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John Howard does double duty at Padres Fantasy Camp

CBS 8's John Howard attends Fantasy Camp as a reporter and a camper, and has the time of his life

PEORIA, Ariz. — From the minute you arrive to camp, you're encouraged to do one thing.

"Just take it easy," Mark Grant says. "There's no scouts with contracts in their pockets out there who are gonna sign you out of this camp."

The camp is made up of about 70 Padres fans; one woman, the rest are men. Ages range from 25-years-old to 70-years-old. The coaching staff is made up former Padres players. 

Roaming around with a camera, I found the former Padres as entertaining as they were talented back in the day.  

I ask Heath Bell about a glove the size of a large salad bowl he's wearing. "Well, this is why I never made an error in the major leagues," Bell said.

Mark Loretta tells me that as a rookie in camp I am to be seen and not heard.  But fat chance of considering I am here as a television reporter.

Feeding a pitching machine to his own team, Trevor Hoffman quips that he feels bad striking out a member of his own team. "Yeah, it wasn't very pretty," Hoffman said. "I hate doing that. But that high cheese you know, the upper upper part of the zone is available."

Heath Bell has shoes on with the word "taco" on the sides.  

I asked if he once went by the nickname "Taco." Bell says he did at Santa Ana Colege. I then asked if any one ever called him "Tinker Bell." 

"Not who is still alive," Bell jokes.

Padres television commentator Mark Grant was considered the big picture of my visit.  "So let me get this straight. For the TV reporter who has been criticizing all these athletes all these years... Now it's your turn. Oh, this is going to be interesting," Grant said.

Unfortunately, there wouldn't be much for the coaches to critique as I injured my knee on the very first swing in the batting cages.  I was diagnosed with a strained ACL and MCL. Grade Two strain, I might add.  

I came to Camp thinking it was a bunch of middle aged men grasping for one last shot at the glory days of their youth. What I experienced was a unique camaraderie and the building of relationships that will last long beyond the five-day camp.

Frank Chavez who is attending his third Padres campsays the best part is the friendships he forges while at camp. "You come to camp, just a single guy, just like your first day at school, and you leave with 35, 40, now 60 brothers.  And one sister. Don't forget Jessie." Chavez referring to Jessie Bekkedahl, the camp's lone woman.

Steven Woods of "The Ben and Woods Show" on the 93.7, the Padres flagship radio station agrees.

"There's a very shared love and passion for this great game that everybody here shares, and we're all little kids again for a moment," Woods said.

Padres Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman put it this way, "It doesn't matter if you're a Joe or if you're a pro. When you get to put a uniform on, you take full advantage of it. And that's kind of what's going on here in Peoria right now," Hoffman said.

"You see the joy on everybody's faces?," camp organizer Tom Seidler asked. "I mean, they're a big leaguer. They're living the life of a big leaguer. So it's a dream for them for a week, and again it continues because these guys become friends for life."

I left camp with memories that will last a lifetime, highlighted by being on the team that won the 2023 Padres fantasy camp championship.

WATCH RELATED: San Diego Padres pack up gear and head to Spring Training in AZ (Feb. 2023).


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