'Fantasy Camp'

Every year the Pittsburgh faithful celebrate that legendary Game 7 of the 1960 World Series by gathering at the old Forbes Field wall in Oakland. They listen to the original broadcast and cheer anew as Maz wins it for us all over again.

There’s a poetry in baseball that is absent from all other sports. The iambics of certain languorous, sun-bright afternoons at the ballpark, the simple gustatory rhyme of beer and hot dogs suggest art as much as athletics. And let’s not forget the names and their incantatory power when spoken aloud: Roberto Clemente, Omar Moreno, Bobby Bonilla, Bill Mazeroski.

That last in particular—those four wonderful syllables. Maz-er-os-ki! It sounds like a bat swung hard, then “Crack!”—the greatest home run ever hit.

Every year the Pittsburgh faithful celebrate that legendary Game 7 of the 1960 World Series by gathering at the old Forbes Field wall in Oakland. They listen to the original broadcast and cheer anew as Maz wins it for us all over again.
In 2005, the surviving ’60 Buccos gathered in Bradenton, Fla., with a group of lucky fans for what was in every sense a fantasy camp. Local sports chronicler Jim O’Brien was on hand, and Fantasy Camp: Living the Dream With Maz and the ’60 Bucs tells the tale.

While getting the chance to belt a few grounders to your boyhood hero is not an uncommon dream for a baseball fan, shortstop Dick Groat was mystified at the continued adulation. “I can understand fans wanting to go see Mark McGwire play, but for them to want to spend a week with us is spooky. You’d think we were still playing, the way they treat us,” Groat good-humoredly remarked.

O’Brien’s book is filled with photos—both old and new, odd bits of trivia and even pitcher Vernon Law’s recipe for waffles. It’s an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach that makes for easy enjoyment if you’re picking it up for only a few minutes at a stretch.

Unfortunately, for those who attempt a longer sojourn between these particular covers, the book outstays its welcome. Poor organization and O’Brien’s decision to periodically bring things to a grinding halt in order to detail his own personal biography and career as a sportswriter—particularly when these tidbits have absolutely nothing to do with baseball or the titular fantasy camp—derail what would otherwise be a fascinating story. After all, there’s only one seventh-inning stretch to a ballgame, so there is no need to continually interrupt the natural rhythms of the sport—or of the reading experience for that matter.

The book is at its best when O’Brien steps aside and allows the Bucs and their fans to take center stage and to tell their own stories in their own words. It’s a level of intimacy not often found in sports books, providing a window into the heart of the fan and the joys of aging heroes and allowing the reader to witness grown men returned to being boys, if only for a week, simply by kicking up a shared dust in that most excellent diamond.


Fantasy Camp: Living the Dream With Maz and the ’60 Bucs by Jim O’Brien; James P. O’Brien Publishing; $28.95.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment