Longshaw’s fantasy is reality at Pirates camp

BRIDGEPORT – A book about a baseball fantasy camp inspired a village businessman to give it a try.

Six years later, “it’s been some of the best experiences of my life,” is how Gordie Longshaw explained his six visits to Pirates City in Bradenton, Fla., for fantasy camp.

“I was fascinated with the book,” Longshaw said after reading “Fantasy Camp,” which was written by Kirkwood native Jim O’Brien. “I read about how these guys had been going there for 10 years or more. I decided right then that I wanted to give it a try.”

And, as they say, the rest is history.

“This was my fifth year playing,” Longshaw said. “I’ve been down there six years, but I got hurt my first year and wasn’t on a roster. I stayed, but didn’t play.”

Every year you take part you receive a bat with your name engraved on it. Every fifth year they do a special about you on why you came and stuff like that, according to Longshaw.

“When you’ve been there for 10 years, you get inducted into the wall of fame and have your picture mounted on the clubhouse wall,” he explained. “It’s pretty neat.”

Over the years he has met many friends that he still keeps in touch with from time to time.

“It’s like going to college and belonging to a fraternity,” he likened. “It’s more like a bonding friendship.

“I’ve got a lot of friends from the Pittsburgh area,” he noted. “There was a guy there from Cadiz this year and a guy from St. Clairsville the year before. The guy from St. Clairsville received his fantasy camp package as a gift from his wife.”

Longshaw also said that 60 percent of the campers, who range from the minimum age of 30 to one guy named Sammy who is 76, are repeaters, and that some father and sons also attend.

He said that there are roughly 100 participants for the week-long event, in which players are drafted onto eight teams in two divisions. Two 7-inning games (10 a.m. and 2 p.m.) are played daily, with the championship game being played at McKechnie Field, which serves as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ spring training facility.

“These guys really take it seriously, especially the veterans who are coaching the teams,” he admitted. “They want to win as bad as the players want to.”

He said some of the veterans who routinely include the Ohio Valley’s own Bill Mazeroski, Steve Blass, Dave Cash, Omar Moreno, Rennie Stennett and Manny Sanguillen, all of which were key members of the Pirates during their playing days.

“You also get to play three innings against the veterans,” Longshaw continued. “Two years ago Bob Walk struck me out. This past year I got a hit off of him. That was a big thing for me because they don’t want to give up a hit to a camper.

“There’s an awful lot of pride at stake … on both sides.”

Longshaw explained that the Pirates’ Fantasy Camp has been around for more than 20 years. It was started by the late Nellie Briles, a former major league pitcher.

During his first year, Longshaw said he heard a familiar voice coming from the umpire’s room.

“It was my old high school coach Mike Rose,” he recalled. “He’s an umpire and does all the fantasy camps. He saw me get my first fantasy camp hit and told me, ‘if your dad was still alive, he’d be very proud of you.'”

Another perk for Longshaw is getting to see his long-time friend Mazeroski.

“That makes the week so much special,” he said. “Me and Maz go back a long way.”