All-Star Fantasy Campers living the big league dream
Coached by former players, participants will play at Citi Field on Wednesday
NEW YORK -- Nearly 60 players took the field at MCU Park on a sweltering Monday morning in Brooklyn, decked out head to toe in 2013 All-Star Game gear. With the Coney Island Boardwalk and Luna Park as the backdrop, they took batting practice, shagged fly balls and, eventually, played a baseball game.
They were there as part of MasterCard All-Star Fantasy Camp, a three-day event that has taken place in the All-Star Game's host city for each of the past three years. The participants play baseball at a local Minor League park on the days of the Chevrolet Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game. Then, the day after the game, campers get their big league callup -- a chance to play in the All-Star ballpark.
On Monday and Tuesday, this year's campers will practice at the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones in preparation for their Major League debuts. And on Wednesday, they'll converge on Citi Field.
For Scott Green, who runs the camp, it's a chance to give everyone involved an experience that they'll never forget.
"They're having a blast. They all have a great time," said Green. "And how can they not? It's baseball, to start off with. And then to be on a field like this in Brooklyn, underneath the Parachute Drop at Coney Island. And then when they come into Citi Field, they'll be really amazed by the whole atmosphere."
That experience started early Monday morning, when two buses filled with participants -- most of whom are MasterCard clients or doctors and researchers invited by Stand Up To Cancer, the recipient of the camp's proceeds -- arrived at MCU Park.
Former Mets Turk Wendell, Cliff Floyd, Kevin Mitchell and Felix Millan, who are serving as coaches, met the bus. The players were then divided into four teams in which they'll remain for the next three days. They will also get to attend both the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game.
The other former Major Leaguer in attendance was Tigers pitcher Jon Warden, who will serve as both the comic relief and the camp's master of ceremonies. Warden will hold a Kangaroo Court at the end of the week to fine participants for infractions such as forgetting to tuck in a jersey or misplaying a ball.
During the games, he fills the role of stadium announcer, joking with players throughout the contest.
"There's a drive to deep catcher," Warden announced as one of the players popped a ball up behind home plate.
It's a great weekend for everyone involved. And for camper Tony Speranzella, playing is only half of the fun.
"Being a part of the locker room again," Speranzella said. "I played a little bit in high school a long time ago. Just seeing the uniforms and walking up the dugout stairs here to get ready to walk on the field here -- we're reliving the past. It's good."
Green is the president of Play At The Plate, a company which he calls, "The Major League of Adult Baseball." PATP runs adult baseball leagues around the country, with sites ranging from Triple-A ballparks to Spring Training sites to Major League stadiums. Last season, PATP became the first non-Red Sox-affiliated group to play a game at Fenway Park.
The New York native grew up playing baseball at Forest Hill High School in Queens and Suffolk Community College on Long Island. He left baseball for 14 years to play professional tennis, but returned to the game in 1994 when he attended a fantasy camp with the St. Louis Cardinals.
"I said, 'You know, I have to get back into this,'" Green said. "I was going to other groups that ran programs like I do now, and I just didn't think they were doing it well enough. And I decided on a dare, basically, to do it, and now it's my life."
Green started PATP in 2004, and he's been hosting Major League Baseball's All-Star Fantasy Camps since 2010. He brought groups to Angel Stadium after the 2010 All-Star Game, Chase Field in 2011 and Kauffman Stadium in 2012, and he's excited to bring his contingent to Citi Field this year.
"It's great to be in New York," Green said. "To be able to play at the National League host city in New York is a thrill for me. So it's great to be here."