Fantasy camp fun: Swansea rookie ruins Andy Benes' no-hitter

News-DemocratJanuary 26, 2014 

Ron Lassman did something last week no one on his baseball team could do. He got a hit off former Cardinal right-hander Andy Benes.

Ron, 51, of Swansea, was one of about 125 guys taking part in the 14th annual Cardinals Legends Camp at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. The camp gives regular guys a chance to experience what it is like to be a major league ball player.

"Lou Brock was our manager," he said of the game his team played against former major leaguers. "During the game, we were being no-hit by Andy Benes. They sometimes bring the heat. Mr. Brock told our team in the dugout that if we got a hit he would pay out $5. I got lucky. Soon after that encouragement, I got the only hit."

A single between first and second that found its way into right field.

"It was a fastball from Andy," said Ron, a UPS sales rep and father of four. "He definitely was trying to get us out."Ron wonthe 5-day Legends Camp experience in an Anheuser-Busch online contest. He took along his younger brother, Doug, of Kansas City. A spot at the camp usually costs about $5,000 per person.

Friends and neighbors shared in part of the win. They gathered near Ron and wife Debra's home last September when the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales, pulling the iconic beer wagon, came barreling down his street. Former pitcher Danny Cox was aboard to deliver the prize then, and attended the baseball camp.

"We were supposed to go out on Tuesday, but were delayed till Wednesday because the Atlanta airport was shut down," Ron said. "Back here, my kids had five days of no school."

Each morning, he would take a bus from his hotel to Roger Dean Stadium. A buffet breakfast and lunch were part of the deal.

"Excellent food, first class," he said. "We had dinner with Al Hrabosky. I met Danny Cox, who came to our house. Steve Kline and Izzy were there. Every morning, they gave a critique of various themes. It was hilarious."

The amateurs got tips from the pros.

Because of rain one day, Ron played four games the next.

"That was a lot, but there was a hot tub and trainers. They were excellent at keeping us moving and active.

"It was a whirlwind. Every day was different. I had no expectations. I got to spend time with my little brother. We enjoyed the vacation and had a great time together."

How did you prepare? "I tried to be more active the last few months." Hitting was a big challenge. "I was invited to go to Busch Stadium and use the batting cages in December. Having batting practice helped."

Whom did you play ball with? "Guys were from all over. There were five from Iowa, a group from Colorado, a funny guy from Arkansas. Another guy had been there 14 years straight. He was a priest from Missouri in his 60s. Every year he goes. There were guys in their early 30s to about 70. We played with Ozzie and all the Hall of Famers. There were 29 retired players. Bruce Sutter, Whitey, Ozzie, Larry Walker -- he was a cool guy, Andy Benes, Izzy. Those guys have a lot of fun. They're personable. We lockered in the same area."

When was the last time you played baseball? "Junior high, but I've been playing with my four kids. One thing I had to purchase was a glove. That was a challenge. I should have broken it in a little more. I did it by playing catch with my son, a freshman at East.

Did you have a certain position at fantasy camp? "I pitched, and played first, outfield and third."

What was it like to step up to the plate at Roger Dean Stadium? "It was very exciting. They're announcing your name. You're excited to be there. And you're facing a major league pitcher, knowing he's trying to strike you out."

How did you do? "For my age and everything -- there were guys who had played in college and others who had a wide range of experience -- it worked out OK."

Did anyone get hurt? "I was playing right field in one game. This guy went down with a hamstring injury and was not able to play again. Katie Phelps (Channel 5 sports anchor) played. She was the only female. It was kid of neat to meet her. She was very active. She took a pitch to the shoulder and got back up and played."

Any souvenirs? "They gave us a road uniform and a home uniform. I got autographs from Hall of Famers. They were excellent about signing autographs."

For information on the Cardinals fantasy camp, go to cardinals.com/fantasycamp

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