You too can play big-league ball -- for a mere $2,295
Boston — No, this is silly, Greg Fendley thought. So the Flagstaff, Ariz., insurance broker canceled the check he had just sent to cover his enrollment in that latest of fads: a week-long ''fantasy camp'' with former major-league baseball players.
As he says, ''What we're paying for this ($2,295) buys a lot of food and shoes for the kids.''
But Mr. Fendley found he was no happier having canceled the check than about writing it in the first place. So, with his wife's encouragement, he ''uncanceled'' and recently showed up at Tempe, Ariz. - along with 59 other grown men - to do what he had long dreamed of: playing baseball in a major-league uniform.
Fendley and the others - among them a Baptist minister from Los Angeles, an importer from Miami, a motorcycle-shop owner from suburban Minneapolis, and a Honolulu automobile dealer - chose a ''Dodgers'' camp operated by Baseball Fantasies Fulfilled of Corte Madera, Calif.
Baseball Fantasies founder Max Shapiro staffed the camp with such ex-Dodger notables as Don Newcombe, John Roseboro, Willie and Tommy Davis, Stan Williams, Ken McMullen, and Willie Crawford. From April 10-17, the former ballplayers tutored the campers in the fine arts of hitting, throwing, fielding, and base running - things that few of the fledgling players had done in earnest since their high school days.
The fantasy-camp concept apparently had the impact of a grand-slam home run. ''We sold out the [Dodger] camp,'' Mr. Shapiro says, ''and everything went as scheduled. Usually, you expect some complaints when you run something like this. You take the best French restaurant in Boston; there's bound to be somebody who isn't happy about something. But there hasn't been one word of complaint.''
Already he has announced a second Dodger camp for early November. For New York Yankee fans, he has scheduled camps June 5-12 and Nov. 13-20 at St. Petersburg, Fla. Mickey Mantle, he says, is all set to appear as a batting instructor for one day. And there's more: A Giants camp is scheduled for November; a St. Louis Cardinals camp is being organized; and, for basketball addicts, there will be a Boston Celtics camp Aug. 21-28 in Atlantic City, N.J. None of the camps are associated with or endorsed by the major league clubs.
Meanwhile, a New York firm, Sports Fantasies, also is advertising a Yankee camp, June 20-26 at Miami Beach, for $2,295.
Sports Fantasies spokesman David Singer says the company intends to market fantasies year-round. Basketball and ice hockey, as well as golf, tennis, and sport fishing - all with nationally known celebrities on hand - will be fair game, he claims, so long as all the participants are over 35.
Because of the risk of injury, however, both operators say it is unlikely they will try football fantasy camps.
The first known baseball fantasy camp was held in January in Scottsdale, Ariz., and featured Chicago Cubs from the 1969 team that made a run for the National League pennant. The 63 enrollees rubbed shoulders with the likes of Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Glenn Beckert, and one player who is still active in the major leagues - pitcher Ferguson Jenkins.
Shapiro, the Baseball Fantasies founder, likes to cite the intangible benefits of the fantasy-camp experience. Not only does it give campers a taste of what it's like to be big-league ballplayers, he says, but some of them also can take the tips they pick up from instructors back to the Little League teams they coach at home.
Campers also get such frills as authentic uniforms of their chosen teams, videotapes of their performances, and personalized baseball cards. The packages usually include round-trip air fare, hotel accommodations, limousine transfers, two meals a day, and free golf and tennis.
His week in Tempe wasn't quite the same as playing in Dodger Stadium, Fendley concedes. For one thing, the town is the spring-training home of the Seattle Mariners, not the Dodgers. He says he also found out: ''I'm not as good as I thought I was.'' But he adds, ''The price . . . to have a lifetime dream come true is really peanuts.''
Shapiro will not discuss what it costs him to operate the camps - least of all what the former players are paid for their services. But ''several agreed to come before they knew they'd be paid,'' he says. However, the business of fulfilling sports fantasies is just as subject to inflation as any other. Already, Shapiro has raised the price for the June Yankee camp to $2,595.