Inside the pinstripes: Part three
Beat writer Bryan Hoch checks in from Fantasy Camp
TAMPA, Fla. -- The final out of the afternoon soared high above George M. Steinbrenner Field, and our shortstop David Schachman circled underneath it, putting the ball away harmlessly in his glove and keeping it as a souvenir of this hard-fought battle.
Finally, after six games at the Yankees' Fantasy Camp, our Clippers were able to taste sweet victory. Shaking hands and walking off the field to that famous recording of Frank Sinatra crooning about New York, it might still be true that winning isn't everything, but it sure beats the alternative.
At the end of play on Thursday, each team here had logged 54 innings of baseball under the hot Florida sun, and everything seemed to be rounding into form. Infield popups have turned into hard line drives and embarrassing errors have transformed into slick defensive plays. It's almost too bad that we are past the camp's midway point. Imagine if we had another week?
The morning started with the first taste of this year's Kangaroo Court, a good-natured exercise in laughter that was dressed up much the same way the real Yankees penalized each other this season for various clubhouse infractions.
Mickey Rivers donned the black robe and doled out punishment to the campers, reading from his book and calling out offenses from the first two full days of action. One camper had missed a belt loop on his pants, earning him a $20 fine for "embarrassing the uniform," Rivers said. Another forgot his helmet when walking up to the plate, a $10 penalty.
For some reason, two campers decided to share a protective cup between at-bats -- even Mick the Quick struggled to come up with an appropriate fine for that one. And Oscar Gamble fined every member of his own team one dollar for each of the 15 consecutive innings that they had failed to score. The fines are negotiable, of course, and it's all for charity.
Upon returning to our lockers this morning, there was a ballot for the Catfish Hunter Award, which is presented to the camper who best represents the spirit of the camp. I have no idea who everyone else voted for, but I scribbled in Richard Kellner's name and it was an easy call.
In the early innings of Game 1 on Tuesday, Kellner -- playing shortstop for the Clippers -- ranged back on a popup at the Himes Avenue complex and got under it before losing it in the blinding sun. The ball hit him directly on the nose and the result wasn't pretty, requiring eight stitches to close up. Sure enough, when we took the field on Tuesday, he was back with us. That's a gamer.
Every morning we gather in the tent off the third-base side of Steinbrenner Field, that same covered area where Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez held their post-PED admission news conferences. The mood is a little more light-hearted now, and I had breakfast with Lou Ippolito, one of our veteran campers.
Lou is in his 60's and is attending his 12th Yankees Fantasy Camp, but his streak goes back even farther than that. He used to attend the old gatherings with Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford in Florida more than a decade ago, and he said what keeps him coming back year after year is "the camaraderie, being with the players and feeling like a Yankee."
Our first game was back at the Himes Avenue complex, and it was neat to see an unannounced great in attendance. Roberto Alomar lives nearby and stopped in, taking in some of the action from behind the plate and greeting some of the fantasy campers.
That was a special thrill for Peter Tsebeilis, who hails from Ontario and is -- yes -- a Blue Jays fan. But Toronto no longer holds a fantasy camp, and he is here celebrating his 40th birthday. No doubt that if he had a Hall of Fame vote, Alomar would be on his ballot for the next class.
Ray Negron, a special advisor to George M. Steinbrenner, reminded me of this little Alomar story between innings of Game 2 back at "The Boss." When Alomar retired after the 2004 season, he sent Steinbrenner an autographed baseball that still sits in his Tampa office. The inscription read, "My only regret is that I never got to play for you."
This was Family Day at Fantasy Camp, so after the games, campers were all allowed to bring their loved ones into a reception area before munching on hamburgers, hot dogs and cole slaw on the infield at the stadium.
Our table was set up near where Derek Jeter will be taking ground balls in February, and as we enjoyed dinner under the bright lights, noted author and former Yankees public relations director Marty Appel came to the center of the infield to tell stories about the life of Thurman Munson, the subject of his recently released biography, "Munson."
Tomorrow will be the end of the line for some of our campers, as the participants in the Yankees' Kosher camp will bow out by having the opportunity to play against the greats in a Legends game on the field at Steinbrenner Field. For the rest of us, Saturday is almost here and it absolutely feels like camp is flying by too quickly.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.