This year’s Fantasy Camp was held in Port St. Lucie from Tuesday, January 14 through Sunday, January 19.  My friends Baboo and Metswinagain were both in attendance.  Baboo flew down from NY, Metswinagain came in from the UK and I drove in from the Gulf Coast.  The coaching staff had a lot of familiar names: John “Dude” Stearns (aka Commissioner for Life), Duffy Dyer, Bobby Wine, Doug Flynn, Joe Pignatano, Al Jackson, Wally Backman, Lenny Harris, Randy Neimann, Turk Wendell (he returned after a 1-year absence), Dwight Gooden, etc.  Two very popular former Mets made their Fantasy Camp debuts: Edgardo Alfonzo and Todd Pratt.  For long-time Mets’ fans, these 2 names bring back a lot of good memories from the teams from the 1999 and 2000 seasons.  Bud Harrelson was absent for the 2nd year in a row, and Ed Charles was, apparently, ill and unable to attend.  Get well soon, Glider.  You were missed.

Unlike last year, I was unable to take Friday off, so I missed the Kangaroo Court.  But I did make it to camp in time for Saturday’s meeting and the awarding of the brown and gold ropes.   It’s not impossible for both ropes to be awarded for the same play, but it’s also not the norm.  But on Saturday, that’s what happened.  Todd Pratt and one of the campers were trash-talking and Todd decided to pitch to him.  And the camper proceeded to hit the ball over the fence for a home run.  So Todd was awarded the brown rope, and the camper got the gold.  The crowd was amused.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get pictures from the meeting — we ended up having to sit in the back, so I really didn’t have a good view of the proceedings.  This is all I could come up with — Tank (Todd’s nickname) was regaling the crowd with a very funny story about how he supposedly found a player’s driver’s license (I will not repeat the story because I cannot do it justice):

Tank being funny.

Tank being funny.

As always, click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Wally Backman and Tank were the coaches for Baboo and Metswinagain’s team, the Pratt Fallers.  Unfortunately, the PF’s didn’t win a single game, but they had a fun team with a lot of good people.  In fact, several players from higher-ranked teams said that they would have loved to have played for this team because they’d had so much fun.

Something very special did happen at this camp.  For the first time in recent memory, a group of campers beat the pros.  The players celebrated on the field as if they’d won the World Series which, considering the situation, is pretty much exactly what they did.  The fans in the stands knew what was happening and we were just as excited.  It was pretty darned cool.

And now for this year’s batch of pictures. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t great.  There was either too much sun or not enough.  But here goes:

Tank, Fonzie and Turk

Tank, Fonzie and Turk

This is a photo Baboo sent me from Tuesday’s Welcome Dinner.  It features 3 of my favorite players from the 2000 NL Championship team.  I got to see Tank’s ring at the awards dinner.  It’s very, very cool.

And here is some game action from Saturday:

Baboo runs to first

Metswinagain runs to first

Metswinagain at bat.

Metswinagain at bat.

Coach Pratt works with his pitcher.

Coach Pratt works with his pitcher.

Here is Saturday night’s awards dinner:

Tank and Wally honor the Pratt Fallers.

Tank and Wally honor the Pratt Fallers.

Tank takes the mic.

Tank takes the mic.

Turk at the podium.

Turk at the podium.

Fonzie and Kevin Baez in the crowd.

Fonzie and Kevin Baez in the crowd.

Piggy, Doug Flynn and Bobby Wine honor their team's MVP.

Piggy, Doug Flynn and Bobby Wine honor their team’s MVP.

Doc Gooden gives out the Tom Seaver award.

Doc Gooden gives out the Tom Seaver award.

And, last but not least, here are photos from Sunday’s campers-vs-coaches game:

Pregame introductions

Pregame introductions

More introductions.

More introductions.

Doc Gooden on the mound.

Doc Gooden on the mound.

Doc started Game 1 (against the top-place team) and gave up 2 runs in the first.  He found his groove soon afterwards, and the coaches won the game.

