There came a point in the career of Phillies player Paul Muller that he'd be "pulling muscles or doing this or doing that," and that's when he became a manager.
Never heard of Paul Muller? Well, he wears a Phillies uniform and still takes batting practice when he likes at the Phillies' Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Fla., hangs out with some of the Phillies Legends, works with the clubhouse staff and trainers, and manages 10 players - for five days each January.
Muller, 61, the owner of two Toyota dealerships in the Philadelphia area, is one of 10 baseball fans who is also a camper with the Phillies - in the General Manager division of Phillies Phantasy Camp. He began visiting as a player a decade ago and has become a manager of one of the 10 camp teams; in fact, he says he came up with the idea of the General Manager division.
He's one of about 130 people, mostly men but including a few women, who come to play, manage, and mingle with Greg Luzinski (who is also a good friend of Muller's), Mitch Williams, John Kruk, and other real former players, now called the Phillies Legends. Another group, called Phillies Phans, are family members who come to cheer them on.
Muller says Phantasy Camp is about camaraderie as much as baseball.
"Some of my good friends I've met down at Phantasy Camp," he explains, "and we see each other during the rest of the year. They're friends with my kids, and we have picnics, and I know their families, and I've gone to their weddings and buried some of their parents.
"And some of the people are there year after year, and I consider them good friends but see them five days a year."
For Muller, becoming a Phillie for five days is a family affair. Now, two of his four sons - Paul, 39, and Mark, 32, play on one of the 10 teams. The youngest player the camp takes is 30 years old, and the oldest has been 84 - a man who pitched three innings.
Camp begins on the evening of arrival with a players' meeting and reception. Then the campers get down to baseball.
Each morning, after a team breakfast, players suit up to practice the fundamentals - hitting, fielding, pitching, and baserunning, all coached by the Phillies Legends. After catered lunches in the clubhouse, the teams fan out each day to the diamonds for a game.
Evenings are more loosely scheduled and include events with the Legends, who are available much of the time to talk baseball.
The Phillies run the camp with ESF Adventure Expeditions, based in Bryn Mawr. "It brings them back to their days of being a kid," executive director Michael Rouse says. "They cherish the game, they really love just coming down and continuing to play."
And, Rouse says, the camp "is one place where people can take off their Timexes and their Rolexes, and become one." In a Phillies uniform, everyone has the same status - and even baseball cards, if they want.
The return rate for the next camp will be 50 percent, says Kurt Funk, the team's director of marketing programs and events.
All playing equipment is provided; campers need only bring their glove and cleats (no metal spikes). They get personal lockers and uniforms (laundered daily).
"They get everything you can imagine a pro gets," Rouse says.
Sometimes, even fans who aren't relatives. Anyone can watch the games - or come to seek autographs from the Legends.
"A lot of fans come out to get autographs," Muller says, "and it cracks me up because then they sit around to watch the games - and that's as close as you ever come to being famous." I
The next Phillies Phantasy Camp will run Jan. 19-23, 2011, at the Phillies' Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Fla. Campers — starting at age 30 — will stay at Marriott Suites on Sand Key in Clearwater Beach. Slots were filling up quickly at press time.
Player package: $4,795.
General Manager package: $3,820.
Phillies Phan package: $1,615.
All prices per person for double occupancy. Airfare not included.