I am now less than two weeks from my excursion into "Baseball Heaven," so I decided to give you an update on my progress. I've been trying my best to stick to a regular stretching plan. They sent us a set of stretches to do, and while I haven't done them everyday, I think I've done a pretty good job of getting a least one set of stretching in most days. As you know, my biggest fear about this trip is pulling something the first day and being incapacitated the rest of the week. I'm doing what I can to avoid that.
Unfortunately, the weather has made throwing regularly a tough task. I've had a couple of chances to throw the ball around with my neighbors, but I haven't done anywhere near enough throwing at this point. Pops has kindly offered to throw with me, but our schedules and the weather have not cooperated yet. Hopefully this week I'll have more success since the weather is supposed to warm up a tad.
The highlight so far has definitely been the opportunity to take batting practice in the cages at Great American Ball Park. Two Saturdays ago we were given a tour of the clubhouse and training areas and then had about a 30-minute session in the cages. The tour was pretty much what you would expect - lockers, film room, weight-room, etc. We did get to hear an interesting take on the couch saga from a couple of seasons ago. Believe it or not, Daugherty came off as an idiot in the tale. I tried to take some pictures, but I guess there was a smudge on the lens because only these two were any good:
Batting Cages at GABP, where I did no damage.
Reds lockers - Ryan Freel still had a locker
As for batting practice, I pretty much sucked. It was the first time I had tried to hit with onlookers and I was self-concious, which left me very distracted. I swung and missed so much I was like a right-handed Adam Dunn, without all of the walks and home runs. As you might expect, I was incredibly bummed by my performance.
Luckily, I have a neighbor who plays in a 30-and-over league and who is also a coach for Sycamore schools with access to their batting cage. The next day he took me over to the cage and worked with me on my swing. Within the first couple of swings he pointed out that I was dropping my hands right at the start of my swing. Once I stopped doing that, I started hitting the ball again - even the high ones that were kicking my ass the day before.
The additional work in the cage with my neighbor helped dramatically, and this past weekend we had another batting session at GABP. This time I performed much closer to my expectations. I'm still a little pull-heavy, but when I relax and go with the pitch, I can hit it fairly sharply. I'm not going to be a power hitter, but as long as I'm making regular contact, I'll be happy.
During the cage sessions I got to meet some of the regulars who have been to several Fantasy Camps over the years. So far, everybody has been great to chat with and I'm looking forward to the trip even more now that when I first received it. It's great to hear stories from past participants, but I'm looking forward to having some stories of my own.
I also have to say that I am incredibly impressed with the Reds Baseball Operations staff that is organizing the whole camp. This is the first year that the Reds have actually put the camp on themselves (in the past it was outsourced), and it's being put on by someone who is fairly new to the Reds organization herself. Stephanie Ben is in charge of the whole event, and I can't say enough about how great she has been with answering questions and giving updates. She has really been on the ball with everything, which I imagine is tough given that this is the largest group they've ever had for the week. They are expecting 112 participants this year, which is well over the normal 96 person capacity for the event, so she's definitely got her hands full. I tip my hat to the work she has done so far.
All in all, this has been a wonderful experience so far - and I haven't even gotten to Florida yet! I can't thank my wife enough for this trip and I've already started to negotiate with her on how I can fit a trip to the 2010 camp into our budget. I guess I should at least wait and see how the actual camp goes first, huh?