Doc pitched the first couple of games.

Doc pitched the first couple of games.

Doc at the plate.

Doc at the plate.

Doc was also pretty incredible at the plate.  I know he made an out over the course of the 8 games, but I don’t remember seeing it.

Turk at the plate.

Turk at the plate.

Turk had a bunch of at bats and got several hits.  Who said pitchers can’t hit???

Guy Conti coaches 1st.

Guy Conti coaches 1st.

It looks to me as if Guy doesn’t think Turk’s going to run.

Schourek at the plate with Tank on deck.

Schourek at the plate with Tank on deck.

Tank takes his turn at bat.

Tank takes his turn at bat.

SS Turk and 3B Fonzie.

SS Turk and 3B Fonzie.

Turk did pitch on Sunday, but he also played short.  Here he is, playing catch with 3B Alfonzo.

Duffy & Tank.

Duffy & Tank.

It breaks my heart that this was in the shade and is so hard to see.  But this is Tank (2000 WS Met) and Duffy Dyer (1969 WS Met) changing places.  Duffy caught the first 2 games, and Tank caught the rest.

Piggy on the sidelines.

Piggy on the sidelines.

Joe Pignatano doesn’t play in the games, but he’s still a presence on the sidelines.  He’s a true gentleman, and I’m so happy I’ve gotten to spend time with him over the years.

Fonzie at first.

Fonzie plays
first.

Lots of coaches were out of position.  I honestly cannot remember seeing Fonzie play first base.

Metswinagain gets to first against the coaches in Sunday's game.

Metswinagain gets to first against the coaches in Sunday’s game.

Baboo takes the mound in Game 8.

Baboo takes the mound in Game 8.

And here is a picture of Tank and me.  Right after he was traded to the Phillies in 2001, I went to a sporting good store and found a jersey that said “Tank” instead of Pratt.

Dorsal view.

Dorsal view.

Obviously, we should have swapped places, but we didn’t think of it.

So, Fantasy Camp 2014 is over, but I’m already looking forward to heading East to PSL in 2015.  I’ll repeat what I’ve said before; if you are in the PSL area in the days before MLK weekend, you should visit the camp.  The tournament games are open to the public, as are the campers/coaches game on Sunday.  You will not regret it.

Yes, I’m back.  I’ll explain some of the reasons for the “hiatus” in another post, but for the time being, I’ll share what happened during my 3 days at Mets Fantasy Camp 2013.  In 2011 and 2012, I only went for 1 night and was there for the awards dinner.  Baboo had told me about how much fun the Kangaroo Court was, so this year I was able to get the day off from work and went for 2 nights.

I left home at 5:45 (close to an hour later than I left the other 2 times) and, because the state and the various counties have been working to improve the road, the 135 miles didn’t take 3+ hours as it has done before.  This time, it only took about 2 1/2.  It doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it was.  The road wasn’t quite as lonely and I wasn’t forced to follow so many slow-moving farm vehicles as much as I had in the past.

Unfortunately, not as many former Mets were on hand as there have been in years past.  There were enough players for 10 teams — barely enough, as we found out — but there were 2 more teams this year than last.  Baboo’s team was called Guys & Dolls and the coaches were Ron Swoboda and Guy Conti.  I arrived in time for the morning meeting, and heard the nominations for the brown and gold ropes.  As a reminder, the brown rope is awarded to the player who made the most spectacularly boneheaded play of the previous day, and the gold rope is awarded to the player who made the most spectacular play, period.  On Friday however, the brown rope winner was not a player.  The winner was Rodney McCray (known as Crash — here’s why) in honor of the truly dumb instructions he gave a player on his team.  On Saturday, the only 2 women in camp swept the awards.  It was the first time ever that both awards had been won by women.  Obviously, nobody wants to win the brown rope, but it was still pretty neat to have the women up there in front of the audience.

Unfortunately, Baboo’s team finished in 10th place, with a record of 1-6.  The winning team was coached by Eric Hillman and Rodney McCray.  They beat Pete Schourek and Doug Flynn’s team in Saturday’s finals.

