By Carolyn Rogers
How did you spend Valentines Day this year? William Albers, MD, of Lynchberg, Va., spent it on a diamond, but not the kind you might think. The orthopaedic surgeon gave himself a gift this year, spending Feb. 10-16 at the Los Angeles Dodgers Fantasy Camp at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.
Joining 75 other "campers," Dr. Albers spent the week playing a whole lot of baseball, hanging out with former professional ball players, and getting the chance to "pretend I was a kid again." The 47-year-old orthopaedist played baseball in high school, but didnt play in college and never tried out for a professional team.
Dr. Albers is a fantasy camp veteran, already having attended a Cleveland Indians and a Detroit Tigers camp. "All three camps were very good, but the Dodgers camp is really first-class, " he says. "They do a wonderful job of making you feel wanted."
The camps instructors included Carl Erskine, Ralph Branca, Don Zimmer, Reggie Smith, and Hall of Famer Duke Snider, to name a few.
"My team manager was one of my favoritesJeff Torborg," Dr. Albers said. "There were a lot of wonderful folks there, and I ended up on a team with a great bunch of guys, which makes the camp fun. And we were fortunate enough to win the championship, which makes the camp really fun."
To take part in the "fantasy," you must be over 30 years of age, but there was quite a wide range of ages among campers.
"Some of the guys were 31 years old, and pretty powerful," Dr. Albers said, "but others were in their 70s and theyre mighty good, too. Its kind of an inspiration to see some of these guys still playing and still enjoying it."
The campers were drafted onto several teamsability is never an issue and most of the week was spent playing in a round robin against the other camper teams. The players also attended several half-day clinics where the pros taught the fundamentals of hitting, catching and pitching.
During the day, campers were photographed and videotaped "in action."
"In the evenings everybody gets together and watches the videoswe laughed at ourselves a lot." Dr. Albers says. "We also sat around in the evenings, just talking to the old pro. Theyd sit and talk until the wee hours if you wanted them to. Hearing their stories about what it was like to play in the majors in all different erasis great. And its a lot of fun to get to know them as people rather than just by reputation."
The "big game"the Pros vs. the Camperswas reality-time.
"Its fun to play against the pros, even if you only get a turn or two at bat, " Dr. Albers says. "The pros really get out there to show their stuff. Jerry Reuss pitched against us, and he can still really fire it. I dont think either of the first two camper teams made a hit," he says, "but its always neat to say you batted against a professional pitcher."
Albers admits to being a little sore by the end of camp, "You have to use your muscles in an entirely different way than youre used to using them."
But he was happy to make it through without any major injuries. "One camper ended up with a dislocated shoulder, and another was hit in the face with a ball and fractured a few facial bones," he said. "But most of us got through it ok."
So whats the price of all this fun? Its a "steal" at $3,995.
Dr. Albers will likely attend another fantasy camp in the future, but says he needs a little time to recuperate first. He highly recommends the camp to his fellow orthopaedic surgeons.
"Its a great break from all the hard work we do all the time," he says. "For anybody whos interested in ball and likes to play, its an absolutely heavenly week."