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WSI News - Sox Interviews

Flashing Back...

A Day at Sox Fantasy Camp

another EXCLUSIVE from White Sox Interactive!   

A day in the life of a fantasy camper

By Mark Liptak 

“It’s just a’s not the real thing...” – Billy Joel from the song ‘Sometimes A Fantasy.’

Ed Herrmann's
1970 Topps baseball card!

It may not be the ‘real thing’ (with apologies to the Coca - Cola jingles of the late 60's) but to a baseball fan the closest they probably ever get to the big leagues is by taking part in those fantasy camps that happen every year. 

The White Sox concluded their yearly camp on January 25th which takes place at Tucson Electric Park, the same facility the Sox themselves will be using when spring training opens on February 20th

For an organization that generally is behind the curve in most everything, the Sox surprisingly embraced the fantasy camp idea very early on. When the baseball documentary ‘When It Was A Game II’ debuted on HBO in 1992, part of the shows promotion was a contest, where the winner would get an all expense paid trip to the Sox Fantasy Camp then held in Sarasota. 

To go to one of these camps cost real money, around three thousand dollars, but the fans who go generally have no complaints. For one week you stay in a very good hotel, get fed by a local catering service, have a chance to play baseball everyday and perhaps most importantly, get the chance to hang out with the guys who actually did make it to the major leagues in a relaxed atmosphere. 

Former Sox All Star catcher Ed Herrmann was a part of this year’s camp and he spoke to WSI’s Mark Liptak, about what really goes on at one of these. He also passed along some of the best stories from this year’s get together and talked about still another opportunity Sox fans had to speak their mind to ownership.

ML: How were you approached about getting involved with the camp? 

EH: “I got a phone call from Bill Melton back in 1997. Bill asked if I wanted to take part. I wasn’t able to go that year but have been a regular since the 1998 camp.” 

ML: Do you know about the history of the Sox Fantasy Camp? 

Bill Melton's
1972 Kelloggs baseball card!

EH: “The camp was actually started by Randy Hundley, the former Cubs catcher. Back then it was called the ‘Chicago Fantasy Baseball Camp.’ It brought together players from both the Cubs and White Sox, among others to help run things. After a period of time some changes were made and two of the people involved with ownership in the Sox, Jay Pinsky and Aaron Michaelson began running the operations. They changed the name to the “White Sox Fantasy Camp,” and began bringing in guys who played primarily for the Sox, guys whom Sox fans remember. The camp has grown some in the past few years because of interest from the fans. We used to have six teams, with twelve players... now it’s up to eight teams with either eleven or twelve players. Generally we have fifteen or sixteen players who serve as coaches. Our fans have to be over 30 to participate and we’ve had some folks who are in their 60's and one guy who is 70 come and join us.” 

ML: Can you take us through a typical day and give us an overview of the week? 

EH: “The campers stay at the Marriott and the bus comes to pick them up about 8:30 so we generally get going at nine.  The campers dress in the locker room, they have their own Sox uniforms with their name on the back and their own gloves also with their name stitched in. We start with a pre game get together that has the ‘kangaroo court.’ (Author’s Note: The kangaroo court is a baseball tradition where small fines are levied on players for actions taken the day before either in the game or perhaps for things done in and around the locker room. The whole ‘court’ is humorous in nature.) Then we stretch, warm up and the first game starts at 10:15. After game one we’ll take a lunch break, the camp has food catered in... whatever you’d like, then we go at it in the second game. After the second game we’ll go back to the hotel and usually meet by the pool where we go over what happened that day, that’s the campers with their coach. Guys will clean up, get together for dinner and then generally we’ll head back to the pool. We have banquets Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights. Thursday night is when a representative of the White Sox is on hand to answer questions. On Wednesday we only play one game because by then usually everyone’s legs are sore and tight. Wednesday afternoon we give them the choice of playing golf, going fishing or hiking up a local mountain which offers a spectacular view of the area. On Saturday us coaches get together and we play the campers in a game. It’s really a good time under great weather usually in the 80's. One thing the campers never get over is how much time we coaches spend with them, whether it’s giving personal instruction or just staying around to talk.”

ML: What are the games like?

Bobby Thigpen's
1989 Topps baseball card

EH: “They are usually pretty good. All the coaches throw in the games Monday through Friday so folks get their chance to see Ed Herrmann pitch! Every camper gets at least two at bats every game and generally balls are finding their way for hits so each game usually takes some time. Now on Saturday the campers pitch themselves when they play us. I’ve got to tell you sometimes they are pretty good. We had a guy in his late 30's named Brian Isola who just embarrassed us. The campers beat us this year 4-1. He really had a good slider / sinker. Tough guy.” 

ML: I know you have a medical staff on hand, have you ever had to use them? 

EH: “The biggest injury we see is problems with the quads or hamstrings. It’s tough if you’re not used to starting and stopping quickly. That’s why we only play one game on Wednesday. Last year we did have a guy separate his shoulder diving back to first on a pickoff play. He came back this year by the way.” 

ML: Who joined you at camp this year? Any fan favorites? 

EH: “Let’s see... Bill Melton, Donn Pall, Bobby Thigpen, Tom Paciorek, Ron Kittle, Greg Walker, Ken Kravec, Harold Baines, Ralph Garr, Art Kusnyer, Mark Salas, Carlos May, Kevin Hickey, Steve Lyons, “Rocky” Biddle and myself. “Rocky’s” always a fan favorite. He got involved when he was down in Tucson rehabbing when he was with the Sox and we needed a pinch runner. So we asked him. “Rocky” loved it and he said that he’d be back every year regardless of what team he’s with. At the Saturday night banquet two years ago after “Rocky” learned he was traded to Montreal, one of the campers called L.A. and had a sporting good store ship us every Expo hat they had.. When “Rocky” showed up every one of the campers and coaches was wearing a Montreal hat. He’s a good guy.” 

