The new format of the 2007 Royals Fantasy Camp has left Royals Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Leonard a little stiff.
“Instead of letting the campers throw to each other during games this year, the coaches are doing the tossing,” Leonard said from Surprise, Ariz., on day two of camp.
The second day of Fantasy Camp got off to a fast start for the campers, who gathered for team and individual pictures before holding a brief “Kangaroo Court” session early Tuesday morning. After doing some pre-game warm-ups and taking a little BP, the teams, which were assigned Monday afternoon, took to the fields to play some “real” ball. That’s when Leonard, the only three-time 20-game winner in Royals history, stepped on the mound to see if he still had what it takes.
Participating in his fourth Royals Fantasy Camp, Leonard is one of 17 Royals alumni serving as coaches for this year’s camp. Other former Royals to don the coach’s cap this time are George Brett, Jaime Bluma, John Wathan, Bill Pecota, Jeff Montgomery, Brian McRae, David Howard, Greg Pryor, Les Norman, Al Fitzmorris, Jerry Terrell, Marty Pattin, Frank White, John Mayberry, Kevin Seitzer and Willie Wilson. Teaming up with John Mayberry and Frank White, Leonard is shouldering – literally – the bulk of the pitching responsibilities for his team.
“After just the morning game, my ERA is standing at like 12.00,” Leonard said. “Back in the day, that wouldn’t have been great, but down here, with as sore as I feel right now, it’s excellent!”
Leonard says the Fantasy Camp is as much fun for the coaches as it is for the campers. The Royals alumni have a strong association with many of the former players choosing to call Kansas City home after their playing days end. But getting together for the camp in Surprise always proves to be a great time as the old memories and stories start flooding back into the clubhouse.
“It’s always a blast,” Leonard said. “The campers are always happy to be there, playing like Major Leaguers, and all of us alumni are happy to be back together, in uniforms and on the baseball field. Combine all that, and you can’t help but have a great time playing together. Plus, a lot of the campers are making this an annual thing, so there are several familiar faces out there.”
Claiming that it’s too early in the week to share any off-the-wall, behind-the-scene stories, Leonard headed into lunch with a smile and just a couple things on his mind.
“I have to go ice down and eat a sandwich. I’d like to say I’m grabbing a beer too, but we have another game this afternoon!”
Tom Sell is finally getting to play with his Christmas present.
The 67-year-old Overland Park man is one of 72 campers attending the Royals 2007 Alumni Fantasy Camp in Surprise, Ariz. For Tom, the week-long camp is a Christmas present from his son, Steve, who decided to top the gift off by making it a father-son event. Although Tom unwrapped the gift in December, he’s already admitting that the wait to “play” with it was totally worth it – and it’s only the first day!
“It was the last Christmas present I opened and I can’t imagine a better one,” Tom says. “When he handed me this scrapbook of all these great baseball-related memories we had had together, I was already getting emotional. Then, when I got to that last page of the booklet and saw that we were going to the Fantasy Camp together, it just blew me away.”
As long-time season ticket holders, the Sell family has witnessed several monumental Royals events, including the park’s first Opening Day, George Brett’s first and last games in a uniform and even a trip to Cooperstown in 1999 when Brett was inducted. However, attending Fantasy Camp with many of his baseball heroes is topping his list of dreams come true.
“We have a lot of great memories with the Royals and now, this just adds to that. I always thought it’d be neat to go to the Fantasy Camp, but never thought I’d actually do it. I kind of thought I might be getting too old, but I guess Steve didn’t think so. Now that we are down here, I’m glad he didn’t!”
The campers arrived in Surprise on Sunday and immediately attended a Super Bowl party that included getting to know their famous coaches. As great as that was, Tom said he wasn’t prepared for how awesome walking into that clubhouse Monday morning was going to be.
“I haven’t suited up in a baseball uniform since high school when I used to play catcher," Tom adds. "So, walking into that clubhouse today and seeing that uniform at my locker, well, there is nothing like it. It’s all pretty overwhelming actually. Without sounding too corny, I feel like I’m in a fantasy.”
The morning was spent with workouts, instruction and batting practice, all part of what Tom referred to as “limbering up.”
“I’m not sure how good I’m going to be or if my sore back is going to make it or not, but I am already enjoying every minute of this!”
Like many of the campers, Tom is just trying to soak up every moment. He’s looking forward to jumping in a game, even putting on the catcher’s gear and seeing what happens. But, another goal he and his son have is a little more specific to the Sell family. Nine Christmas’ ago, Steve welcomed a son, conveniently, but not coincidentally, named George, into the family.
“We are going to try and get George (Brett) to call Steve’s son, George, sometime this week. It’ll be a great surprise for our George.”
Just another Royals moment to add to the Sell family scrapbook!
Playing catch with Hall of Famer George Brett is a dream most of us have.
This Sunday that dream becomes a reality for 72 Royals fans who will be attending the 2007 Royals Alumni Fantasy Camp, Feb. 4-10.
In its fourth year, the Fantasy Camp is an event that puts campers through a week of workouts, batting practices and games to give them a taste of life as a Major League player. This year’s camp will feature 16 Royals alumni “coaches” including Brett, Dennis Leonard, John Mayberry, Brian McRae, Greg Pryor, Kevin Seitzer, Jeff Montgomery, Frank White, John Wathan and several other former Royals.
“We all look forward to this every year,” said Fred White, the director of Royals Alumni. “It’s fun to see everyone and have all the great Royals players get together for a week of baseball. It really feels like the good old days around the ballpark.”
White said this year’s camp will follow the same routine as years’ past with the addition of some live-action games between the Royals campers and campers from the Texas Rangers Fantasy Camp.