watch the Minnesota Twins play their spring training schedule in the not too distant future. The landscaping has not really started but according to one of the workers that will get started in February. I took some pictures of the stadium exterior and you can see them here. Workers have been busy installing the new sign out front at the entrance and that is still not complete but it is not too far away from the looks of things.