While Turk Wendell, Benny Agbayani and Bud Harrelson were among those who weren’t at camp this year, there were a couple of newcomers — Doc Gooden and Cliff Floyd.  Mookie Wilson was in attendance also, but he left early and I never got to see him “up close and personal.”  Doc pretty much kept to himself, but Baboo did get me an autographed baseball for my collection.  I got a photo with Cliff, but no baseball.  Maybe next year…

Anyway, here are the pictures:

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Bobby Wine acts as Judge and Doug Flynn is the prosecuting attorney at Friday night’s Kangaroo Court.  Commissioner Stearns pays a fine while Eric Hillman laughs at him (as did we all).

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Commissioner Stearns speaks to the campers at Saturday morning’s meeting.

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AY (Anthony Young) sits next to Lenny Harris.  In back are Crash McCray and Pete Schourek.  To our right is Felix Millan.

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Cliff Floyd and Doc Gooden present an award on Saturday night.

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Eric Hillman, Duffy Dyer and Joe Pignatano at the Awards Dinner.

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Randy “Nemo” Niemann and Ed Charles (once again wearing the World’s Greatest Jacket — see last year’s report for the close-up).

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Representatives of the ’86 World Series team (Wally Backman, Tim Teufel, Randy Niemann and Doc Gooden) as a statement from Sandy Carter is read.  All proceeds from the Kangaroo Court went to the Gary Carter Foundation.  Even people who weren’t fined donated to the cause.

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As some of you may not know, the last day of camp features games at the Mets’ spring training stadium where the pros play the campers in order of how the campers finished in the standings.  Here is Doc Gooden preparing to bat in one of those games.  He did not pitch.  But we did see AY, Pete Schourek and even Kevin Baez on the mound.

Image  The Great Baboo makes it to first; Eric Hillman is supposedly guarding the line.

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Baboo is versatile.  He pitches too.

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Felix Millan coaching first.

As I told Baboo, if I am invited again next year, I will be there.  It’s some of the most fun I have all year.  If you live in Florida, the Sunday games are open to the public.  The concession stands are closed, but the team store is open so you can pick up swag.  I can almost guarantee you’ll have a blast.

That’s a direct quote from Gary Cohen, the TV voice of my beloved New York Mets.

The reason? After 8,019 games, a New York Met has pitched a no-hitter.  OK, it wasn’t a perfect game (5 Cardinals reached base via walks and there was a very, very bad call during a Carlos Beltran at bat), but it was still a no-hitter and Mets fans all over the world will still take it.  Johan Santana, who is already one of the great pitchers of his era, is now part of Mets history.  I am still in shock.

The Mets have had some incredible pitchers on their pitching staff: Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, etc., etc., etc., and none of them pitched a no-hitter as a Met.  But Johan Santana, who Terry Collins wanted to keep on a pitch count, threw more pitches than he ever had and ended the game on a strikeout.

It was beautiful.  I have been at hundreds of Mets games over the past 50 years, and have watched and/or listened to thousands more, and this ranks up towards the top. Gary Cohen is on the radio post-game with Howie Rose, and they both sound all choked up.  We all know they are life long Mets fans, and they are just as happy as we are.  Thank goodness tomorrow is Saturday, so I can stay up late and watch/listen to the coverage.

The Mets have posted highlights at their website.  At some point, I’m thinking the game itself will be available for sale at iTunes.  I will most assuredly be buying it.

Thank you, Johan.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

I know it’s been a while, but I’ve actually used my “time off” productively.  I’ve read a slew of books — more books than I have in a while, and that can only be a Good Thing.

First off, I finally got to re-start (and then finish) The Cello Suites by Eric Siblin.  It’s outstanding.  Siblin is a former rock writer for the Montréal Gazette who, when he discovered Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, became obsessed with them.  He traveled the world to learn more about Bach, the Suites themselves and Pablo Casals, who found a copy in a tiny music shop in Barcelona in the late 19th century and gave them back to the world.  Bach has long been my favorite composer and, while I prefer his orchestral work to these Suites, the book is a great read.  Here is an interview with Silbin at Harper’s that includes some clips of Casals playing the Suites.

