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Wed, Feb 27th, 2013

A Fantasy Camp Experience

Editors Note: The article below was written in 2002 by current Camp Director, Stan Dickman, who was that year a rookie camper at the Twins Fantasy Camp.  Stan went on to attend four more camps before taking charge of the Twins Camp in 2009.  This article appears to provide those of you who may be considering the camp experience for yourself or as a gift to someone special in your life.  While nothing appearing on this page, or any other page of this website can fully capture the essence of the camp experience - it must be lived to be fully appreciated - we hope it does provide a small insight into the experience - at least through one camper's eyes.

A Baseball Fantasy Camp Experience


By Stan Dickman

Le Mars, Iowa – As I entered the locker room of the Minnesota Twins winter home in Ft Myers, Florida, I was met by an individual who looked like he may very well have been a protégé of Abner Doubleday.  Wayne Hattaway, equipment manager and Twins organization icon, has been with the club since the 60's.  Hattaway, a witness to the careers of such Twins greats as Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and Bert Blyleven, was certainly not going to give "quarter" to me or any one of the other seventy-five campers that were arriving this Sunday morning in preparation for a fantasy week of baseball.

"What's your name?" Hattaway barked at me as I rounded the corner and stood at the threshold of a major league locker room.

"Dickman", I replied, almost involuntarily.

"Take a look in the third aisle", he continued, "There's locker with your name on it and make damn sure you keep it clean!"

As I rounded the corner on the third aisle of stained oak lockers, I was welcomed by what I can only describe as one of the most exhilarating experiences in my life.  There, hanging in the fourth locker, neatly pressed, was a set of home and away Minnesota Twins uniforms – with my name on the back!  In an instant, all of my dreams of playing major league baseball, hung neatly before me.  This, I thought is exactly what had brought me to camp.

What does motivate a 48 year old man to part with hard earned money, just to live out a childhood dream?  Maybe it's no more complicated than the love of baseball.  Or, maybe it's the manifestation of a midlife crisis. Perhaps it's a natural desire to hang on to piece of his youth, or a longing for a return to a less complicated time.  Whatever had brought me on this odyssey, I was happy to be here.

Each year, thousands of fantasy campers from across the country make their own pilgrimage to one of the many major league fantasy camps held each spring in the warm weather destinations of Florida, Arizona, Texas or California.  Borrowing a line from the movie "Field of Dream" – "For its money they have and its peace they lack".

I was fortunate to have been raised in place and time where baseball was at the center of my formative years.  In Brunsville, Iowa (population 120) where I grew up, there weren't many recreational opportunities - but we did have a baseball diamond.  Since my chums and I were of the baby boom generation, fielding two teams for our daily baseball games didn't prove to be much of an obstacle – even in a small town.  Every summer day when it didn't rain, would find us playing a game in the morning, two each afternoon and one more until dark.

In 1961 my parents took my two bothers and I to our first major league baseball game at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota.  I was hooked!  Baseball went from being a favorite pastime to a passion, and I just knew that I would make my living as a major league baseball player.

After a career that included little league in Brunsville, senior league and American Legion ball in Le Mars, Iowa, college baseball at Westmar College and five years of amateur baseball with the Le Mars Orioles, it became only all too obvious that no one was going to pay me to play baseball.  Like most guys in my generation, I finished my playing career on a softball field and later traded my ball and glove for a set of golf clubs.


"Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quite playing".

Oliver Wendell Holmes


Fast forward to the fall of 2001, now a bonafide couch potato and twenty-seven years removed from my last "hardball" game, I was watching a Twins broadcast on FOX television when analyst Bert Blyleven mentioned the Twins fantasy camp.  At the next commercial break, I struggled from the couch to the computer and went to the Twins website to learn more about the camp.  Within a day or two I had been contacted by camp organizer, Larry Marino and after about a ten minute conversation, I was signed up for the 2002 camp to be held in January at Ft Myers, winter home of the Minnesota Twins.

