WAGS GOES SOX
By Tammy Wagner
I’m 56 years old, not from anywhere in New England and not a Red Sox fan. Well, not really, until this week. That is because the second annual Red Sox Women’s Fantasy Camp was held 1/11/17 through 1/14/17 at jetBlue Park (aka Fenway South) in Fort Myers, Florida.
I moved from Indianapolis, Indiana, to SW Florida three years ago. It’s been a rough transition, sort of. Leaving my network of friends, a city filled with entertainment venues, including several professional sports teams I love and support, and the home I enjoyed in Fishers for the past twenty years, was difficult. Finding my way in the Sunshine state filled mostly with retirees presented a challenge. Then, after more than decades of leaving organized recreational softball, I dusted off my glove and searched diligently to find a softball league. Not only did I find one, I found two. The second ultimately leads me to the Sox fantasy camp thanks to my buddy, Mike. About a year ago, while gathered at a softball picnic, Mike told me about a women’s baseball team. Months passed since the picnic and still no word from Mike. Then it happened. I received an email from him with a link pertaining to a women’s “fantasy camp” that is held in Fort Myers, Florida, each year. Once on the website all it took was a minute or two. No, make that seconds. Right then and there I told myself, “Just do it.” And so, with charge card in hand and a click of the mouse, I was going to Disneyland! Or, shall I say, the Boston Red Sox Women’s Fantasy Camp.
From mid-October 2016 until early January 2017 I was excited to have something to look forward to outside of my daily existence. The trick here is not to build your psyche up too much or have many expectations that, if unfulfilled, will leave you feeling depressed and disappointed. So, with this mindset, I continued my daily routine; work, softball after work four nights a week and relax on the weekends. That was my routine until the week of camp finally arrived. I played a softball game the Tuesday evening prior to camp starting the next morning. A decision had to be made following that game. Do I go out for the usual post-game beer session or do I go home, get to bed early and awaken the day of camp rested and relaxed. Of course, the beer won.
Despite sharing several pitchers of Yuengling the evening prior, Wednesday morning arrived. I felt good and was eager to arrive at my hotel early for check in. I don’t like rushing and wanted to be on time for the pre-camp workout scheduled for 2:00 PM that afternoon. My mind was racing and I was filled with so much anticipation I could hardly think. Concentrating was difficult. Will I find the hotel without difficulty? Will my room be ready? Should I take a shuttle with the others to the ball park or should I drive myself? If I drive separately, will I find the ball park in time? How will I be greeted? What does this “workout” entail? Will there be other middle-aged women there and can my 55-year-old body compete with “twenty, thirty and forty something’s?” Such were the thoughts circling through my mind that afternoon. However, I managed to remain lucid enough to find my hotel without getting lost and proceeded to check into my room. After dumping my luggage on the bed and quickly changing into proper workout attire, I headed down to the hotel lobby. There I found several other campers. Deciding to be sociable I introduced myself to a few others all waiting to head to the ball field. We could either take a shuttle to the ball park or carpool with someone who had a vehicle. I and a few others opted to ride with a fellow camper, Lisa Bienia, to jetBlue Park.
I’m thinking, okay, this is good. I’ve met some other campers, some who are rookies just like me. The ice is broken.
Lisa got us to the ball park without any difficulty and followed the signs directing us to the “Players Parking Lot”. Wow, a separate lot. Walking from the parking lot to the clubhouse we were greeted by the Fenway Fantasy staff who showed us the way to the locker room. My first memory while passing through the cafeteria
on the way to the locker room was seeing a young lady, in her early twenties, I’d guess, with an open beer in her hand chugging down like there is no tomorrow. I am thinking, “Okay, this chick either has a serious drinking problem or she is trying to impress someone.” I guessed it is probably the latter. Trying not to pass judgment, I proceeded to the locker room.
Once inside, it was a race to locate my assigned locker. You know, the one displaying the jersey with “Wagner” stitched across the back. This is the image I recall from the website when reading about the camp. In a frenzy, because I cannot think at all, I finally locate locker # 100 at the far end and find my jersey hanging there.
