It's seconds before the final buzzer. The crowd is chanting your name. You're on the court, sweat dripping down your face. You dribble the ball, working your way toward the basket. You see your poker buddy Jim to your left. Up ahead is your next-door neighbor, Bill. Coming up on your right? Michael Jordan. Wait, what? Is this some kind of dream?
Playing ball with the legendary Michael Jordan is a dream for most people. However, for a mere $17,000 or so, you can make it a reality. Basketball not your thing? How about training with the Yankees? Hockey with Wayne Gretzky? Racing with Richard Petty?
Sports fantasy camps are a cross between vacation and training camp. You're paying for the privilege to spend a few days hanging out with your idols -- mingling, meeting-and-greeting, learning more about the game and even playing alongside your hero. The games are informal, and you don't have to be an elite athlete to participate.
Even though they call it "camp," these sports fantasy experiences aren't for kids. Most camps have a minimum age requirement (usually around 30), and some campers are as old as 83. All you need is a love of the game and some physical abilities. Oh, and money. You'll need a lot of money.
As we mentioned, fantasy camp with Michael Jordan costs $17,500 for three days with the basketball legend. Yankees fantasy baseball camp, on the other hand, is a bit cheaper -- $5,500 for a six-day experience. Sports camps vary in length, price and venue. Some include meals and lodging; some don't. Some include airfare; some don't. Some provide face-to-face time with sports celebrities; some provide time with coaches only. It all depends on what kind of sports experience you're looking for.
So what kinds of people attend sports fantasy camps and what's a typical day at fantasy camp like? Let's play ball.
Types of Fantasy Camps
When it comes to sports fantasy camps, you've got options. Some fantasy camps are run by the entire sports franchise or team, and some are run by specific sports personalities. In the latter cases, the personality is usually retired from sports. Managing a fantasy camp is a great way for a retired athlete to "stay in the game" while simultaneously running a financially viable business venture. Most fantasy camps -- depending on what's offered -- range in price from around $1,000 to $5,500. There are also extremely high-end camps that run close to $20,000.
Here's what's out there:
- Baseball: Just about every major league team offers some sort of fantasy camp experience. It might a spring training package, where you mingle with the players and coaches as they prep for the season. Or it might be like Cal Ripken's fantasy camp, where participants receive instruction directly from Ripken himself, as well as work with other major leaguers and coaches.
- Basketball: The most elite of the basketball camp bunch is certainly Michael Jordan's Flight School, with its hefty price tag and Las Vegas location. However, less expensive options exist, where you can meet former NBA and college greats. You can look forward to friendly pick-up games and autograph sessions.
- Football: You might think that a football fantasy camp could be a bit dangerous. You're right. That's why most football fantasy camps stick with flag or touch football games, as they do at the New England Patriots camp. Participants in football camps can expect to learn how to draft a team, run drills and learn strategies.
- Golf: Fantasy golf camps let you feel what it's like to be a PGA player. You'll get your own caddie, the opportunity to play on beautiful greens and your own nameplate on the driving range. For additional fees, you can also play a few rounds with noted golf professionals. As with most fantasy camps, the featured celebrities vary depending on their availability.
- Tennis: If tennis is your thing, sign up for one of many tennis camps available. Most take place at scenic resorts in places like Antigua, Boca Raton and Maui. Many tennis champions -- like Chris Evert or John Newcombe -- offer camps and workshops to help you hone your game.
- Hockey: The most famous hockey fantasy camp is Wayne Gretzky's. With a $10,000 price tag, you're guaranteed time on the ice with the Great One, as well as a selection of his friends and teammates. Other less expensive hockey fantasy camps offer tournaments for mini-Stanley Cups and the chance to play with past and present NHL greats.
- Driving: And by driving, we mean racing. NASCAR is more popular than ever, and people line up for the chance to hit 160 miles per hour (257 kph) on a professional track. You can choose a ride-along with a trained driver or learn how to drive the track yourself. Some fantasy experiences also offer lunch with various racing personalities, like Richard Petty.
So what kind of person attends a sports fantasy camp? Are there any requirements -- like age or even gender?
Typical Fantasy Campers
What kind of person saves up their pennies to attend a sports fantasy camp? A person who is looking for a new experience or is hoping to recapture the athletic success he or she enjoyed in younger days. And some simply want to see what it's like to be a professional athlete. Sports fantasy camps give people the chance to immerse themselves in something they enjoy. After all, how often do you get the opportunity to put down the potato chips, get up off the couch and step right into the game?