Next up was R.A. Dickey’s memoir, Wherever I Wind Up.  Dickey is the sole knuckleballer left in the major leagues, but that’s only a small part of who he is as a person.  He had a rather awful childhood, and it affected him until he was able to get help facing the demons.  I love him as a Met, and have a lot of respect for him as a man since I learned more about him.  And, speaking of the Mets, they are looking so much better than anyone (including yours truly) could have predicted.  As of right now, they are 5 games over .500 and are only 2 games back of the division-leading Nationals.  As of right now, life is good, and I am actually looking forward to seeing them play the Rays next month.  Hopefully the good times will continue and they won’t embarrass the Blue-and-Orange faithful who are going to convene at the Trop next month.

Then there was Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon.  I’m not sure why they call her “Lady”Almina, considering she was not the daughter of a Duke, an Earl or a Marquess, but the mistake was not just for the North American market.  The title of this book is the same in the UK, which truly boggles my mind.  Anyway, once I forgot the title, I could get interested in the book.  I liked it.  Almina Wombwell was a Countess of Carnarvon at the turn of the last century.  She was the illegitimate daughter of Marie Wombwell and Alfred Rothschild.  Her mother was married, but everyone knew that she and Rothschild were “an item” and that Almina was their daughter.  He was officially her godfather, but he left her his entire estate, and also gave her the enormous dowry that enabled her to marry the Earl.  This particular Earl of Carnarvon was avid Egyptologist and played a role in discovering King Tut’s tomb.  So, why is the title Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey?  Because Highclere Castle, which plays Downton Abbey in the series, is the ancestral home of the Earls of Carnarvon.

As a follow-up to this, I read through Jessica Fellowes’s book The World of Downton Abbey.  This book talks about the series Downton Abbey but in terms of what would have happened to the characters in real life.  For example, what were a footman’s duties?  What uniform did a housemaid wear?  Etc.  I already knew a lot of the material covered, but for those who don’t, I think the book is worth reading.

I’ve mentioned before that Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God is one of my comfort reads. Before it went into storage, I read it at least once a year.  Unfortunately for me, I’ve only been able to read it once (via interlibrary loan) since I moved here.  I’ll have to see about buying a paperback to tide me over until I can get my original copy back in my hands.  Winner’s latest, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis is a completely different experience.  It’s more about re-finding God than finding Him in the first place.  Since Girl Meets God, Winner has gotten married, lost her mother, gotten divorced and lost her way spiritually.  She’s now an ordained priest in the Episcopal church and a professor at the Duke Divinity School, and her mid-faith crisis was especially discombobulating.  Most people of faith have gone through a period when they aren’t sure God is really there, including priests and professors of divinity.  This book is not quite a memoir, and not a self-help book either.  It didn’t affect me as much as Girl Meets God, but I do think I will read it again at some point to see what else I can get out of it.

In an example of perfect timing, just as I was ready to start Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U, I learned that the library was ready to lend me a copy of Natural Woman, Carole King’s memoir.  In short, I loved it.  I have been a fan of King’s music for decades, and could hardly wait to read her story.  OK, so she glosses over a few things, but not the things I cared about.  She doesn’t go into detail about how she and Gerry Goffin “had to get married” while she was a 17-year-old student at Queens College.  All I cared about was learning about how and why they created the music.  It’s always been about the music for me.  As for the music, I also downloaded Carole King’s Legendary Demos from iTunes.  I’d never heard her sing some of these songs before (such as “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” or “Crying in the Rain”), and it’s a real treat to be able to hear the writer’s take on songs that other artists turned into classics.

