Reds Fantasy Camp builds friendships
One-week event kicks off in new Arizona Spring Training facility
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The only element better than smiles on the faces was the weather.
The Reds opened the 2010 Fantasy Camp under a golden Arizona sun on Sunday afternoon, temperature at 70 degrees, and not a cloud in the sky. The weather was a clear metaphor to the radiant experiences of nearly 100 campers who commenced a week of baseball with Reds legends.
And the all-new venue didn't hurt either.
Before the Reds' Major Leaguers arrive later this month and before the Minor League operation sets up shop, the campers were the first to set foot on the pristine fields at the new spring facilities here.
At $33 million, the Reds' Arizona operation entails six practice fields, all with lights, a state-of-the-art clubhouse, full weight room, extensive batting cages, and a plethora of flat-screen TVs seemingly everywhere.
Still, the luxurious accommodations are only part of what makes this a can't-miss week for diehard Reds fans.
"What makes this experience so worthwhile is the friendships made," said former Reds infielder Doug Flynn, who coordinates the week's activities. "The campers and the former Major Leaguers become lifelong friends. We reach each other on the phone, exchange e-mails, get together socially, and just cultivate strong bonds."
For a week in the sun with heroes of the past, campers from 21 states gather at the Reds' sparkling Spring Training facility to live out their fantasies. The Fantasy Camp staff consists of nine coaches, six clubhouse staffers, three trainers and 17 former Reds players in attendance.
The campers play seven games spread over four days, plus additional games in the playoffs between the teams. The week culminates with games featuring campers against the former Major Leaguers on site, and these games are played at Goodyear Ballpark, site of the Reds' and Indians' Spring Training games. This all adds up to a week of wishes come true, abilities long forgotten and found, and friendships lasting a lifetime.
The camp is structured to maximize involvement with the Major Leaguers as well as enhance personal skills. The day is filled with batting and fielding practice, two games each day, plus evening activities guaranteed to provide laughs and stories to keep campers telling and retelling for years.
Onsite, the Reds divide the former Major Leaguers, two each, on an eight-team format.
For the 2010 camp, the team "We R PC" has Joe Price and Eddie Taubensee as coaches, team "Blood's Whiners" has Joel Youngblood and Bobby Wine as coaches, team "Mo's Mowers" has Lee May and Herm Winningham as coaches, team "Toyota Recalls" has Brad Lesley and Joe Oliver as coaches, team "Billoneys Sidewinders" has Jack Billingham and Jim Maloney as coaches, team "I Have No Idea" has Tom Browning and Kent Mercker as coaches, team "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" has Billy Hatcher and Ted Power as coaches, and the team "Goodyear Retread" has Pete Harnisch and Tom Hume as coaches.
Former Reds outfielder Eric Davis participates as a roving instructor.
Teams play each other for the week, and a full set of personal statistics is produced after each day's activities. The Reds have photographers on site and produce a highlight video for each camper as well as a personalized baseball card and other gifts. The week culminates with an awards banquet this Friday night, Feb. 5.
Equally rewarding is the Fantasy Camp Reunion Day at Great American Ball Park. On Sunday, Aug. 15, the campers will participate in a pregame ceremony on the field before the Reds vs. Marlins game. On the following Monday, all the campers will play in a reunion game on the field at the Reds' ballpark. That's when campers return to relive the week and experience the friendships developed.
Last year, 110 campers participated at the Reds' Sarasota, Fla., facility. Because of the recession and the increased distance of the camp here in suburban Phoenix, nearly 100 signed for the week-long set of activities. That's compared to fantasy camps of other Major League teams which were cancelled and other camps experiencing much lower numbers than in previous years.
"Given the economic reality and now a site further for many than before, the turnout is terrific," said Dick Williams, the Reds' vice president of baseball operations and a camp participant. "The numbers speak most favorably to the campers and their experience."
Already, the Reds have received calls from those interested in the 2011 camp.
Mark Brown is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.