And then it hits you. You’re in a major league locker room surrounded by other women passionate about playing baseball. One of those women was Robin Gross, a veteran camper, whose locker was just across from mine. She was kind enough to approach me, introduce herself and offer to take my photo in front of my locker. As a rookie, who knew no one, that really made me feel good. Thank you, Robin, for your kindness and making me feel welcome. I won’t forget.
Once in the locker room, we are informed by Fenway staff to dress in our visiting red jersey. My next thought was, gee, did I order the proper size? How accurate were those sizing charts online? I did okay, but I think next time I will go a size smaller with the visiting red. As for the pants, I wanted elastic free at the ankle, but for now, these will do. When you pay big bucks for your “fantasy” you want your uniform to be perfect. Last was the belt. As I carefully threaded every loop I initially shouted out, “It’s too small!” In my frenzied state, Robin reminded me, “It’s adjustable.” Rookies… Once dressed it was time to grab some lunch before the 2:00 PM Pre-Camp Workout. Today’s afternoon meal for all campers consisted of salad, delivered pizza and a beverage of choice. Initially, I chose water, but then I spotted several massive coolers filled with adult beverage and pulled myself out a cold one. Nothing goes better together than playing ball and drinking beer.
While enjoying my beverage I remember thinking, “Man, what a life the Pros must have coming to this every day.” I finished my drink and then headed to the back fields for the afternoon workout. Once again my thoughts turned to how this fifty-something body will compare to all the twenty, thirty and forty-somethings. The workout started with stretches led by the Sox trainers who, by the way, are fantastic. My ankles and quads thank you. Then came instructions from the Pros on base running. By the time all forty campers rounded the bases, the workout was over and I headed back to the clubhouse. Okay, not bad so far.
Once inside the cool air of the clubhouse cafeteria, it was time to hydrate. Water, at first, and then finishing off with another ice cold beer before heading back to the hotel. I found Lisa and off we went. Some since of calm settled in once inside my hotel room. The Welcome Reception at the hotel didn’t start until 7:00 PM that evening. Plenty of time to shower, finish unpacking and relax a bit before the evening festivities. How does one dress for a reception whose attendees are mostly women ball players? Dress up or casual? I brought one pair of black dress slacks and a white dress shirt. This is as dressed up as I am getting. I am here to play ball, not to dress to impress. And so the evening festivities began over cocktails. At this moment, despite being surrounded by others all here for the same reason, I felt isolated. I was tense and uncomfortable. Was it because most others there had come with a significant other or with a group of small people. Or was it something else? I landed at a table with another camper, Ashley Obst, and her spectator friend. We exchanged brief conversation, but they were together as a couple and I didn’t feel like mingling. I was glad when the welcoming announcements began and it was time to eat. The reception lasted a few hours followed by more mingling at the hotel bar. There is always mingling at the hotel bar. I spent some time there with a few others, exchanged pleasantries, but again, felt like an outsider. Was it because I was a rookie and didn’t really know any “experienced” veteran campers? Is it because I am not from the East Coast? But I AM A BALL PLAYER! It was about 10:00 PM when I finally decided to call it a night and headed up to my room. I was tired and tomorrow was going to be a busy and long day.
I awoke at 7:00 AM on Thursday and decided to drive myself to the ball park today. I really prefer the alone time and flexibility that having my own vehicle affords. As long as I got to the club house early enough to eat breakfast and get dressed in uniform before 8:30 AM I would be fine. I purchased a one day $50.00 spectator pass for my husband to attend the day’s festivities and he planned to join me later. The morning routine again consists of stretching followed by drill and skill stations. The stations included pitching, infield/outfield stations, and batting cages. I have no problem throwing/pitching or fielding a ball, but it’s been a long time since I’ve hit a baseball. Remember, I’m a softball player used to slow arching pitches. I was actually pleased with myself in the cages. And the coaches seemed to like it, too. A slight change in how I hold the bat is Mike Smith’s only piece of advice.
