The uniforms are real, as are the 'Greats' campers -- all former Yankees big leaguers, whom we interact with on a daily basis. Sometimes they're chipping in with helpful advice, other times they're firing barbs at you. It's just like being in the big league dugout, and one of the best parts is that it's open to everybody.
The skill level and ages vary widely, but it's not like anyone came trying to get a pro contract. In my case, there was some high school ball and some teams during college, a few New Jersey weekend warrior leagues after that.
I knew at a pretty early age that if I was ever going to be standing on a Major League field, it would be with a press credential dangling around my neck. But here I am, assigned to Ron Blomberg's 'Clippers' club, and when I saw a locker at Steinbrenner Field with my name and uniform (No. 15 -- my old high school number) on it, it was a really cool experience.
I'm getting ahead of myself. Most of the six teams arrived Monday for a welcome reception, flying into Tampa, getting to know their teammates and coaches over cocktails and dinner. Many darted down from the New York area; our catcher, Santo Attinello, flew all the way from Portugal.
After a terrific World Series highlight video assembled by Yankees video guru Mike Bonner, Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson showed up and gave a chat, talking about his life experiences in baseball and saying, "I wouldn't trade my era -- playing against these guys and with these guys -- for anything." Good start.
This morning was one of the first I didn't need coffee to get out of bed. We took the same posh buses the players use in Spring Training, and when Jesse Barfield walked out waving his glove a few minutes after 7:15 a.m., the bus slowed and stopped. Funny how time stops when you have a Major League resume.
After getting our headshots taken and a quick breakfast, there was a brief meeting in the clubhouse. The reminder was that we're all here to have fun and the key is to make it to Saturday, when the campers get to play in a Legends game against the former Major Leaguers.
Our first two games were against the Bambinos and the Bombers, both at the Himes Avenue complex -- and on the same field where reporters went in April to watch Alex Rodriguez take ground balls, for some reason I was now sliding into second base to break up a double play.
I was really hoping to get to pitch, and it felt so good to get back on the mound. I'm a lefty, and after a good seventh inning, the Bambinos' Chris Chambliss got in my head by saying I looked like Sandy Koufax or Whitey Ford. Thanks, Chris, but of course that made me overthrow in the eighth and walk a few guys. I'm pretty sure he knew what he was doing.
The rules are a little different. In a new change, coaches pitch the first six innings of the game before turning it over to the campers for the final three. There is a two-hour time limit on games, and there is no stealing bases or pitcher pickoffs. It all keeps the game moving and makes it fun for everybody. Guests are welcome, of course, and it was cool to hear 'fans' in the stands.
One neat aspect of the camp is that you're forced to detach. You can't answer your cell phone and field a ground ball simultaneously. You can't hammer out a text message and try to move the runner along at the same time. Here, while you're on the field, you are a ballplayer and nothing else. It's refreshing.
I wish I'd kept better score of the games, but that's difficult while you're playing and enjoying. I do know I had two almost identical RBI doubles down the right-field line, and Blomberg got me caught in an inning-ending rundown between second and third bases when he sent me, held me, then sent me again.
"That's why you were a DH, Ron," Roy White yelled from the dugout.
I have to be sure to tip the clubhouse and training staffs really well by the end of the week. They work miracles on sore bodies -- as I'm about to find out -- and the speed with which they launder uniforms is nothing short of remarkable.
After showering up and a quick dinner, we talked in the clubhouse and accepted that we'd lost both games, but that's going to happen. The more important thing is that we're having fun, and judging by the looks on the bus back Tuesday night, it seems like pretty much everyone is having a blast.