ML: Ed anytime players get together, the stories start to flow. How about sharing with us a few from camp. 

EH: “Bill Melton had a great one about Dick Allen. Guys were listening to the tape of the game you gave me where Dick hit the pinch hit home run to win it. (Author’s Note: The game was played on June 4, 1972. Allen came up as a pinch hitter in the last of the 9th inning and blasted a three run home run off the Yankees “Sparky” Lyle to give the Sox a 5-4 win and a sweep of the double header.) Bill said that what the fans didn’t know was that Chuck Tanner couldn’t find Dick. The bat boy looked in the clubhouse to let him know Chuck wanted him to hit and couldn’t find him.  Larry Licklighter the equipment man, then sent one of the kids out looking for him. Dick was found at a taco stand across the street in uniform getting something to eat! They rushed back to the park and the first thing everybody noticed was that Dick had taco sauce all over the front of his uniform. He grabs a bat and hits the home run to win it!” 

Greg Walker's
1988 Score baseball card!

“Art Kusnyer had a funny one from back in his minor league days. They were on the team bus at night and Art was reading in the back of the bus. He hears this ‘beeepppppp.’ sound. So he looks around and can’t see any other cars and goes back to reading.  He hears it again, ‘beeepppppp.’ He gets up looks out the window, still can’t see anything. A minute or so later he hears it again, ‘beeepppppp.’ Now it’s driving him nuts so he gets up and start crawling towards the front of the bus, remember guys are laid out all over trying to get some sleep and Art is having to work around them. As he gets to the front of the bus he hears it again, ‘beeepppppp!’ Turns out the bus driver was dozing off and as he fell forward he’d hit the horn on the steering wheel and that would wake him up!” 

ML: You mentioned that during the camp a Sox front office person always shows up to answer questions. At SoxFest recently, the organization’s brass including Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen got into an involved discussion with fans literally angry at the way the team has been run. You told me that Jerry Reinsdorf generally attends the camp because he lives in Phoenix. Was the reception for him anything like it was for the organization at SoxFest?

EH: “It was like a heavyweight fight. Most of these campers are season ticket holders who have had their seats for years. This happened on Thursday night during about a thirty minute question session with Jerry. The fans really went after him. Most of the fans were telling him to sell the club if he didn’t want to win. We had an individual, a lawyer, who really got mad over the fact that in his opinion, the Sox weren’t doing enough to put a winner on the field and also not doing enough to get former players like Carlos May, involved back with the team. Voices were definitely raised and at one point Bill (Melton) stepped in because he thought things were getting out of hand. I appreciate what Jerry does by coming by every year, I know he doesn’t have to.” 

ML: Can you recall some of the questions and how Jerry answered them? 

EH: “I remember a lot of the comments dealt with the fact that the Sox never seem to go out and get quality players who stay and that a lot of the fans were tired about the Sox always talking about attendance. Jerry said that with the Sox only drawing about two million fans a year it simply wasn’t enough for them to go out and spend. He also said that when the areas surrounding the ballpark are finally finished and revitalized, that he expected more fans to start coming to games because more fans will be living in the area and he thinks they’ll have more money to spend. He thought that the people in the area would want to go see the Sox play”  

Donn Pall, Sox and Sox Fan!

(Author’s Note: Ed’s comments about what transpired between the fans and Jerry Reinsdorf were first told to me on Monday, February 2nd, two days before the additional comments in Steve Rosenbloom’s Chicago Tribune column confirmed Ed’s story. Steve spoke with two individuals who were at the camp and they talked about the intense conversations between the fans and the owner. In addition on Tuesday, February 3rd, I spoke to a source who told me he recently spoke with Tony Inzerillo who for many years was the "official" White Sox photographer. Tony now is a free lance photo-journalist working primarily for one of the baseball card companies but who also shoots pictures at the Sox Fantasy Camp. Tony told my source that the fans “ripped" Jerry Reinsdorf. Tony said that "the fans there were not shy or apprehensive about voicing their displeasure with the way the Sox are doing business." When I asked my source if Tony told him how Jerry reacted to all this he said Tony told him, "Reinsdorf doesn't believe in defending himself, Jerry believes he should be on the offensive when these things happen." When I asked if that meant Jerry raised his voice, starting shouting or got in people's faces the reply was, "His listens and then like a lawyer in a court room starts picking apart every item or answering the question by talking about some other factor that’s involved." 

ML: I know that the coaches are compensated for their time but there’s nothing like stepping out on a field is there? I mean for both you and the campers it must be like time stands still, the former players are all 29 again and the campers remember back when they could play the game and run faster, throw harder and hit better. It must be special. 

EH: “Definitely. During a game Bobby (Thigpen) will be on the mound and strike out a guy and someone will yell from the dugout, ‘just like when you were playing Thiggy!’ Bobby will step off the mound, smile and say ‘yea.’ Or I’ll get a base hit and it’ll take me four hours to get to first and a guy will yell, ‘you know Harry (Caray) used to have two commercials done by the time you got to first when you were playing!’ I’ll look over and say ‘you’re right.’ Whenever I step on a field I’m smile. I love it, whether it’s out here at camp, when I coach at the college or even work with kids. There’s nothing like it anywhere.”

Editor's Note:  Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work.  He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana) and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years.  "Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population.  

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