Fantasy camp highlight of first week

Jim Lane will provide a weekly diary update from Florida into Spring Training

BRADENTON, Fla. — Greetings from Florida. We arrived Monday and spent most of the first week settling into our new condo and catching up with some old friends.

The annual ride on the Amtrak Auto Train was one of the better ones. We departed Lorton, Va. on time and the 16-hour overnight journey to Sanford, Fla. had no delays.

Either at dinner or breakfast, you spend time meeting and talking with other folks heading to Florida on vacation or for the winter. We met a couple from New Enterprise on our coach — small world.

If you’re interested — or even if you’re not — here’s the makeup of our latest auto train trip: 855 miles from Lorton to Sanford; 324 passengers, 194 vehicles, 39 railroad cars — 15 passenger cars, 24 vehicle cars.

Once you arrive in Florida, it’s about a two-hour automobile ride from Sanford to Bradenton and driving I-4 is not my favorite thing to do. Traffic! Traffic! Traffic! However, we survived and are here — looking for some fun and sun, and spring training baseball in a couple of weeks.

The Pirates’ annual Fantasy Camp was held this week and we watched a little of the action. It’s tough to call it baseball since the camp is for 60- and 70-year-olds who played ball back in their day. The cost is between $4,000 and $5,000 for a week of fun and camaraderie that includes some instruction and coaching from former Pirate players.

Campers receive a couple of Pirate uniforms with their names on the back, which makes them feel like big leaguers, I guess. There’s also a lot of laughs, beer and liniment. And, hopefully, not many pulled hamstrings.

Games and practices are held at both Pirate City and LeCom (formerly McKechnie) Field. Among the ex-Bucco players on hand for the camp were Al Oliver, Jack Wilson, John Candelaria, Tom Prince, R.J. Reynolds, Steve Blass, Kent Tekulve, Grant Jackson and Doug Drabek.

We expect to see lots of Altoonans and former Altoonans here over the next several weeks. The Cambergs, Jack and Joan, are here. So is Betty Wilkinson. We met up with cousin Tom Lane and wife Andrea, Florida residents, and had a nice evening with former Altoonans Bob and Judy Johnston, who live in Charlotte and are vacationing here.

Bob was a pitcher in the Pirate system at one time and also was on basketball coaching staffs at Keith Junior High and Bishop Guilfoyle. We also bumped into Altoonans Chuck and Melody McLaughlin and Patty Love.

South Philly, Bella Mia and Anna Maria Oyster Bar were among the restaurant stops this week.

Until the next time …

Lane, a retired sports editor of the Mirror, writes from Florida in the winter.