Baseball enthusiasts agree there are few things better than sitting around with fellow fans, tossing out stats and arguing over who was the best player of their era. Well, maybe one thing tops everyone's list of major league events, and that's playing ball with the pros themselves.
Ask Ken Fey. You don’t have to see his face to know he had a great time last week at the 6th Annual Arizona Diamondbacks Fantasy Camp. You can hear the cheek-to-cheek grin on his face when he talks by phone about learning the game — in person — from such legendary D-backs players as Reggie Sanders, Matt Williams, Luis Gonzalez and Mark Grace, to name drop a few. He talked about throwing a knuckleball off Greg Swindell, listened over a beer to Mike Fetters talk about coming up to the big leagues, and learned how to crouch for long innings from Damian Miller.
“I’m a pharmacist and here I am talking to David Dellucci about the Orioles and sharing the same stories about life in Baltimore. Next to the week I got married, this is the best week of my life,” the 40-year-old Oro Valley man said.
Fantasy camp enables participants to live their dream. For one week, campers are treated like professional Major League baseball players. They stay at a world-class resort, are fitted for the same uniforms and equipment the pros wear, play at a Major League facility, and receive daily instruction from the very pros they’ve admired for years.
The formula has been so successful that the Diamondbacks organization has not changed it much in the past six years.
“When a thing is good, you don’t try to ‘fix’ it,” said Jeff Swanson, business manager for the Diamondbacks’ baseball outreach and development division. “We make sure everything is first class.”
Fey “earned” his rookie card last year and was named a Most Valuable Player by coach Dan Carlson.
“It was great,” said Fey with an appreciative sigh. “I feel humbled because there were only awards given to a 12-member team.”
This year, Fey felt like a season vet. “There’s not that star struck feeling you have the first year. You feel more comfortable talking to the pros and asking for their advice or just talking baseball.”
This year’s highlight came on day five, when the campers played against the major leaguers. It was serious play for both teams.
“Pitching-wise, the pros aren’t as kind to you as they are during the first half of the week,” Fey said with a chuckle. “They’ll throw a low fastball about 70 mph, an unhittable curve ball, and then give you a good pitch you have a chance at hitting.”
Fey recalled facing pitcher Greg Swindell during the big game. The count was 2-2.
“My hit went up the middle and I thought, wow, I’m gonna get a hit. Then Junior Spivey came out of nowhere, backhanded the ball and roped it over to first base. It beat me by a step,” Fey said.
Now that fantasy camp is over, Fey is still keeping busy. He’s planning for year three.