Tuesday, February 05, 2008

It's Bottom of the Ninth for Dodgers Camp

By Dennis McCarthy, Columnist
Los Angeles Daily News
Dennis McCarthy at the Los Angeles Dodgers
Fantasy Camp in Florida. (Peter Noble/Dodgers)

David Silverman, left, and his dad, Bernie Silverman at
the Los Angeles Dodgers Fantasy Camp in Florida. (Peter Noble/Dodgers)

VERO BEACH, Fla. - The guy we call "kid" on my Dodgertown fantasy baseball
camp team is 52. Muscles us old-timers forgot we had are so sore, you can smell the Bengay
from home plate to the outfield. But nobody's complaining. We're all having too much fun.

Welcome to Day Two of the last fantasy camp at the Los Angeles Dodgers' historic spring training site in Florida. It's where Hall of Famers try to coach campers who are lucky to make contact - campers like me - then share a beer with us while watching the Super Bowl.

On Sunday night, we took in the Patriots-Giants matchup with Duke Snider, Ralph Branca and Carl Erskine from the 1955 Boys of Summer world-championship team. On Monday morning, we had former Dodgers stars Maury Wills, Jeff Torborg, Reggie Smith, Steve Yeager and a handful of others working us out and picking us for their teams.

It was a busy contrast to the first day, which started off a little slow. No, check that. It started off miserably. I whiffed on 15 pitches in the batting cage, managing to foul off only three. They timed me running to first base with an hourglass. "Give it some time. It'll come, rookie," said 71-year-old Bernie Silverman of Sherman Oaks, a retired optometrist. Bernie's a camp veteran and, in many ways, epitomizes what this fantasy camp is all about.

It is a week for many fathers to play baseball with their sons, and in a few cases their daughters. Not coach them in Little League, but actually play with them on a team in a real baseball game.
"The first time I came to camp with my dad was for my 35th birthday," said Bernie's son, David, who is now 45 and lives in Agoura Hills. "I looked at our lockers side by side with our names on them and I just lost it."

There are dozens of father-son teams attending the last scheduled fantasy camp here before the Dodgers move their spring training site to Glendale, Ariz., next year. "I feel kind of like a fish out of water," said Mary Eve, 27, who is attending her first camp with her dad. She shouldn't. Mary was in the batting cage next to me. While I was whiffing, she was making solid contact with the pitches. "Look at her," shouted camp director Guy Wellman. "Why can't you guys do
that?" Beats me. Because she's better?

I got picked for Torborg's team along with a handful of other San Fernando Valley residents. There's Ted Greenberg, 59, of West Hills; Mark Stone, 58, of Encino; Neil Adams, 58, of Tarzana; and Dan Roman, 59, of Encino. We lost, 4-3, but, hey, it was close. I went 1-for-2. Not too bad for an old guy.

Also at the camp is Ray Machaud, former headmaster at Harvard-Westlake School when David Silverman was a student. "I don't know what to call him when I see him. Mr. Machaud?" David wondered nervously Monday morning, waiting to see his old headmaster. He didn't have to worry. This wasn't school - it was baseball, Machaud said, laughing. Call me teammate.
"This is the first time in 29 years I've taken a week off during the school year," he said. "I was being honored at a dinner, and a week at Dodgertown fantasy camp was being auctioned off.
"I bid on it and my wife kicked me under the table, asking me what I was doing. She thought I was nuts."

Machaud, like the 116 other campers here this week, wasn't nuts. He just wanted to be a kid again and play some baseball with the other kids. In my column Thursday, I'll be talking about the Boys of Summer and the feelings around Dodgertown at this last fantasy baseball camp after 35 years.

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