Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Dave Darby, a Royals’ fan who got to take part in the Royals Alumni Fantasy Camp in Arizona last month. The camp is a one-week experience during which fans get to interact with former Royals legends, including playing against them on the diamond. Dave was kind enough to share some stories with us here. If you’re not doing so already, be sure to follow Dave on Twitter (@DaveDarby46).
My goal going into my first KC Royals Fantasy camp in 2012 was to have a GOOD time. I wanted to have a GOOD time and not a GREAT time because camp isn’t cheap and I wanted to enjoy this bucket list week and move on. My goal was shattered on day one that year, and I’ll do all in my power to make it back each year.
There was no camp in 2013 due to the All Star game, but I just got back from the 2014 version a few weeks ago. I did what I could to tweet and Facebook the week and even did a SnapChat with Willie Wilson, but there is so much to soak in that you can’t really retell it in a way that catches a tenth of the amazement of the moments. All I can do is give a framework of the week and tell additional stories in person to anyone interested.
The week starts on Monday morning at the airport. There were several informal practices ahead of camp and I knew some of the campers from my prior trip so I huddled around them. John Mayberry and I were familiar to each other from prior camp and batting practices at the K, and he was quick with a “Hi, big slugger” and a handshake. John is the man! The rest of the alumni kind of kept to themselves at that point.
The first cool part of camp is seeing your locker for the first time. You have your own name plate and everything is neatly hung in your locker. As a second time camper, I enjoyed watching the rookies take in that moment (after I took my picture of my locker for Twitter and Facebook). After introductions, it’s out to the fields for drills and then simulated games. I was on Kevin Seitzer and Willie Wilson’s team the first time and elected to stay on that team, so I was scouting other players to help with the draft of our team. After the simulation games, the alumni had a draft and came up with the teams. Seitz did some GM magic and we had the best squad by far.
Monday night they announced the teams and had dinner at the hotel. Seitzer talked for hours about the game and gave insight that you would normally never have. That’s one of the biggest takeaways from camp. You hear stories (some that you can’t repeat) and info that the normal fan doesn’t hear, and it makes for a different view of the game. It is awesome to watch the game in a different view because of it, but it also limits what I can say to friends and in social media about opinions, as you sometimes can’t elaborate about what you have heard. That’s not a comment on Seitz, but of camp in general. Jason Kendall stories……wow. The alumni drop their guard and act like they have known you forever. It’s awesome!
Tuesday begins games, but we got a treat this year. We had a guest speaker in the morning. Freaking Don Denkinger!!! It was obvious that he doesn’t do much speaking. He drove 90 minutes to speak with us because he is a friend of Greg Pryor. He of course spoke about 1985, but also had some powerful stories about his time in the big leagues. One thing that I took in was when it was time for questions, the alumni were the most eager to raise their hand. They were as excited as we were. I can tell some of his stories, but you’ll have to catch me on another day for that.
We went 1-1 on day one, losing to George Brett’s team in a low scoring game. No one was really worried as we knew we had a good team. Clark Fosler and I had pre-arranged a trip back to an awesome steakhouse from two years prior. That visit two years ago was Kevin Seitzer’s first at the place and he now says it is his favorite steak place in the United States. That’s saying something for a ball player that has been all over.
Wednesday starts with Kangaroo Court in the morning. I set my iPad on the table prior to court starting and when George Brett sat down next to me it buzzed. George picked it up, glanced at me and started reading the messages from my wife. I told him he could respond, so he did. It was something about “I can’t wait to get home to see you.” My wife knew it was too sweet of a message to come from me and then she saw the tweet of George sending the message so I was busted. I’ve always taken the first van to the complex in the morning, and George always rides shotgun so he sees me a lot. We always seem to be sitting next to each other. Part of that is I know where to sit during the beer sessions where most of the alumni will be, but I think a bigger part of it is how much George gets hassled for an autograph. We have an assigned autograph session on Friday, but people come up to him all the time. George knows I’ll talk to him like anyone else and leave him alone otherwise, so sitting by me is safe. I’m probably wrong about that, but it’s my story and it makes sense to me.
