I guess it all started when my dad started taking me to baseball games at Shibe Park when I was about 5 years old. Growing up, I played baseball on neighborhood lots like most kids since this was before the days of Little League.
I don’t remember why, but for some reason, I wanted to be a catcher. Maybe it was because the catcher on the team was the only player who could see the whole field and was in charge, sort of like a quarterback in football. We played every day after school, except when taking Hebrew lessons, and all summer. Baseball had become a major part of my life.
As I grew older, I played varsity baseball at Overbrook High School and organized sandlot baseball in the Belmont League every week during the summer and fall until I got drafted into the army in 1953. Overseas, I played fast-pitch softball in Japan, and after coming home, I continued to play on various softball teams. Although I still went to many Phillies games, I became very busy in my investment business and with many charitable organizations and couldn’t play as much as I wanted.
Then, in the summer of 1985, a life-changing event took place. My wife, Bunny, and I were at a Phillies game at Veterans Stadium, and before the game, a group of about 90 men in Phillies uniforms came out on to the field and lined up along the first and third base lines. These were the players from the 1985 Phillies Dream Week, which had taken place the previous January at the Phillies spring training camp in Clearwater, Fla.
As their names were announced, each player stepped forward and took off his cap, just like they do at the beginning of the World Series. Some guys were bald, some had gray hair and some had big bellies. I turned to Bunny and said, “I’ve got to do this, too.”
I signed up and went into my own training program.I did hundreds of deep knee bends, threw baseballs into an old baby mattress I’d set up against a wall in my basement to get my arm in shape and probably swung my bat at least 1,000 times to toughen up my hands.
When I reported at the Carpenter Complex in January 1986, I was ready for my first of five Dream Weeks (now called Phillies Phantasy Camp; www.philliescamps.com). This began what was probably the most fun thing I’ve every done in my life and after 35 years away, I was making my comeback as a baseball player.
My first day on the field in January 1986, Tony Taylor asked me to have a warmup catch with him. Former Phillies players who were our coaches and managers came up to me to say hello. I couldn’t believe that this was really happening to me. After stretching and warming up, we “dreamers” were put on the four practice fields at Carpenter Complex and scouted while we played games.
In my first at bat, I hit a line drive single to left center, and Chris Wheeler, who was coaching at third base, asked me to turn around so he could see the name and number on my uniform. After the practice game, the coaches went into a private room and held a draft to pick their teams. I was a first-round pick (all the catchers were) and my manager was Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning, and “Wheels” was my third base coach.
During my first Dream Week, I got pretty banged up while catching every inning of every game. Bunning called me his Iron Man, and umpires noted that I was the only catcher whose arm was good enough to throw the ball low and hard to second base each inning. After a fabulous week of baseball, having beers and hearing inside stories with John Vukovich after games, going to dinner very night with former players like Larry Bowa, Dave Cash, Chris Short, Greg “The Bull” Luzinski, Richie Hebner, Bobby Wine and others, this dream fulfilled came to an end.
When we flew home to Philly, my wife was there to meet me as I got off the plane. I was black and blue from my knees to my groin from blocking pitches in the dirt and was limping. I tore a muscle in my right forearm and my arm was yellow from internal bleeding. I lost the nail on my right big toe after running into a fence while trying to catch a ball; my nose was cut and bruised and I had a temperature of 102 degrees.
When she saw me, she said, “My God, what happened to you?” I told her that I’d just had the greatest week of my life and couldn’t wait to do it again next year. My friend, Alan Molod, thought I was crazy, and said, “You paid money to do this?”
I went back four more years and the fun continued. Besides all the playing, one day Luzinski invited me to play golf with Del Unser and him, and when I told Greg that I didn’t bring any golf clubs, Wheeler overheard the conversation and lent me his.
After seeing how much fun I was having, the pros allowed me to be the only Dream Weeker to join their workouts and catch batting practice for them. At a game against the New York Mets, their coach and now the manager of the Pirates, Clint Hurdle, came up to me after the game and said, “I wish my guys had your heart.”
A Cincinnati coach said I was the best catcher he saw in Dream Week. I smiled from ear to ear.
My roommate during these years was a fellow financial adviser in my office and one of my favorite friends, John Solis-Cohen, now managing director/ investment officer, Solis-Cohen Financial Strategies Group of Wells Fargo Advisors in Jenkintown. To this day, we still laugh about all the fun we had and I always remind him that I was a first-round draft choice and he usually was third or fourth round. I also love to remind him about how lousy his throws from center field to home plate were, usually bouncing about five times.
After my fifth year, the 1991 Phillies Yearbook came out with a big story about Dream Week and said that I was the most valuable player on our team, catching every inning, including three doubleheaders at age 57, and picking a runner off at first base. Reading this, I immediately retired, going out right at the top.
Now, I’ve gone to spring training for the past 21 years and just watch practice and games and go to great restaurants, starting every morning at Lenny’s, the best breakfast place and the favorite of the Phillies. I don’t have to soak in the hot tub twice a day, take painkillers or put ice bags on my knees, lower back or arms or legs. I meet my son, Chuck, there who I started taking to Phillies games at age 5, just like my dad did with me.
Chuck is carrying on the baseball tradition in our family to an even higher level. Besides being a nationally recognized folk singer, he is considered one of the leading baseball songwriters in America. He has 14 songs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and has sung there three times. (Who’da thunk that Chuck would be in the Hall of Fame before me?)
Having recently returned from my personal scouting trip to Clearwater, I’m already counting the days until 2013 spring training.
And, of course: Go, Phillies!
Frank Brodsky is senior vice president-investments for Gitter-Kanteliotis-Brodsky Investment Group of Wells Fargo Advisors in Center City. He is also a Phillie Phorever.