11/11/11 6:39 PM EST
Yanks campers pause to honor veterans
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
The morning at Steinbrenner Field started with a ceremony, as the assembled Fantasy Campers lined the infield in acknowledgement of Veterans Day. Twelve campers were recognized for their military service and presented with a commemorative medallion by the Yankees.
One of those dozen, Roger Haack, created his own souvenir a few hours later. Haack lined the game-winning hit for our Pinstripes team in the bottom of the ninth inning, lifting us to a 13-12 victory over the first-place Thunder.
Haack served in the United States Navy in the 1960s, and while this wasn't his first walk-off hit, it's one that will last a long time. We autographed the ball as a team, including coaches Cecil Fielder and Oscar Gamble, and it was tucked away for safe transport to Mayorville, N.Y.
Playing in a tight one-run game and getting to celebrate at home plate like that was a thrill, and it really embodied the spirit of why 67 men of various ages would leave behind the real world -- police officers, firefighters, accountants and, yes, sportswriters -- to travel to Tampa and take part in something like this.
Of course it's wonderful to tour the Yankees' spring home with an all-access pass, crunching your spikes on the same dirt as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. It's also an added bonus for the campers to rub elbows and get to know some of the ex-Major Leaguers on a personal level.
Yet above all else, at the root of it, each one of the campers stashing their belongings in a locker this week loves baseball. A game like that, where the emotions and intensity run high, doesn't come along every day. But when it does, it makes you feel like a kid again.
Our Pinstripes swept both games of their doubleheader this afternoon, putting a little spring in our collective steps by going on to win the second game over the Bambinos by a large margin and finish the eight-game schedule 3-5.
It's enjoyable to report that I had a fun offensive day, especially in the second game, belting a deep fly ball to right field that I'd like to generously score as a two-run, inside-the-park homer. In the big leagues, it'd be scored a triple, but I didn't see any official scorers up in the press box. In any event, I finished one hit shy of a cycle.
That was fun, but the whole experience reminds you how important playing as a team is. In the ninth inning of that first game, Haack wouldn't have had a chance for his game-winning hit if teammates Marc Chalpin and Walter Church hadn't singled first.
Seventy-two innings of baseball bonded us as a ballclub, going from complete strangers on Monday evening to building relationships and camaraderie by Friday evening. Judging by the banter in the clubhouse, I'm certain the same experience has been had by each of the other five clubs in the camp.
That concludes the doubleheader portion of the week, and now friends and family will be welcomed into Steinbrenner Field on Saturday for the real highlight of camp, as the amateurs get to take on the assembled former Yankees in a series of three-inning games.
They've got the arms to make it a real quick affair, and in case we'd forgotten that, Jeff Nelson took it upon himself to come in and slam the door on our bases-loaded, none-out rally in the second game of the doubleheader. If you're scoring at home, it's real easy: K, K, K.
We still haven't quite figured out who will be pitching those innings for us, but we may have an ace up our sleeve. We've decided as a team to take Fielder and Gamble out for an end-of-camp steak dinner. Maybe, just maybe, that'll help us keep up on Saturday morning. It can't hurt, right?
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.