Series champs spice up Fantasy Camp
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com | 01/17/12 11:20 PM EST
The Arizona Diamondbacks are holding their seventh annual Fantasy Camp this week at their Spring Training complex at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. Steve Gilbert, who covers the D-backs for MLB.com, is taking part in the camp and is sharing some of his experiences.
SCOTTSDALE -- The banter could be heard by everyone on the field.
"You won 10 Gold Gloves and suddenly you've got the range of a traffic cone?" Luis Gonzalez hollered at Steve Finley after Finley failed to make a play.
D-backs third base coach Matt Williams works with a Fantasy Camp participant. (Jordan Megenhardt/Arizona Diamondbacks)
It's the kind of thing former teammates can say to each other with ease, and it's the kind of exchange that you hear on a regular basis at D-backs Fantasy Camp.
While the D-backs can't draw from the same amount of history some teams can when it comes to camp, they do have something that might even be better -- the 2001 World Series championship team.
Most of that team's core -- Gonzalez, Finley, Mark Grace, Matt Williams, Jay Bell, Reggie Sanders, Greg Swindell and Greg Colbrunn -- are among the staff at the camp.
"I just think it's magical because they're all so young, and '01 wasn't that long ago and they can still play," said camper Gregg Simon, who when he's not at camp serves as an assistant to actress Carmen Electra. "Rather than having some old players who can't still play, you get to be around guys where your memories of them are still fresh and they can still kick our butts come Friday in the camper-staff game."
The 2001 team celebrated the 10th anniversary of its thrilling seven-game victory over the Yankees this past September with a reunion weekend at Chase Field. While that was an official gathering of sorts, for the last several years, Fantasy Camp has also given the guys an excuse to come together and swap stories.
"These guys love the game and have a passion for it, and that's why they come back to Fantasy Camp," Bell said of his former teammates. "Part of the reason why this '01 team gets together to do this stuff is because of the group of guys we had. There was an intangible there that allowed us to be even closer that year. It wasn't just that we won the World Series, but the way we got there. There was not selfishness, guys were pulling for each other. When one guy failed, the other wanted to do his best to try to help him out so there was really a special camaraderie there."
For the campers, the week is a chance to get to know the players they watched celebrate that championship and build a relationship that lasts.
"There's a special feeling being around those guys, but at the same time, they don't act like they're above us. They're just regular guys, and that's what makes it special to come here," said Mike Jobe. "You just get to be here and be with them and they remember you. [D-backs bullpen coach Glenn] Sherlock and I call and talk and e-mail, and when I go to a game, I'll go down by the bullpen and say hi to him. Those are lifelong relationships. I'm not a hanging buddy with them, but they always stop and take the time to say hi and ask how I am, and that makes you feel good."
This is the third year that Gonzalez, who had the game-winning hit in Game 7 of the World Series, has done the camp following his retirement.
"I think the fun part about it is being in here together and reminiscing and having fun," Gonzalez said. "Our goal is that when the guys come to Fantasy Camp that after they leave here we want them to feel like we're all friends. When we leave here, we're normal people like them, we're retired players and we enjoy being out there with those guys and seeing them. It's fun, you see them at Diamondbacks games, they're season ticket holders, or we see them out at community events or whatever and there's a special bond that we share with them after being here at Fantasy Camp."
Said Grace, "They always come in and say hello or I'll see them out and about or at the ballpark. We hang out with a lot of these guys once camp disperses."
Tim Maxson, who is in camp for the fifth straight year, has been a longtime season-ticket holder and attended the 2001 World Series.
"They take notice of you," he said. "It's kind of like a fraternity and you kind of look forward to coming back and seeing the guys you've played with each year and catching up with the coaches. That's what I like, the friendships you make with your fellow campers as well as the coaches."