Larry Malcolmson knows his baseball fantasy camps. The 66-year-old Tucson resident, now retired from the medical technology industry, went to his first adult camp in 1991 and has done more than 20 in all.
He hadn’t planned it that way, and certainly didn’t expect to find himself swinging a bat at Camelback Ranch at age 66.
“I went to what I thought as going to be my last one in 2001,” said Malcolmson (pictured at left) in a phone interview from Camelback today. “The youngest guy on our team, he died, leading off first base. When they did the autopsy, he only had one coronary artery — genetically did not have the other three. They were surprised he lived as long as he did.
“By his dying, the guys who were thrown onto that team — from all over — really bonded. We have continued to go back, not because of the fantasy but because we want to see each other once a year. Those 11 guys turned into about 40 guys that became kind of a club and went back every year.”
Malcolmson’s original allegiance was with the Cubs, but having lived for many years in Montecito, he would come down to Los Angeles for about 10 Dodger games a year. When his wife spotted the news about the new Dodgers-White Sox Fantasy Camp at Camelback Ranch, he made immediate plans to attend. So did his longtime campmates.
“We got 10 of the 11 we wanted to have, and the 11th was just right on the fringe — in fact he’s coming to the camp Thursday and Friday as a visitor,” Malcolmson said.
And the result?
“This is a ball,” he said.
Unsolicited, Malcolmson raved about every aspect of the camp, from the food during the day to the accommodations at night, from how the camp organization to the quality of the umpires and live pitching.
“The uniforms, they’re like butter,” he said. “I feel almost like I’m naked, because they’re so comfortable.”
The bonding between friends old and new remains primary for Malcolmson, but he said he has also been bowled over by the connections he and his teammates have made with Dodger legends such as Tommy Lasorda, Ron Cey, Eric Karros, Rick Monday and Steve Yeager.
“They are really going out of their way to know everybody in camp,” Malcolmson said. “They know everybody’s name. At the end of a game yesterday we lost, Ron and Rick told us what we needed to do different than the day before. Never happened in 22 years.”
In the clubhouse, the Dodgers are telling tales that left the campers “belly laughing,” according to Malcolmson. That camaraderie extends to after the sun has gone down. On Tuesday night, a big group had gone out for dinner, Malcolmson said, when Karros came walking by. The campers invited him to join them.
“He spellbound us with stories for three hours,” Malcolmson said, adding that Karros will be rejoining them for dinner Friday. “He took everyone on the team and bought us all ice cream. Guys are taking photos and putting them on Facebook. Where would you meet a guy this great, this cool, this nice, who is also the all-time leader home run leader for the Los Angeles Dodgers?”
What was interesting about talking to Malcolmson is that when asked about his favorite on-field memory this week, he spoke matter-of-factly about a two-run single to left center, before enthusiastically changing his answer.
“A lot of the (good) feeling you get is watching your teammates succeed,” he said. “So some of the highlights are watching these guys pound the ball, watching these guys make great plays in the field. Today, I took a couple of innings off and was just managing the team with Rick and Ron — it was fun watching the guys succeed.
“All I’m doing is yelling at my guys — quit worrying if you made an out. Just start smiling. You’re out in Arizona playing ball. Quit thinking you have to have a 1.000 batting average. Just because you wanted to have a great hit that time and didn’t — that’s why they call it baseball.”
Still, in his mind, the camp has come close to perfection.
“If I sum it up, I wanted new, fresh and first class,” Malcolmson said, “and my expectations are being succeeded.”