LUIS TIANT / “EL TIANTE” – WAGS
WAGS – DAVE SMITH
WAGS – VICTOR RODRIGUEZ – RED SOX ASSISTANT HITTING COACH
With drills ending at 11:00 AM it was time to head back to the clubhouse for lunch. By this time my husband arrived to join me. Today I decided on a generously sized chicken breast, rice, broccoli, and water. My husband opted for a fix it yourself sub sandwich.
Following lunch came the coaches’ draft announcements. I was chosen to play on the Comets team with practice beginning at 12:45 PM.
BACK ROW LEFT – TROT NIXON ROGER DAUBACH – BACK ROW – RIGHT
As a newbie, I was interested to see how coaches would determine players’ positions and who would play where. At practice you told the coach which position you wanted to play and then played it. There was a lot of flexibility with players’ switching positions when they wanted to. Actual games were a bit different. They were more coach directed. Our first scheduled game was against the Belles at 2:00 PM. I learned that team coaches pitch for their own team. It was game time and I was crushed when I wasn’t part of the starting lineup. That hurt. I was so disappointed…angry, even. It’s been a very long time since I haven’t been a starter. I paid over $2,500.00 NOT to play in a game. Really? Wow, I was pissed. Okay, get over it. Be a big girl and try not to cry. The upside to not starting, and standing alone in the dugout as my team is on the field, provided an opportunity. While in the dugout I was approached by Ryan Mills, a reporter from the Naples Daily News. “Hey, do you have a minute or two for an interview?” You bet I do.
WAGS – RYAN MILLS – NAPLES DAILY NEWS
After my interview with Ryan, my mood changed when our coach, Brian Daubach, informed me that I would be going in the fifth inning. I can live with that. Just give me a chance, all I want to do is play. With my mood lifted and in the game playing shortstop I was where I should have been all along.
I was happy, again. Let’s take a moment to think about this. Playing the game I love on a professional baseball field. I am here…this place where professional athletes play ball. Yes, Tammy, it’s real. Enjoy the moment. I am satisfied with my defensive play and know I need to improve with my stick. I remembered to follow the instructions Mike provided at the batting cages, but still, I can’t help but wonder how I would have hit if I just did my own thing. As for the team itself, it was a competitive game, however, the Comets fell short losing to the Belles by 1 run.
Now that the Comets had one game behind us, it was time for the coaching staff and players of our team to gather for dinner at Miller’s Ale House that evening.
TROT NIXON (CENTER)
My husband and I were the first guests to arrive. The Comets’ coach and manager, Brian and Trot, respectively, were already there. The agreed upon time to meet at Ale’s at 7:00 PM. All four of us started to get nervous. It’s 7:00 PM…7:15, 7:20…where is everybody? All of us are asking, “Is there another Ale House we don’t know about?” I know I heard Brian say “it’s right across the street from the hotel in Gulf Coast Town Center.” Of course, none of us had any of the others’ phone numbers, so you can imagine how relieved we all felt when we finally spotted the others. Now the party can begin! I mean, really, how incredible is it to be sitting directly across from Trot “Dirt Dog” Nixon, a 12 year veteran of MLB and manager of our team? I didn’t get to chat much with Brian Daubach, or Dauber, as he was at the other end of the table. Dauber is another MLB Veteran who played 3 years with the Red Sox. Because a gal doesn’t always get to have dinner with two MLB ball players every night I decided to commemorate the evening by ordering filet, garlic mashed potatoes, and green beans. My husband chose steak fajitas. To be sure, it was a memorable evening with exquisite company and good food. Although I didn’t talk much to Dauber at dinner he offered to buy a round of drinks back at the hotel for those of us still standing. One thing you catch onto quick at camp is that most days end with Happy Hour. I only wish I would have saved that beer bottle that Dauber handed me.
