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Game Plan: Playing Ball at Shea Stadium

Carol Sottili

Adults can go to all kinds of camps these days: space camps, rock-n-roll camps, golf camps, etc. But, after watching my husband and his campers play ball on the field at Shea Stadium this week, I have a difficult time believing that any could rival Mets Fantasy Baseball Camp experience.

First a little history: Back in January, about 240 men, and a few women, ages 30 to 75+ traveled down to Port St. Lucie, Fla., to play ball. They were outfitted in official uniforms and coached by such Mets legends as Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda. For five days, they played baseball until they dropped (and some got so creaky, they did just that).
But the best was yet to come, when earlier this week, they gathered in Queens, N.Y., for the final installment of the camp experience.

Bud Sottili prepares to play at Shea Stadium, gets his name in lights and has a ball signed by Mets legend Ron Swoboda.

First, they attended a real game in Shea Stadium between the Mets and the Dodgers (Mets won handily). The fantasy campers were taken onto the field just before the game began and each was introduced by name via jumbotron. But the icing on the camp cake came over the next two days, when the campers were allowed to play ball on the field at Shea Stadium.

On Tuesday, when Bud's team -- the McGilkey Cuttys -- was scheduled to play, he and his teammates got there at 9 a.m. for batting practice, and by noon, the family fans had arrived and the game was ready to start. Watching the guys on the field was like watching kids in a free candy store in the middle of Disney World while Santa handed out presents.

An emailed quote from camper Harmon Skurnik, who, in real life, is a wine importer:
"For me, the most poignant moment came when I shook Ron Swoboda's hand in front of the Mets dugout. You see, I was an 11-year-old freckle-faced kid on October 15, 1969 when my dad brought me to Game 4 of the 'Amazin Mets' Series against heavily favored Baltimore. Young Tom Seaver pitched 10 amazing innings against 20 game winner Mike Cuellar - and in the 9th inning, with runners on 1st and 3rd, I watched with amazement as Swoboda swooped out of nowhere in RF to snare a sinking line drive with full body extension, just inches from the ground. The catch saved the game, and perhaps the series.......Swoboda had 3 hits that day too, which not too many people remember. Anyway, to shake his hand on that very field, which will be disassembled brick by brick at the end of this season, was an unbelievable experience. And, of course, to get a base hit up the middle in my only at-bat, well, that was the icing on the cake."

Another quote from camper Charlie Guigno:
"Sunday and Tuesday were two of the most memorable days in my very short baseball career. To stand and play on a field where so many legends and near legends have performed was truly the rush of a lifetime. This experience and the fantastic week we had at camp is something I will never grow tired of talking about, much to the dismay of my family and friends."

And from Bud: "It was very cool."

For baseball fans that follow other teams, many, including the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees, offer similar fantasy camp experiences. The price isn't cheap -- cost is upwards of $4,000 -- but as a very special vacation for the true fan, it's worth every penny.
Quick travel tip: If you're going to Shea for its final season this year, the Holiday Inn LaGuardia Airport is a good value within easy walking distance of the stadium and just a train ride away from Manhattan.

By Carol Sottili |  June 6, 2008; 6:10 AM ET  | Category:  Carol Sottili
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