We won both games on Wednesday and again went out to dinner as a team. The Wednesday night dinner is special as each person gets up and tells about themselves and why they are there. Believe it or not, it is always emotional. This year’s team was so close that it was extra special. I have an emotional attachment to Seitz and to Willie Wilson and now Cookie Rojas, who I can’t say enough about. Cookie looked at me on Tuesday morning and held up two fingers, and I said “what?” Cookie just looked at me and again put up two fingers. I said “what, Cookie?” He said in a strong accent, “I need two hits from you this game, Darbs.” We went through the same routine every game. I love that guy!
Thursday is the day we play three innings against the alumni. We lost by a run, but that damn Jerry Terrell running down my line drive cost me my moment in the sun. My first year at bat was much sexier. Dennis Leonard got me to ground out into a double play. It went Frank White, to George Brett (who was playing short), to John Mayberry. This year’s swing was much better, but the story much worse. After the game, the team again went out on the town, this time to a fabulous Italian place where Beth Seitzer had to keep holding our place in line until we got there. I love Beth Seitzer, by the way. Awesome woman, and Kevin is lucky to have her.
Friday morning we power through our first game something like 24-3. I hit four lasers and the team is ready for the afternoon championship game. In the title game we start slow but beat Brett’s team in a rematch and win the championship. You would have thought that we won the World Series! We couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces, and the cool part was the coaches couldn’t, either. Beth Seitzer took about 20 team pictures using 10 cameras and we didn’t want to leave the field for the last time.
Cleaning out the locker sucks. It is a true major league locker. The clubbies take care of everything for you. You leave your locker in a mess, next time you see it, the hangers are all perfect and everything neat with your laundered uniform and undies hanging up. When I arrived, my new leather belt I brought with me was missing the deal that goes in the holes, as the buckle had pulled apart during the trip down. The clubbies took another belt, found parts, and fixed it like I was a major leaguer. To leave that locker and clubhouse is hard.
Friday night is the banquet and awards ceremony which is held at the stadium the Arizona Cardinals play in. We had a nice dinner and heard good words from all the coaches and got our trophies for winning. The best moment of the night happened later. A teammate of mine for the last two camps has a brother who has Down Syndrome. He watched our games and was obviously happy we won. After all the awards and drawings were done, he was asked by John Wathan if his team won this week. He nodded yes and was then asked to come up and get his first place trophy. He pumped his fists, got excited and started crying. His brother and parents started crying, and hell, I started crying. Joy in its purest form. What a way to end camp.
Also on Friday night, through a drawing, I won a pretty cool prize. Myself, along with three guests, get to take batting practice on the field before a game this season. I’m not sure of the game yet, but it will be me, my dad, my brother, and my buddy Lance (@NorthMoRoyal) out in the cage.
On Saturday morning we took a bus to the airport. It was just me and Joe Randa in the back. We talked about our kids and how kids’ sports are different now from when we grew up. On Monday when we got on the bus Joe said, “Hey Darbs,” so he remembered me from the prior camp. Maybe a part of that was because my wife is in love with him and I had him take, and sign, a picture of him without me in it (because I’m sure my wife would rather have it that way). Anyhow, he asked if I would be coming back to camp, and I said something to the effect of, “I’ll keep getting the go ahead from the Mrs. as long as I bring back something signed by you.” He smiled and said if I ever do something stupid or get in trouble with Jennie, to give him a call and he would send some signed memorabilia, or stop by the house and say “Hi.” So, I have that going for me!
On May 4th we have our reunion at the K. We will go on the field, wave to the crowd and head out to the bar above right field for food, beer, and two traditions for me. One tradition is Jennie getting to hug Joe Randa. The other is that I get to give Joel Goldberg my baseball card from camp. As you can tell, Jennie sets her sights a bit higher than me.
People tell me all the time that going to Royals Alumni Fantasy Camp is a bucket list thing. There is no way to tell those folks that they are actually underestimating it. I’ve been fortunate to become good friends with several of the alumni and see them outside of camp, and I have made lifetime friendships with other campers. Alumni Camp is an amazing week, but I feel like I live it all year long.