Satiated from the previous evening’s activities, Friday was the second to last day of camp. The morning started as it usually does, with breakfast at the complex cafeteria. Over breakfast, camp organizers informed us that today is picture day. That means dress in your Home whites and head out to the main stadium. There are LOTS of pictures. Team pictures, player pictures, coach pictures, still pictures, action pictures and more pictures. Good thing my husband is a photographer. Of course, there were professional photographers on site clicking at every moment. Here’s how that works. Each camper sets up their own photo portfolio and selects pictures to place in their folder. No limits on how many pictures you place in your folder if you want to pay $200.00. I noticed one picture that was missing from the photographs on the laptops is a group picture of all campers taken together. When I asked about that particular picture I was informed, “That one will be available at the Banquet for $20.00.” Go figure…you do the math.
With all photo shoots complete and uniforms dirtied from kneeling, it is time for morning stretching before the first game. Today is a big day. One game in the morning followed by an afternoon game that is camper pitched. Up to this point, I was playing shortstop most games, so when Trot asked me if I wanted to “go to the bump” I said, “Sure.” Back in the day, I was a pitcher in a girl’s fast pitch league, but that was decades ago. Good thing my buddy, Mike, and I agreed to get together a few weeks prior to camp to throw the ball around. Boy, I was glad we did that. Now, when I stepped up to that mound, I hoped I did as well as I did with Mike. It was all good. After throwing balls for my first several pitches I finally hit the strike zone, made some batters swing and even struck out a few. Yeah, I still got it. I was bummed when I had to give up my time on the mound, but it was reassuring knowing I still had my “mojo”. Stepping off the mound I went to left field which is the first time at camp I found myself in the outfield. No worries. Sometimes it’s easier out there. The rest of the Friday morning’s game was uneventful and the Comets ended up on top beating our opponent.
With one game down we had another to go Friday afternoon and up to this point all is well. By now my body is talking to me. I planned to experience the wonders of hydrotherapy at some point during my camp experience and decided that would come at the conclusion of Friday’s second game. Here is where things begin to blur a bit. I know we lost one game prior to the playoffs and we played it on the main stadium field. It was a good game…very close. I recall we had a runner on third, maybe bases loaded, and a good stick at bat. Smack, one crack of the bat and the ball is hit to left field. Runner on third is racing toward home…the shortstop from the other team is cut-off and she fires the ball from left field to home. It takes a bounce…the catcher fields it and tags out the runner. No! You have to be kidding me! That was the winning run and she was tagged out at the plate. Unbelievable and disappointing for sure, but man, what a game.
Now, with a loss in the score book and with my body really talking to me, I figured it’s time for a soak in the hydrotherapy whirlpools. The training staff recommended 2 minutes in cold, followed by 2 minutes in hot for 4 rounds.
One must wear appropriate attire, in other words, no nude soaking, and slip on these funny little “toe slippers” before entering the soak zone. With my slippers on I begin to descend into the tub. “Are you kidding me?” I thought once I put a toe in the frigid water. I could barely get my big toe in and you want me to put my whole body in there? Good thing Suzy Presby, a veteran, was in there, too. With her holding my hand and tolerating my shouts of, “Oh, sh_t, oh, sh_t” I managed to get waist deep. Thank you, Suzy. You are the best! The one thing we all weren’t aware of that day was that the “warm” tub was closed for cleaning. All I can say is, I was cold for the rest of the evening and I recall driving back to my hotel with my car heater cranked to 80 degrees!
