Reds Fantasy Camp shows evolution
Former players take greater part in list of events
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Though campers have donned Reds uniforms for a number of years at Fantasy Camp, the team's direct involvement in the event's operation is fairly new.
That's because private company "Baseball Heaven" created the week-long structure of events and then took on the responsibility for its operation.
Started by Andy Miller, a school teacher from suburban Philadelphia, the company contracted with various teams, including the Indians, Pirates, Marlins and eventually the Reds, to offer the experience of playing in a Major League environment. Eventually, Miller became inundated with details of the operation and the Reds approached him with the proposal of taking over the company.
"Don't get me wrong, Andy did a great job, but we felt we could take this experience to another level," said Dick Williams, Reds vice president of baseball operations and a camp participant. "I told Andy he did not have to struggle with the books and financial matters. We have the capability to handle these details. We could promote the camp on the scoreboard and in our literature. Plus, I could get veteran players for the week that Andy could not get."
In 2006, the Reds took over operation of Reds Fantasy Camp from Miller and his staff. Now, Miller receives a stipend to continue as facilitator and his staff, who have been together for more than two decades and are veterans of running the nuts and bolts of the weekly camp, continue in their collective roles as on-field administrators.
The Reds then added Stephanie Ben, baseball operations assistant, to oversee details of the day-to-day operation, and her job is essentially to have camp stretch throughout the calendar.
"Our goal is to make this a year-round experience," Ben said. "We have events planned at the ballpark in Cincinnati, and other plans designed to get campers involved in more aspects of the game than just playing."
For those who sign up early, slices of baseball paradise await.
First, campers gather in January for batting practice at Great American Ball Park. Though the infield is covered with the canvas and the outfield shimmers with a blanket of snow, campers head indoors to hit in the batting cages.
That gets the fire roaring for just weeks later, when nearly 100 gather at the Reds' new Spring Training facility in Goodyear, Ariz., for their baseball experience in the sun. After a week packed with games among each other and against former Reds players on site as instructors, Kangaroo Courts, barbecues and an award banquet, campers return to Great American Ball Park during the season.
Then, later this year, they will gather on Sunday, Aug. 15, for a reunion just before the Reds game with the Florida Marlins. That contest marks the conclusion of a six-game homestand, and the ballpark will then be turned over to the campers as the big leaguers head to, coincidentally, Arizona.
The next day, Aug. 16, campers return to the field for more competition and additional games. This time, however, the reunion game is on the Major League diamond.
"While the week-long activity in Arizona is the highlight of the year, we're looking at ways to enhance the experience," Ben added. "We know there are other Major League baseball teams conducting fantasy camps and we think it would be a really cool idea for our campers to play games against their fantasy camp players."
Beyond the playing field, the Reds are also thinking about a broadcasting camp. That's where Marty Brennaman would conduct the program, with campers engaging in all aspects of a baseball radio broadcast.
For now, the campers are too distracted by the plethora of activities in the Arizona sun, making life-long friendships, learning from the Major Leaguers, and watching their dreams come true.
Mark Brown is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.