The sports fantasy camps we're talking about here are for adults only. Age minimums range from late twenties to mid-thirties for the majority of camps. There's no maximum age, although camps do require participants to complete a medical release. A sports fantasy camp application will ask for your health insurance information, as well as a document of medical clearance from your physician. You'll also sign a waiver saying you won't sue the fantasy camp should you take a spill on the basketball court or get beaned by a foul ball. Typical legal stuff.
And what about your sports skills? Do you have to be an athlete to participate in a sports fantasy camp? Of course not. That's why they're called "fantasy" camps. Sports fantasy camp games are light-hearted and casual, so if your star quarterback glory days are long over, don't worry. The one thing you'll have in common with everyone is that you're all fans of the game.
Sports fantasy camps are more about the schmoozing than the playing. Participants get to hang out with their sports heroes -- players, coaches, trainers -- as well as network among themselves. In fact, friendships forged during fantasy camp may last a long time. Fantasy camp reunions aren't uncommon -- the Yankees hold a one-day formal reunion each year before the Old Timers Game at Yankee Stadium. Reunion ticket fees are usually extra, but most include a pre-game reception where you can catch up with old friends and perhaps some of the staff from your camp experience [source: Yankees].
In case you were wondering, sports fantasy camps aren't for men only. Women are welcome, too. Of course, you'll want to check the details on the particular camp in which you're interested. The Pittsburgh Steelers Fantasy Camp, for example, is men-only [source: Steelers]. Conversely, there are some women-only camps as well, such as a women's soccer fantasy camp featuring Olympic champ Brandi Chastain [source: SportsNet].
Do you really spend quality time with famous athletes at fantasy camp? What kind of swag do you get to bring home? Read on to see what an average day at fantasy camp might be like.
A Day at Sports Fantasy Camp
Let's walk through a day at a typical baseball fantasy camp. Here's what it might be like:
After you arrive and check in at your hotel, you sit through an orientation where the staff let you know what to expect during your stay. Next up is dinner or a cocktail reception, where you meet your fellow campers and perhaps a few major league players. You and the other fantasy campers are separated into teams -- you'll be competing against each other during camp.
In the morning, a shuttle delivers you to the stadium. When you arrive at the clubhouse, you find a personalized jersey and equipment waiting for you in your locker. It fits perfectly. You join your team on the field for warm-up and batting/pitching clinics. You recognize some of the trainers and coaches as retired players from days gone by. You pose for team photos on the field.
Game time! You and your team take to the field and play ball. You can't believe you're pitching fastballs on the same mound as your heroes have for years. After the game -- congratulations, your team wins! -- you return to the hotel to change out of your uniform. Another cocktail reception in the lobby gives you the chance to hobnob with several more major-league players, with photo opportunities aplenty.
The next few days continue in the same vein. On the last day, your fantasy camp team even gets a chance to compete in a friendly game against former pro players. That night, the staff honors you and your fellow campers at a banquet, with trophies and awards.
And then, the next day, your life as a major league ball player is over. You head back to the airport, shoulder sore from pitching, with your team jersey and trophy packed safely away in your suitcase. Later that summer, you'll meet up with your team again at the stadium for a reunion.
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More Great Links
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- Heydari, Farhad. "Fantasy Sports Camps." Travel+Leisure. November 2007. (March 27, 2009) http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/fantasy-sports-camps/
- Hyman, Mark. "For Big-League Dreamers, Big-League Camps." BusinessWeek. Feb. 26, 2001. (March 27, 2009) http://www.businessweek.com/2001/01_09/b3721122.htm
- Pittsburgh Steelers. "2009 Steelers Men's Fantasy Football Camp." Steelers.com. 2009. (March 27, 2009) http://news.steelers.com/article/103818/
- Sweet, David. "Want to play hoops with a legend? It'll cost you." MSNBC. Oct. 17, 2007. (March 27, 2009) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21351178/
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- Yankees Fantasy Camp. "Frequently Asked Questions." New York Yankees. 2009. (March 27, 2009) http://mlb.mlb.com/nyy/fan_forum/fantasycamp_faqs.jsp
- Yankees Fantasy Camp. "Schedule." New York Yankees. 2009. (March 27, 2009) http://newyork.yankees.mlb.com/nyy/fan_forum/fantasycamp_schedule.jsp