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A day at baseball fantasy camp

May 12, 2011
By Andy Heller , Daily Press

FLINT - Sure, to the untrained eye it may have looked as if I was merely foul tipping meatball pitch after meatball pitch into the batting practice net at Comerica Park.

"You want me to slow it down for ya, buddy?" said Dave Rozema, who was throwing said meatballs to me from behind a screen 50 feet away.

OK, to the trained eye, too.

Article Photos

Andy Heller

But, see, when I took fantasy camp batting practice off Rozema last weekend while the Detroit Tigers were in Toronto, I was merely being considerate and respectful.

Rozema, after all, was one of my favorite baseball players on my favorite Tigers team the '84 squad that won the World Series. So when I read about the chance to take a little BP off him, I leapt at the chance.

But, c'mon, it's not like I was going to show up the guy or anything by drilling ball after ball into the left field stands. One does not do that to one's idols.

So I, uh, pretended to whiff on a few. You know, just to spare the guy's feelings. Although, in retrospect, I may have spared them a little too much.

"You play softball, don't ya," Rozema said with a grin after I swung at a 50 mph "fastball" that had already hit the net behind me. "Don't worry, we'll find the speed."

That "speed" turned out to be "lob." And the lobs I was able to hit - some hard, some not so hard, some dribblers. A few might even have been base hits in a Major League game, assuming the fielders were all blind or asleep.

"Alright!" Rozema hollered after I drilled a sharp liner to center, which I took to mean, "I'm telling the Tigers about you, buddy! You're gonna be the first 49-year-old, out of shape softball player to ever make the big leagues!"

In truth, he was probably thinking, "Good, the schlub finally hit one. Now I can get him out of there. Next!"

But he didn't say so, which I appreciate. He's far too nice a guy to do that.

He's also in amazing shape. Rozema is 54 - five years older than me - but looks five years younger. And his arm, I'm pretty certain, is about 30-35 years younger than me, judging from some of the fastballs he threw at the more accomplished hitters. Rozema, at most, threw 70 mph, and didn't seem to be straining. The guy never got tired either.

In our session, he pitched three straight hours of BP - without a break - then hung around afterward signing baseballs and shaking hands until every last one of those people went home smiling.

And ours was his second fantasy session of the day. He finished the morning's session just before he pitched to us, which is so incredible I did a little ciphering. Let's see, 50 campers in the morning at roughly 20 pitches apiece is 1,000 pitches, plus an equal number in the morning, plus an equal number the night before. So in total, he threw about 3,000 pitches in a span of 18 hours.

"Isn't your arm about to fall off?" I asked him.

"Nah," he said. "Feels great."

He then flexed and shook my hand, to which, all I can say is, "Ow." The guy has a grip like a python. But I expected that. Anyone who pitches for a living develops hand and forearms as strong and tough as tree roots.

And Rozema, in case you're too young to remember, was a darned good pitcher, even better than I remembered. When I looked up his numbers, I was surprised to learn that his career earned run average after 10 seasons was 3.47, which, to show you how good that is, is better than all but 10 starting pitchers in the American League last season.

Most people, however, remember his career for the moment he'd most like to forget - the infamous 1982 karate kick, which Rozema aimed at a Twins player during a bench-clearing brawl. He ended up tearing eight ligaments in his knee, which is remarkable because I didn't know the body had that many total. Rozema was never the same after that, although he did win seven games in the Tigers magical '84 season.

I'm sure he looks back on that kick and wonders what might have been, but he doesn't show it. He even joked about it before batting practice, which we fantasy campers appreciated.

So much so that some of us, you know, took it easy on the poor guy.

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EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at aheller@flintjournal.com.

 
 

 

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