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.
Brooklyn Dodger greats Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, and Ralph Branca, all 82 now, paid homage at dinner Monday night to their late teammates from the Boys of Summer era and recounted stories of the past that had Dodgertown Fantasy Baseball campers hanging on their every word for an inside piece of baseball history.
The best story came from Erskine, who was in the bullpen warming up with Branca on that fateful day in 1951 when Branca would give up the shot heard around the world to Bobby Thompson, and cost Brooklyn the pennant.
“Walter Alston (Dodgers manager) called the bullpen coach and wanted to know who was ready to go because Don Newcombe, who had pitched a hell of a game, was tiring. He said, ‘They’re both ready but Erskine’s been bouncing his curveball in the dirt.’ Alston told him to send in Branca.
“When people ask me what’s the best pitch I ever threw, I tell’em it was that curveball in the dirt in the bullpen that day.”
With some sage advice to fantasy camp rookies, Guy Wellman kicked off the 51st and probably final Dodgertown Fantasy Baseball Camp in Vero Beach.
“Swing the bat. You didn’t come all this way and pay all this money to take a walk. Have a hell of a camp,” said the man who has been director of this camp since it opened 35 years ago.
The Dodgers are moving to Glendale,Ariz for spring training next year and no one knows yet if there will be more fantasy camps there.
So, we took his advice and swung the bat and to hell with the walk. We lost our first game 4-3. Hey, we had a lot of laughs that’s what matters at this camp.
Former Dodger catcher Jeff Torborg is our manager and the “kid” on the team is 52. How great is that!
“Let’s have fun, don’t get hurt and let’s win,” said team captain Mark Stone from Encino.
Well, we had fun, didn’t get hurt, but we lost. Big deal.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you how Dodger Boys of Summer pitcher Ralph Branca – yeah, the guy who gave up that damn homerun to Bobby Thompson, won 21 games for tge Dodgers one year and got paid a whopping “6,500 a year for it.
(Daily News columnist Dennis McCarthy reports from Vero Beach, Fla….)
Dodgertown Day Two – all muscle groups still sore.
To get to the Dodger lockerroom at Vero Beach, you take Jackie Robinson Dr. to Sandy Koufax Lane and turn left. Need I say more? The place is steeped in Dodger history and you don’t have to look far to find it.
When I walked into the lockerroom this morning to get dressed with 117 other guys acting like kids in a candy store, Hall of Famer Duke Snider was standing in front of my locker talking to former Dodger shortstop Maury Wills.
Behind them were two Dodger jersey’s – one white, one gray – with my name stitched on the back. It doesn’t get much better than that.
All the rookies had to be dressed and out at Holman Stadium, where the Dodgers play their spring training games, by 9 a.m. so the coaches could determine just how bad we were. We took 20 minutes of infield with Wills giving us instruction, and another 20 minutes of outfield from former Dodger outfielder Tommy Davis.
I only had two ground balls go through my legs and three dropped fly balls, which after 40 years of being a couch potato I figure isn’t all that bad. I could be wrong, though. There are an awful lot of guys in their 50s and 60s doing pretty good out here.
After lunch, we learn what teams we’re on and play our first game. Should be interesting. I let you know in a couple of hours if I pull anything.
(Daily News columnist Dennis McCarthy reports from Vero Beach, Fla….)
I can see this is gonna be a lot tougher than I thought it would be.
Muscles I havent heard from in 30 years are already screaming, and we havent started playing real ball yet.
The rookies that would be me were sent to the batting cages while the veterans the 87 out of 117 guys and one woman attending this last scheduled Dodgers Fantasy Camp in Vero Beach, Fla. stood around and had a good laugh grading us so we could be put on their teams.
I tanked it big time. In 20 pitches, I whiffed 15 times and hit five meek foul balls.
Nice going, rook, said Bernie Silverman, a 71-year-old retired optometrist from Sherman Oaks.
Bernie is attending his third camp with his 45-year-old son, David, from Agoura Hills. More about the Silvermans in my column Tuesday.
The rookie workout lasted two hours, and we dragged our tired bodies back to our rooms before heading over to the lounge to have a couple drinks and watch the Super Bowl.
Monday morning, the real fun and games begin as we split up in teams and starts to play the games.
I got a feeling Ill spend a lot of time in the trainers room this week. Stay tuned.
Joyce Greenberg sent her husband, Ted, to a week at the Dodgers fantasy baseball camp for his 50th birthday 10 years ago.
He hasn’t missed a camp since.
“He’s like a kid in a candy shop, a little kid who never grew up,” she said.