Dodger great Carl Erskine called over a couple of weary and sore fantasy baseball campers limping onto to the field Friday morning for a little pep talk.
“I woke up one day and my arm was so sore I could hardly raise it.” the Boys of Summer pitcher said. “I was suppose to start that day so I walked into the clubhouse ready to tell Walter Alston, our manager, that I needed another day of rest. Before I could say anything, he handed me the ball.
“I couldn’t hand it back to him and refuse the start so I went in and got a cortisone shot. I pitched one of my two no hitters that day,” he said, smiling. “As sore as I was, if I hadn’t taken the ball from Alston that day I would have missed a no hitter.”
Another story dealt with his fiery teammate Jackie Robinson.
“We were coming to the end of our careers and Jackie had been moved from second over to third. In the paper that morning, one of the New York Giants exec’s said Jackie, Campy and I were too old to beat them.
Well, I shut them out that day, Campy caught a great game, and Jackie made a diving play at third to rob Willie Mays of a double to save the game.
As the Giant’s exec was leaving the field, Jackie reached into his back pocket, pulled out the newspaper story and waved it at him.
“Too old?” he yelled.
One of the highlights of Dodgertown fantasy baseball camps is the game at Holman Stadium where the Dodgers of the past play two innings each with eight camper teams in front of a crowd of autograph seeking fans from Vero Beach and the families of campers.
The biggest applause of the game didn’t come from any great defensive play or home run. It was the introduction for the last Boys Of Summer at this last fantasy camp – Duke Snider, Carl Erskine and Ralph Branca.
While pitcher Jerry Reuss took the mound for the Dodgers, with Maury Wills backing him up at second base and Tommy Davis at first, the Duke, Carl and Ralph sat in golf carts by the stands graciously signing autographs and talking with old Brooklyn Dodger fans who had come to see them.
“They were the best fans in the world at Ebbets Field 60 years ago and they still are,” said Erskine, 81 . “They were there for us in Brooklyn and they’re still here for us at this last camp in Vero.
For the record, the campers were leading by a couple of runs heading into the third.
Day four at Dodgertown and the dog days are here. The place is beginning to resemble a MASH unit. The walking wounded are everywhere. Pulled hamstings and quads, groin injuries, sore shoulders and elbows. Guys who havent played back to back doubleheaders since Little League – or ever – are starting to pay for it.
There’s more action going on in the trainers room than the bar, which ain’t right when you’re paying $4,500 for a fantasy.
“By this time in camp, we’re seeing 85 to 90 percent of the guys in here every morning and night,” laughs trainer Peter Hite. “Hammies and quads. At the end of the day the line is huge.”
Fantasy camp is turning into pain camp for a lot of the older guys, but nobody’s complaining. They’re still having too much fun playing ball and hanging out with the old Dodgers.
At mandatory stretching this morning, Hite yelled for everyone to reach down and touch their toes. Yeah, right.
You could hear the laughs all the way over to Holman Stadium.
The last members of the Brooklyn Dodgers Boys of Summer teams paid homage to former teammates no longer with them, and shared some poignant and funny stories with Dodgertown Fantasy Camp players.
One was from Carl Erskine talking about the best pitch he ever threw.
He was in the bullpen warming up with Ralph Branca in that fateful 1951 playoff game for the National League pennant when Bobby Thompson hit the shot heard around the world.
Brooklyn manager Walter Alston made the call to the bullpen to relieve tiring starter Don Newcombe.
“Who looks good?” Alston asked his bullpen coach.
“They both look good, but Erskine’s been bouncing his curveball in the dirt,” he said.
“Send in Branca,” Alston said.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“If I hadn’t been bouncing my curve, I may have been me facing Thompson that day,” Erskine said. “When people ask me about the best pitch I ever threw, I tell’em it was that curveball in the dirt.”
It’s the end of day two at Dodgertown Fantasy camp and the line into the trainers room stretches down the hall and into the lockerroom. This is where 85 to 90 percent of the 117 campers will be spending at least an hour a day getting a rub down or packing ice on their weary, battered bodies to make it to another day of doubleheaders.
It’s the busiest room in Dodgertown besides the bar.
“Pulled hamstrings and groins, sore shoulders and elbows mainly,” says Peter Hite, one of three fulltime trainers standing by in this MASH unit.
He’s telling me this while putting four big bags of ice on and under both my legs after I pulled my quads and hamstrings trying to pretend I was still 23 instead of 63 running down to first base to beat out a blooper up the middle. I’ve got a lot of company.
We swept a doubleheader to go 2-1 so far. Not that I helped the team much. I got one ball at second base and stopped it with my shin. Hey, tomorrow’s another day.
I’m in good company.