There is, however, a book that has more personal details about King’s life, and I took that out of the library as I was returning Natural Woman.  This one is Girls Like Us, by Sheila Weller.  It deals with 3 of the great women singer-songwriters of our era: Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon.  It contains more intimate details of these women’s lives than does Natural Woman, but it doesn’t appear to be unauthorized, so I imagine that the stories are all true.  I’m only about 1/4 of the way through, and am finding it thoroughly engrossing.

I’m still waiting for the library to tell me that Victoria Thompson’s latest, Murder on Fifth Avenue, is ready for me to pick up.  I’ll report back when I’m done with it.

Another thing I want to do is to get back to stitching.  There are times when stitching helps me clear my mind of work-related stress; it’s nice to be able to put aside the craziness I deal with every day and to spend my time concentrating on creating something beautiful.  I’m also looking into buying my own place, and have been scouring various websites and newspaper articles to see what’s out there that answers my 2 basic questions: 1) can I afford it and 2) is the neighborhood safe?

The MLB Mets won their umpteenth Opening Day game yesterday. It was a 1-0 nailbiter against the Braves.  Johan was, for the most part, outstanding, but the offense is already in mid-season form.  They left the population of a small town on the bases, and only David Wright came up with a clutch hit to drive in the only run of the day.

The pre-game featured Ralph Kiner announcing the Mets’ starting lineup, and I got teary-eyed.  It got worse when I heard about Gary Carter’s family throwing out first pitches to Carter’s 1986 teammates.  Here is an article from Mets.com about the pre-game ceremonies, along with a couple of video clips.  I still say his number should be retired.

The FSL Mets lost their Opening Day game to the Bradenton Marauders.  This was a 3-2 nailbiter and went 11 innings.  Dad, KC and I were there, as part of an announced crowd of 4,000+/-.  I don’t believe that number for a minute, but it was a pretty good crowd just the same.  There were fireworks after the game, but we left in the 10th inning because some of us have to work today.  We were not alone.

Both teams made errors early on, and were lucky that these errors did not cost them any runs.  There were also some stellar plays in the field that prevented other runs from scoring.  It was a beautiful night, despite a few drops here and there, and I look forward to many more over the course of the season.

Mets box here.

PSL Mets box here.

Last year, I wrote about my evening at McKechnie Field as a participant in the Pirates’ Baseball Basics for Women.  This year’s camp was held on March 29, and I participated again.

I’m not going to bother giving a full account of the experience, because one of the campers provided a wonderful account of our evening of baseball in the Bradenton Herald.  The Marauders posted a video of the evening’s activities at YouTube,  and they also published pictures of the event at their Facebook page.  But I will say that I had a great time, and I look forward to the 2013 edition.

One last thing — the Marauders’ 2012 season starts Thursday…against the St Lucie Mets.  The Mets are in town for 2 games.  Game 2 is on Friday, and AJ Burnett will make a rehab start against the Mets — the team that originally drafted him.  He was traded away to the Marlins (in exchange for Al Leiter, who became one of my all-time favorite Mets) and never played for St Lucie, but he was indeed a member of the Mets’ organization for the first couple of seasons of his professional career.

Pitchers and catchers are busy reporting to camps all over Florida and Arizona.

Lots has happened during the off-season — Bobby Valentine is now managing the Red Sox, Robin Ventura is managing the White Sox, Manny Ramirez has re-activated himself and will try to make the A’s roster, Brian Cashman’s wife is divorcing him because of a string of dalliances, and The Kid, Gary Carter, died from brain cancer at the age of 57.

I admired the way Carter played the game. I respected the way he lived his life, and I loved how he helped my favorite team win a World Series.  He wasn’t one of my all-time favorite Mets, but I am very, very saddened by his death. I was at his first game as a Met, when he won the game with a home run in extra innings.  His enthusiasm was infectious, and I never understood the way people ripped into him for loving life as much as he did.  He was sincere in his love for God, his family and his profession.  He played the game the right way, and a lot of today’s prima donna players could learn a lot from him.  He was way too young to go, and he will be missed.

Rest in peace Gary.