The 2019 November Yankee Fantasy camp just came to an end. Players who were living out their dreams, came from places as far as Canada and England. I have been attending fantasy camps since the 1980s when Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford were partners in the first Yanks’ camps in Fort Lauderdale.
I always see the same excited look on the faces of the campers. In the Fantasy camps’ early days, it was campers almost fainting because the Mick (Mickey Mantle) was actually standing in front of them. Today the camp has its own Mick. Mickey Rivers or “Mick the Quick” as he is known, is always here and is probably the most gracious and fun loving Yankee that has ever appeared at these camps. The campers love the fact that many of the former Yankee players are also from those great World Championship teams.
Mark Chalpin who is an attorney and CEO of an air conditioning supplies company from New York, looks forward to facing four-time World Champion, right handed bullpen ace Jeff Nelson. Jeff has struck me out eight out of ten times. During the at bat, if I foul one off, the plate appearance was a success. I want Jeff’s best stuff because it gives me some idea as to how difficult it really is to play in the Major Leagues.
Charlie Hayes has become a camp favorite because everyone can’t help but remember when Charlie caught the pop up for the final out of the 1996 World Series. Jesse Barfield, the 1986 American League HR Champion, is also there and is always so sharing and caring in his interaction with the campers. It’s hard to remember all the great goings on and all the great people that you meet, I can only say that it really is a wonderful time.
Steve Knipe from Ontario Canada jokingly believes that he is the only Yankee fan in Canada. Robbie Alomar and the Blue Jays just had their fantasy camp at Steinbrenner Field the week before, however Steve wanted no part of it. It’s great to be with other Yankee fans that still love to play and love the Yankees as much as I do. This great weather doesn’t hurt either.
On a personal note as a young kid I use to love to sit in the bleachers and heckle some of the relievers. Guys like Steve Hamilton and Dooley Womack and a young lefthander named Al Downing who used to give it right back to us.
Al would go on to great fame as a 20-game winner for the Dodgers. The great game of baseball remembers Al Downing as the pitcher that would give up Hank Aaron’s 715th HR to break Babe Ruth’s record. When I asked Al how he felt about that he proudly says, it’s a part of history.
I spent a good deal of time with Al and some very curious campers talking about what a great teammate Mickey Mantle was and how from day one he knew that Thurman Munson would be a great player and leader. Frankly speaking, Al Downing brought me and others to tears because his recollections of years gone by really put us there.
The closing ceremonies were held on the field with the managers and coaches from each team praising their players for a job well done. After the ceremony, Yankee Stadium public address announcer Paul Olden wished everyone well and then as is customary at Yankee Stadium, The Chairman of the board, Frank Sinatra, is heard singing “New York, New York.”