In Florida I was to meet some of the most wonderful people that I've ever had the pleasure to know.  The talent level at this camp truly ran the gambit.  There were several former college players, most had played at least high school baseball, but there were some who had not played baseball since their little league days.  Somehow, as the week developed, the level of baseball skill really didn't seem to be all that important.  Everyone at the camp had an obvious love of baseball and somewhere in our collective pasts, baseball had made a lifetime impression.

At the Twins camp, the coaches are former major league players, many of whom had played with Minnesota.  In my case, I was fortunate to be managed by Baseball Hall of Fame candidate, Bert Blyleven, and Gene Larkin, whose 10th inning single in game seven lifted the Twins past the Atlanta Braves to make them 1991 World Champions.

Day one consisted with a series of hitting, fielding and pitching drills that were led by the former major leaguers.  Campers are treated to professional instruction and some incredible "inside" stories from their major league careers.  Sunday afternoon, scrimmage games were held to allow the Pro's to further assess the talent in the camp.  Later that afternoon a draft was held and each camper was selected by their Pro coaches and assigned to teams that were announced at dinner that evening.

Dinners were held four of the seven nights that we were in camp and two of those evening events included a Kangaroo Court.  Judges, Jim "Mudcat" Grant and Bert Blyleven would levy fines on the campers for such egregious infractions as players not having their jersey tucked in (a challenge for some of the campers who have spent much of the latter part of their careers at the training table), forgetting to wear a belt, talking to an umpire or forgetting to wear a batting helmet to the plate.  All of the fines were donated to the Lee County Children's Hospital in Ft. Myers.

Campers play two games each day and the two teams with the best record for the week meet in the camp championship on Saturday.  We played on the same meticulously manicured diamonds used by the Twins for their fundamental drills and inter squad games.

On Friday every camper team plays three innings against an All Star team made up of the former major leaguers in camp.  I can tell you from first-hand experience that Bert Blyleven can still throw an impressive curve ball.  The All Star game and the camp championship games are both played at Hammond Stadium, which is the Twins major league home field for all of their spring training games.

Without question, the most memorable part of the fantasy camp experience is the relationships that are forged.  The Pro's that participate in the Twins camp were more than approachable and were genuinely concerned about every camper fulfilling their fantasy.  For me, an old catcher, that fantasy included meeting former Twins catcher, Earl Battey.  Earl's gone now, but growing up he was my favorite Twin.

One former Twin that made the camp extra special was Dave Boswell.  "Bos" was a member of the pitching staff for the 1965 Twins team that played the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. He was also a 20 game winner for the '69 Twins.  He and his wife Lou are two of the most genuine people you will ever meet, and all of the Pro's in camp are outstanding ambassadors for the game of baseball.  It's important to remember that many of these guys played at a time when a second job in the off season was necessary if they were to feed a family.  They played for the love of the game and for the chance to compete against the best in the world.  They also share a common objective of continuing to give back to the game that was and remains, a big part of their lives.

It's now been seven years since my first camp (yes, I've been back four more times) and I have made some incredible friendships.  Friendships that I count among my closest and most cherished.  Even though winning the camp championship doesn't earn you a discount on next year's camp, you quickly discover that the desire to compete – at any level – still burns deep.  When you share the field with ten or eleven other teammates, and you're all focused on team success, you naturally develop an esprit de corps.  I rediscovered that it had always been those relationships and the thrill of competition that drove my passion for playing baseball.

So, if you're looking to satisfy that competitive "itch", you too should consider a fantasy camp experience, and the camp is not a "Men Only" club.  Every camp I've attended included female player who are among the camps most avid baseball fans.  If a camp experience sounds like something you'd like to try, you may just discover what I did.  Playing baseball again was an incredible motivator to get off of the couch and get back in the game.  And, I believe we can all learn a lesson from that great philosopher and former major league pitcher Satchel Paige who once asked the question, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?"

Remember - Growing up is inevitable – growing old is optional!

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