Today is Sunday, June 25, 2017

Local man lives a dream at fantasy baseball camp

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Greg McMichael, a renowned former Braves pitcher who is one of the principals who oversees the camp, says it's for men of all ages, noting that during the camp in which Butler participated the age spectrum ran from 25 to the oldest at 77 with several enrolled in their 60s.

"The people who come to this camp come because for the most part they have dreamed about being on a Braves team all of their life.

"Some have played baseball in the past either in high school or college but some have never played," McMichael said, explaining the make-up of the amateurs mixing their talents, or lack thereof, with a handful of well known and well respected former Braves.

The camp, which runs Tuesday through Sunday, is as true to life as organizers can possibly make it, Butler said.

It's competitive, physically grueling, and challenging, Butler said, adding that after the first day on the field he was "sore in places that he hadn't been sore in years."

Butler, who played baseball in college at Freed-Hardeman, was a standout at the Fantasy Camp, according to McMichael.

"He was awesome," McMichael said in a telephone interview speaking about Butler's play during the week.

McMichael's evaluation was backed up by Butler managing a .467 batting average and a number of scrambling defensive plays at third base.

So it's said that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame in their life and Butler's came with a base hit into left field off of Braves' legend Tom Glavine.

It's that kind of experience, Butler said, that makes the camp fun and provides memories that will long not be forgotten.

The all-star cast of Atlanta alumni working the camp included Sid Bream, Greg Olson, Pete Smith, Javy Lopez, Brad Clontz, Mike Bilecki, Charlie Leibrandt, Otis Nixon, Marquis Grissom, Zane Smith, Eddie Perez, Marvin Freeman, Dale Murphy and Glavine.

Attention to detail, according to Butler, is a driving force behind the success of the camp from time spent getting to know the pros, to stretching exercises every morning, to actual competition on the field.

The first "I'm really here wake-up call" came on Wednesday morning when campers were escorted to the clubhouse locker room to find their own personalized lockers complete with a name tag, uniforms and baseball bat.

After a hearty buffet breakfast it was time to hit the field and to see at what level the skill of each player measured.

"Here we are taking catching tips from Javy Lopez and Eddie Perez, and pitching tips from Charlie Leibrandt, Marvin Freeman and Brad Clontz," Butler said in what best could be described as a "I had to pinch myself to make sure it was real" type of voice.

Campers were deployed to participate in five position drills (outfield, infield, catching, pitching and hitting) conducted by Braves' legends for the purpose of assessing skills to prepare for the draft of each player to one of six teams. Two legend players were assigned to each team as a manager and pitching coach. At lunch, following the workout, the legends gathered behind closed doors to pick teams, or draft individual players.

Players are divided into six teams and each team plays a schedule of six games.

Once teams are set and players are assigned to position "they can't help but get the competitive juices going," McMichael said.

He explained "they're wearing" Atlanta Brave look-a-like uniforms, playing on a field suited for professionals, and experiencing all the thrills and excitement of a real big league ball player.

"It's the kind of stuff even grown men dream about."

Butler said one of the highlights of the week came from what's known in the camp as Kangaroo Court, a venue where players and even the legends themselves are dragged before a mock court and tried and fined for certain violations that might be considered disrespecting a major league uniform.

According to Butler, fines assessed in good humor by legend Sid Beam ranged from a camper missing a belt loop on a uniform's pair of pants to another "reeking with the smell of Ben Gay."

The mock court was complete with Beam wearing a George Washington-like wig and wearing a Bat Man cape. He was assisted by Bilecki, who served as treasurer, and Olsen, as sergeant-at-arms.

The week ended with an awards presentation in which camp participants were singled out for their special efforts.

McMichael said Butler, who was not only a quality player but also a "great teammate" was cited for his performance during the week and presented an individual team "Hustle Award."

For the camper from Lebanon, a 50 something-year-old, his experience as an Atlanta Brave ended with an all thumbs up.

It's a dream he's lived and a story to tell his grandchildren for years to come.

CEO and Publisher Sam Hatcher may be contacted at

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