How It All Began, One Camper's Look Back At His First Camp
Updated: Feb 25, 2021
Here's a look back at my first camp at Dodgertown in Vero Beach. Although this was a new experience in 1999, after 15 camps, the experience is still unique and exciting. We strive to bring this experience to each new camp.
"Well, it has finally happened. I have wanted to do this for 10 years and now I finally get the chance . . . I’m on my way to Fantasy Camp, more properly known as the Los Angeles Dodgers Adult Baseball Camp.
I left Los Angeles at about 1:30 pm (PST) bound for Orlando. The arrangements were made late and the non-stop flights were either booked or too expensive. So what’s a couple of stops. No big deal, at least I don’t have to change planes. The plane was less than half full; this was going to be OK. First stop Phoenix. Oops, there goes the rest of the plane. Not one seat empty and what was worse, kids. Don’t get me wrong, I have two of my own and I love them dearly, but these were young kids, kicking my seat from behind, jumping up and down in the seat in front, and crying off to the right. (I had a window seat so at least I had only the plane engines to contend with on the left.) What a way to start my sports fantasy!
I endured the six and a half hours and arrived in Orlando at about 11 pm (EST). Bob, from the Dodgertown staff sent to pick me up, met me on my way to the baggage claim. Bob’s a retiree, transplanted to Vero Beach from Pennsylvania, who works at Dodgertown during Spring Training. We gathered up my bags and headed for the van where Paul was already waiting. Just one more camper to pick up and we were off.
It’s about a 2-hour drive from Orlando to Vero Beach and there’s not much to see at 12:30 am on a foggy, humid night/morning, so we talked, introductions first. Paul is from Albuquerque and he’s been here 4 times. Bill’s from Reno and it’s his third camp. Then comes my first taste of camp stories. The veterans begin filling in the rookie on what to expect and what goes on. I heard about the guy who got other campers together two and a half months before camp began to practice. They practiced for the entire time leading up to camp and then ended up on the same team at camp. It just happened, a coincidence, really! . . . Yeah, Right, Sure. Naturally, their team won it all that year. Then there was the time when this guy showed up late the night before camp started (like us), but instead of getting a good night’s sleep, he went out drinking. He came in at 3 am, plastered and had to get up in 3 hours. Wouldn’t you know it; he went 5 for 5 that afternoon. Wonder what Lasorda would have to say about that.
The commute seemed to fly by. Found out that I should get a lot of playing time. Seems that there is always a need for a pitcher who can get the ball over the plate. I've had some experience so hopefully, I’ll be one of those guys.
Got to Dodgertown at about 1:30 and was cheerfully greeted by Chris, in charge of the late night desk. Checked in and off to my room where everything was laid out for me, a Dodger Spring Training t-shirt; fruit, wine and munchies basket; and the camp information sheets. Settled in to snack and review the itinerary and the next thing I knew it was 7:30 and time for a new day.
Started the day with a jog around Dodgertown for my first look in the daylight.
The main accommodations area is laid out like a motor court with 92 units forming a lazy looking ‘17’ laying on its side. I'm told that Vero is unique in this regard. The spring training facility and accommodations are all within the "Dodgertown campus." Also located on the campus is a swimming pool, volleyball, basketball and tennis courts and BBQ pit area although after looking at the schedule, I don't see how there'll be any time to enjoy these facilities.
The Conference Center which houses the dining, conference, fitness and locker rooms is a short walk from the rooms. A little stop to check out the fitness room and there’s Jerry Reuss working out. I introduced myself and then I was off again. Heading out from the Conference Center, Vin Scully Way leads between 2 practice fields to Holman Stadium and south of Holman is the Dodger Pines Country Club and Golf Courses. The jog took about 15 minutes so I’d guess the path was about a mile and a half long.
After a quick shower and change, I stopped in at the office. Most of the campers won't be coming in until later but nevertheless, it was starting to get a little hectic. As I turned to leave there was Steve Yeager coming in. Having previously met Steve, I reintroduced myself, had a few words and then went on to take some pictures of Dodgertown.
The locker room opened at 11:30 and campers casually meandered in to claim their lockers and stow their equipment. Returning campers brought their own uniforms from previous camps. Being a rookie, my uniform was hanging in my assigned locker. . . Well, the home jersey, belt, and socks were. See each camper gets two complete uniforms, home whites and away grays, with our names and selected number on them. Being a Little Leaguer in LA during the early 60’s, my idol was Sandy Koufax (it didn’t matter that he was a lefty and I throw right); so naturally, I selected his number, 32. Anyway, I was told that the away jersey was due in tonight, and since rookies were to wear the home whites for the afternoon workout, I grabbed some pants and was set.
Some of the guys went to lunch while the rest of us took our time dressing and getting to know each other. Met Phil who was in the animation department at Disney, Paul from the night before was there, and so was the Duke. Yeah, Dodger great, Duke Snider arrived and joined in the chat. As lunch ended, the locker room filled as everyone got ready for the initial workout that would begin at 2. The excitement and anticipation grew and I don’t think it was just coming from me. Everyone was looking forward to getting out on the field.
By 1:45 almost every camper was on practice field number 2, starting to stretch and playing a little catch. At 2, we were all directed to left field and began the workout with a 15-minute stretching session with Hall of Fame Dodger trainer Bill Buhler. You should have heard the grunts and groans as Bill put us through the same pre-game stretching exercises the pros perform. Now, normally, 15 minutes of stretching would not seem like a big deal, but in 80+ humid degrees, I was ready for it to end 5 minutes before it did. Where was the water, where was the Gatorade. Oh yeah, over there in the middle of that crowd of middle aged men surrounding Bill’s golf cart. Hey, save some for me!
A little rest and a couple of cups of Gatorade and we were ready. We were divided up into three groups and sent to different stations. I was with the first group and went over to the infield, the second group stayed in the outfield and the third went to the batting cages. John Shoemaker, the hitting coach for the Dodgers San Antonio farm club, and Jim Stoeckel, pitching coach for the Vero Beach Dodgers, were working the infield drills and for the next 20 minutes we took ground balls at each position on the infield. First hand thrown, then modified double plays and finally grounders off the bat.
Next it was out to center field where former Dodger catcher and White Sox and Mets manager Jeff Torborg put us through the paces with fly balls. Each camper took about 10 - 12 flies, analysis and instruction from Torborg and then the 20 minutes were over.
After a brief stop for water, we were off to the batting cages where we were met by former Dodger hitting coach, Reggie Smith, who schooled us in the finer points of proper hitting. A few batting cage ground rules, then it was on with the batting glove and helmet and into the cage. With the pitching machine laying the ball right in there and Reggie watching and critiquing our various batting styles, I got a lot of cuts, some good contact and I felt in the groove. Now it was time to test my new found hitting prowess on live pitching. And so it was over to field 1 and hitting just like pre game at Dodger Stadium. Seven cuts and out for the next guy, then five and finally 3. It’s amazing how fast it goes by and just like that it was over - time to go in. Next stop for me was a shower.