Field of Dreams
August 1 2005 by Michael Gelfand
While it’s common business-speak for top executives to boast that a member of their management team “stepped up to the plate and hit a home run,” few, if any, actually know what it’s really like to crank a major league fastball out of a ballpark. But that might change for some of the 48 middle-age “campers” who sign up to attend the inaugural Baseball Hall of
Fame Fantasy Camp, which will be held in Cooperstown, N.Y., October 5-9.
Instead of dealing with campfire horror stories and the threat of wedgies, the main attraction for these campers will be five days of live pitching and real game situations-in uniform-under the tutelage of bona fide superstars from the past. Campers will be drafted onto one of four teams managed by Hall of Fame counselor-cum-coaches George Brett, Lou Brock, Phil Niekro and Duke Snider, with one game per day played on historic Doubleday Field (the same stadium on which greats like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Henry Aaron appeared during their playing careers).
Each baseball legend, along with a staff of six assistants handpicked from the ranks of former major leaguers, will manage a 12-player roster, providing tips and strategy to players of all skill levels. That was all Bill Habeger, CEO of San-Diego-based insurer B.H. Gold, needed to hear before he signed up. “It should be a lot of fun. There’ll be some real players, and guys like me with occasional signs-very occasional signs-of the past,” he says. “For a 61-year-old guy, I’m still pretty good. I can run and catch, and I’ll hit it if they throw about 60 mph.” Whether he “goes yard” depends, of course, on how much dance is left in hurler Phil
Niekro’s vintage knuckleball.
The nature of the camp inherently dictates that most attendees will be hardball aficionados in their 40s and 50s, some of whom can still play somewhat competitively and others who haven’t in years. But that’s not what it’s all about, says Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey. “It’s all about putting on a uniform, doing a little hitting and fielding, and playing the best you can for a couple days. There won’t be any superstars out there.”
Unlike typical jock fantasy camps where it’s “all sports all the time,” attendees will have plenty of opportunities to socialize with the baseball greats off the field. For starters, campers and counselors will reside at the luxurious Otesaga Resort Hotel, where they’ll enjoy gourmet meals and daily rounds of world-class golf on Leatherstocking Golf Course.
There will also be a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and a private candlelight dinner in the Hall of Fame Gallery before everyone sits down to watch baseball’s televised postseason games in the company of the immortals. “It’s a chance to reward a great employee, someone who’s valuable on your team, or to come with another CEO, or an important business partner,” says Petroskey. “It could be a way to bring a valued client, someone who’s important to your business, but it’s ultimately just a cool thing to do and a great way to get away from the stress of work and become a little kid again.” (Spouses are welcome and can share rooms and services for an extra fee.)
According to Petroskey, the legendary players are CEOs in their own right because they made it to the top of their field, and hearing them talk about it might influence the perspective of real CEOs. “They were successful as players, so it’s interesting to hear their stories and the challenges they overcame. And you never know-you could develop a relationship with a player who might end up being a spokesperson for your company.”
Enrollment, which includes ground transportation to and from Albany or Syracuse International Airports, costs $7,995 (register online at baseballhalloffame.org or via phone at 607-547-0327). All proceeds benefit the Hall of Fame’s nonprofit educational programs, which teach more than 20 million school children a year through on-site and distance learning-yet another good reason to swing for the fences.