Friendships Bloom in the Desert at A’s Fantasy Camp

Charley Thompson

The 2008 A's Fantasy Camp coaches in Phoenix were Bert Campaneris, Mike Moore, Ron Romanick, Dave Stewart, Dave Henderson, Greg Cadaret, Tye Waller, John "Blue Moon" Odom, Tony DeFrancesco and Shooty Babitt.

The 2008 Oakland A's Fantasy Camp that ended last Sunday presented three key features that will make January 2008 one of the best months in the lives of the 56 lucky fans who attended. For seven days, the participants in Phoenix, could: play baseball on professional quality fields, receive instruction from former Major League players while hearing war stories from their playing days, and make new friendships with fellow campers, the former Big Leaguers, and the camp staff.

It's been less than 12 hours since my plane landed and I said to say goodbye to the few dozen fellow campers who flew back to Oakland with me. The withdrawals of having to tear myself away from the other ballplayers, fantastic people each and every one of them, could be painful.

I'm going to miss walking into the professional clubhouse every morning and making my way to my locker where the uniform that one of the clubhouse staff had washed waited for me. I'm going to miss the professionalism and the friendliness of the clubhouse staff. I'm going to miss walking out onto the pristine fields under the clear blue Arizona sky in the middle of the enchanting Southwestern desert. And most of all I'm going to miss the other guys, ladies and coaches who love baseball as much as I do.

On Jan. 21, the 56 players were placed on four different teams for tryout games. The five different teams were coached by: Dave Henderson and Tye Waller; Shooty Babitt, Bert Campaneris, and Mike Davis; Dave Stewart and Mike Moore; and Tony DeFrancesco, Blue Moon Odom and Keith Comstock. The team that selected me was coached by Greg Cadaret, Ron Romanick, Gil Heredia and Jack Daugherty.

Cadaret is one funny guy with a great insight for baseball and life. He kept saying things that either had me laughing out loud or causing me to make a mental note. Unfortunately, many of those mental notes were erased by my advancing age. Romanick, the A's new bullpen coach, explained things enthusiastically when sharing the secrets of Big League ball. Daugherty is a very positive individual who helped me with my batting stroke. He always said the right thing and encouraged my teammates and me because of his love for baseball and life.

Heredia has the talent for talking to everyone he meets as if they've been friends for years. He's another one of those positive people who makes those around him feel better by being in his presence.

One time Heredia and I were watching an opposing pitcher with three different pitches. Heredia pointed out that you could tell which pitch the guy was going to throw by what the angle of his arm was when he released the ball. I couldn't tell the difference.

Heredia also told us about one Major League game during which he struggled. A fan finally yelled at him, "Just save some time, turn around and throw the ball into the gap."

We played baseball every day; sometimes we played two games a day.

The hardest part about the camp was participating in the home run hitting contest after one of the games. Standing behind the cage watching my every swing were 10 former Major Leaguers: Defrancesco, Moore, Waller, Henderson, Cadaret, Campaneris, Stewart, Romanick, Heradia, and Daugherty. Shooty Babbitt served me pitches for the contest.

The second hardest part was choosing a photograph for my camp baseball card that had been taken by the cameraman. I realize the card is not going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It will, however, be affixed to my Aunt Evelyn's refrigerator for at least 40 years, so I've got to choose a pose that will not come back to haunt me. And I realize you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

I don't want to say we perspired a lot but it took only five days for my hat to smell worse than Tarzan's armpits.

Some of the guys sustained injuries that knocked them out of action. Others hobbled around on sprains. Sam Tuohey, one of my teammates, broke his finger and continued to hit one-handed as a DH. Sam got a game-winning hit after he tapped a baseball that seemed to grow centipede legs and then crawl through the infield just beyond the reach of the pitcher, first baseman and second baseman.

And what's baseball without nicknames?

Sean Henly, the lone Australian in the group, is Dundee. Greg Cadaret's 18-year-old-son Shane, a favorite of everyone, is Kid Caddy. There's Jon "the General" Westmorland, Gary "Hoop" Hopper, and Nick "Ratman" Rathosis. Police chief Scott Holder is known as Chief.

The round tables back at the hotel after the games offered great baseball stories from the Major Leaguers. The A's who had been a part of the Oakland teams from '88 to '90: Cadaret, Hendu, Stewart, and Mike Moore, said they couldn't name a player who was the most valuable.

Stewart finally said that former owner Walter Haas was the MVP.

John "Blue Moon" Odom was asked which World Championship out of the 1972 through 1974 run was most special.

Odom said he wears one World Series ring, the one from 1972.

"It's tough to get that first one. That's the one that's most special. The next were easier," Odom said.

I'd love to write about the laughter generated in each morning's kangaroo court led by the honorable judge Shooty Babitt. But there's an unwritten rule stating that what goes on in the court stays in the court. Let's just say that Babitt can work a room.

Our team didn't make the finals, although we had great hitters, decent pitching, and fine defense. The camp champs were the Mash Brothers, Babitt, Campaneris and Davis's team.

After the final game, all the teams got to play three innings against the pros. I faced Greg Cadaret and hit a bloop single off him into right field. It didn't hurt that he told me he was pitching me a fastball. When I got to first, former pitcher Mike Moore covered the bag. I took my lead, and Moore told me to take a bigger lead.

"Most Big Leaguers take a lead out to the cutout of the grass," Moore said. What a nice guy, trying to help me out. I extended my lead and Cadaret promptly picked me off. I still laugh at myself for allowing Moore to con me into a false sense of security. Mike Moore is one smooth rascally dude.

We finished the pro game, cleaned up and had a fine banquet back at the hotel where we relived the past week's games. Awards and speeches were given. Autographs were signed.

It was a great way to end a fantastic week. As I limp around with a smile pasted to my face, I just hope that the next 51 weeks fly by so I can attend the next camp.


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