Monday, February 24, 2014

"The Most Wonderful Week of the Year"

I recently finished reading an interesting book called "The Most Wonderful Week of the Year," by Roy Berger, about the life of a fantasy baseball camp player who played in three different fantasy camps over a four-year stretch.

I've never been to a fantasy baseball camp, as the price has always been a little too steep for me. And I guess the idea of playing with a bunch of overweight guys who never played in MLB taking on some retired veteran players never had much allure for me.

Roy Berger is a air-medical transport membership company based in Alabama, but grew up a Pittsburgh Pirates fan on Long Island. His great memory is of course, Bill Mazeroski's ninth inning home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series over a heavily favored Yankees team.

In 2010, Berger decided to give the fantasy baseball week a go, attending the Pirates fantasy camp in Bradenton, Florida. He had not played baseball at any level since the 1960s, and is a lefty first baseman. It was clearly a dream come true for Berger to be there, as his passion for the Pirates of the early 1960s comes through, as he meets such legendary Pittsburgh stars as Mazeroski, Vern Law, Bill Virdon and Steve Blass.

Berger breaks down his experiences at the camp day-by-day, game-by-game, and injury-by-injury.

The following year, Berger went to the Detroit Tigers camp at Lakeland. He had no connection to the club, but it was not nearly as great a week as was his experience at Bradenton. The rain made the week a tougher slog to get through, but Berger still comes across as having a great week living out his dream of playing ball with the veterans.

In 2012, Berger went to Yankees camp in Tampa. He explains in the book that he became a Yankees fan in the mid-1970s through his friendships he made with Yankee stars like Thurman Munson. Mickey Rivers and Ron Guidry in a racetrack he ran in suburban Boston. And I knew what was coming next: yep, plenty of anti-Red Sox stuff.

(I must correct you on a few points, Mr. Berger.The sweep the Yankees pulled off over the Red Sox in September 1978 was NOT "the catalyst to one of the greatest collapses in baseball history." As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, the YANKEES were the ones who gave away a 3 1/2 game lead with 12 games to go, and a 1 game lead with 1 game to go to conclude the regular season. Yes, it was a great comeback by the Yankees from where they were in mid-July, but it was an equally great comeback by the Sox in the final two weeks. Sorry, I couldn't let that go and had to get that off my chest. And also, the Yankee third baseman in 1978 was "Graig" Nettles, not "Craig" Nettles. Now back to our book review.)

Lots of glorification to being a Yankee fan in this book, and it took a lot for me to get through it. But I don't doubt Berger's love of the team and how much he enjoyed being there. He would also return to Bradenton for another tour of Pirates fantasy camp in 2013. At every one of his stops, he details the games he's played in, some of the regular guys he's played with, as well as the veterans he played with. It's clear that everyone there has had a great time, playing the game they love and sharing stories of their lives, wherever they hail from.

It is overall an enjoyable read, especially if you have ever wondered what it is like to play again guys who donned the MLB uniform for real.

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