It is now Saturday, the last day of camp. Another big day as today is playoff day with a chance to make it to the afternoon championship game. The Comets only lost one game up to this point which meant if we won our next game we’d be in the “The Big Game.” I tried not to go there, but couldn’t help thinking how great it would be to end up winning the Fantasy Camp Championship my rookie year. And, of course, to possess the coveted championship ring. Then, rational thought took over and I reminded myself, “one game at a time; stay in the moment.” We still had a game to play, and win, before even getting close to wearing a championship ring. With that in mind, the Comets proceeded to the back fields. Again, in my state of frenzy, it was difficult for me to remember the name of the team we played. Partly, because I did not get close to any of the players on other teams and partly because of an inability to keep my head clear and not allow my emotions to take over. By now I realized I wasn’t going to be a standout and had to accept the fact that I am just average. No, make that old and average. I wasn’t going to win any awards and my days of glory are over. I have been replaced by younger and more gifted players. Watching those youthful women play reminded me of myself back in the day. The only difference is these women are getting to do what they love and are pursuing opportunities that previously didn’t exist. A function of time, perhaps, or maybe just the result of a constantly changing diverse and contemporary world. It really doesn’t matter. Our game this day went 11 innings. We are the Home team and the game is tied. Two outs and all we need is one run. There is a runner on third and Costa is up to bat. She connects with a fly ball to left field. It looks like it’s going to drop, but the player in left goes down on her knees and, thump…the ball lands in the pocket of her glove. The game is over and our opponent begins to celebrate their win. They, not us, are going to the Championship. It was a great well-fought game, but none the less we lost. It’s over for the Comets and it’s over for me. I hate to admit it, but I must. I went to the women’s bathroom on the back fields and balled my eyes out.
Playing in that afternoon’s consolation game was tough. I mean, really, what is the point of playing that game? As teammates, we discussed the strategy for the game. We threw around different ideas: Can we drink our beer in the dugout? Should we consult with the opposing team to see if they even wanted to play? Then, one of my teammates said that the Blue Sox had not won a game yet. That’s when we decided to just play, have some fun and relax. By now I was in the outfield again and didn’t really want to play anymore. I surely wasn’t going to make an effort to make any spectacular plays. Why risk injury and end my softball season? I think my lack of effort was obvious. And I definitely had an attitude problem. I wanted the day over. Only one more function before camp officially ended and that was the banquet scheduled for 6:30 PM that evening. This was the other function that I purchased a “spectator pass” for my husband. At $75.00 a pop, I hoped the meal would measure up. I believe the buffet included fresh salad, chipped beef, a salmon dish, a white fish served in cream sauce, mashed potatoes, vegetables, an assortment of rolls and several desserts. And there was the bar—thank goodness. I felt the only way I was going to get through this evening was to drink. The Comets sat at two different tables. I was at the one where nobody really interacted with each other. My husband was seated next to me, however, due to his hearing difficulties, I might just have well been sitting there alone. I briefly spoke to my teammate seated directly to my left, but no lengthy conversations followed. So there I was sitting with “my team”, but feeling like a fly on the wall. It’s tough to be just average. I ate, I drank, I clapped for the award winners, I signed baseballs and picture frame mattes while all the while looking forward to the time when I could head back to my room. I was not going to watch the New England Patriots game scheduled to air in the bar lounge immediately following the banquet dinner. These East coast folks are serious fans and there was a reason the banquet had to end by a certain time if you know what I mean.
And so, with my husband by my side, we rode the elevator up to the fourth floor. It’s over. I can breathe now. I was a lot of things this night…relieved, sad, tearful and of course, sore. No longer the star that my youth once granted me I learned a lot about myself over these four days. Namely, that acceptance of dreams unfulfilled is just another part of this ball player’s life journey. And, so, I kept asking myself throughout the past four days, “Will you come back next year?”
When I departed the hotel for the last time that weekend it was because I was heading home back to reality and my daily life. Back to work and back to my weekly softball games. I love those weekly games, especially on Monday and Wednesday nights with my Pine Lakes Panthers teammates.
Then, about two weeks after camp I saw my buddy, Mike, who I play with in my Cape Coral league. He’s been going to the men’s fantasy camp for at least the last 5 years, including this year. Of course, chatted about our experiences. I found out from Mike that I will forever be known at the women’s camp, and by the coaches, as “Wags”. He also told me that my manager, Trot Nixon, thought I was “good”. That made me feel better and provided some much-needed validation to boost my self-confidence. So, with a renewed spirit I just may have come one step closer to answering the question, “Will you go back to Red Sox Fantasy Camp next year?”