FENNIMORE — The young and young at heart rubbed elbows with several former major leaguers during a Rob Deer Baseball Camp in Fennimore July 28–30.
Deer, a former Milwaukee slugger, was joined by former Brewers Cecil Cooper, Jim Gantner, Pete Ladd, Jeff D’Amico and Steve Woodard, as well as former Chicago Cub Jon Lieber.
Deer’s visit to Fennimore last week was his third. He held a one-day baseball camp last July and returned for a one-day hitting camp in May. Nearly 140 students attended last week’s camp.
“We were originally hoping for 100 campers,” said Steve Lendosky, who formed a friendship with Deer after attending Brewers Fantasy Camp in 2014. “My big thing was when we did this last year we were hoping for 125 and we had 275 kids.
“I felt bad because I know there were some kids that thought it would be really cool to have that personal attention from a pro. There is no way Rob could spread himself among 275 kids. Even though it was free, I just felt bad we weren’t able to give that attention. When we did this project, I talked about wanting to provide the quality where every single kid would get attention from players.”
Cooper, Gantner, Ladd, D’Amico, Woodard and Lieber served as coaches during the three-day camp. Joining them were volunteer coaches Parker Jackering, Tyler Hunt, Dr. Steve Birkett, Rick Place, Adam Day, Joel Engelhart and Tim Satterthwaite.
“I think they did an amazing job providing that kind of attention to each kid,” said Steve Lendosky. “I know that every single kid, and I watched it, every single kid in the batting instruction got personalized attention from Deer, Gantner and Cooper.
“Where else can you get that kind of instruction? These are guys that had success at the major league level telling the kids how to do it.”
Wes Sprinkel, an 11-year-old from Sussex, was spending time with grandparents nearby and attended the camp. He received autographs from each former major leaguer following Thursday’s morning session as his mother, Jean Benish-Sprinkel, captured the moment on camera.
“They look a little different than I remember,” she said of the stars she grew up watching. “We will be back again next year because Wes had so much fun; at least he told me every night on the phone.”
Feedback given by parents has been unanimously positive.
“Tons of parents came by after their kids were done and shook my hand and said ‘Thanks for bringing this to town,’” said Lendosky. “I might have brought it to town, but it was our coaches that helped. Not only the pros, but our volunteer coaches as well, that took time off of work.
“I never heard a single complaint. Everything that I saw was positive. I learned some stuff. I know the volunteer coaches learned stuff that they didn’t know. All this time I never knew the whole pointing the hand down while you are pitching is that it closes off your shoulder and keeps you centered to where you are throwing. If you leave it open, your whole body opens up. I don’t think anybody walked out of there without learning something.”
The Silent Woman played host to “A Night with the Pros” on Wednesday night. The event included a question-and-answer session with the former major leaguers, as well as an autograph session.
Ben Soman returned to his hometown from Fond du Lac to be part of “A Night with the Pros.”
“I asked off for work right away and made sure I had the day open,” he said. “I actually want to tell Steve to put me down for two tickets for next year, regardless of when it is.”
The son of avid baseball card collector James Soman, Ben is collecting the autograph of each Brewer featured on a 1988 Topps baseball card. He crossed Cecil Cooper off his checklist Wednesday night.
“This is amazing. This is beyond my expectation,” he said. “I was hoping that they would be kind of cool guys. I am just blown away with how friendly they seem. I am already looking forward to next year.”
Steve Lendosky experienced a similar question-and-answer session at Brewers Fantasy Camp.
“The Q and A is obviously my favorite part because I love talking baseball and I love listening to the stories these guys bring,” he said. “The Q and A allowed them to share their experiences with everybody else, so everybody else, maybe for a couple hours, could feel what it was like to be a major leaguer.
“A lot of the stuff they talked about wasn’t in the papers. Nobody ever heard before. Nobody remembers. But these guys, their memory, Pete Ladd talked about 1970-something, that was 40 years ago and he remembered it just like it was yesterday, which is amazing.”
When asked if the Rob Deer Baseball Camp may become an annual event, Cooper was quick to throw his ball cap into the mix for a return visit.
“I heard that 100 times that night and then again Thursday night,” said Lendosky. “I heard that same thing over and over. Every one of these guys made the same comments about the community; What a wonderful community, what wonderful people. Everybody treated them so great.
“I said, ‘You guys are our celebrities.’ We don’t get that a lot around here and when we do we just want to let you know we appreciate that you came here. They had a great time.”
Plans for a 2016 Rob Deer Baseball Camp are already in the works.
“The initial structure is going to look like two, two-day camps,” said Lendosky. “There will be four hours on day one and four hours on day two. That will get the first group out of there. The second camp will be four hours, four hours.
“The way they want to do it is on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before Derek’s tournament again. They think that is a perfect lead-up to the tournament. Monday night they want to do a golf tournament. Tuesday night they want to do a Q and A. Wednesday night they want to do a softball game, a doubleheader, because they think if they are going to bring 10 guys they think there will be two teams of softball players that want to play them. And the final night they want to do a bowling tournament.”
What will Lendosky remember about the 2015 event?
“I think it will be how wonderful our community is,” he said. “How inviting and wonderful our community it is. The fact that those guys are looking into purchase real estate in the area says a lot.”
Reflection from the Pros
What will you remember about the Rob Deer Baseball Camp experience?
Cecil Cooper (Brewers’ first baseman from 1977–87): “It seems like to me this is just a real close-knit community, down-home people, what I remember about Wisconsin. Great people. It is a wonderful cause to be here in the first place, I totally enjoy it.”
Jim Gantner (Brewers’ second baseman from 1976–92): “All the friendly people and just how organized it was, and playing the softball game and how they treated us. They treated us like kings. It is a great fundraiser and a lot of fun golfing, but the people are tremendous. What they did for us and how they treated us, it is amazing.”
Steve Woodard (Brewers’ pitcher from 1997–2000): “It was awesome. These people are absolutely wonderful. It is like a family; people bring you into their homes and make you meals and feed you dinner and make you feel like family. It is an awesome time. I am actually going to stick around a few days. It is an awesome place, an awesome time and everything else.”
Pete Ladd (Brewers’ pitcher from 1982–86): “Why I didn’t move back to Wisconsin when I left Arizona? We had a chance, my wife said it was up to me where we were going to move from Arizona. All my family, where I was born, is in Maine, but we had a such a good time in Wisconsin that was a very close second. I chose Maine, but I am telling you what, when you see a community come out like this, and that is the way it was back in the early ’80s when I lived in Greendale, man, this is what life is all about.”
Michael Keith (Rob Deer Baseball Camps and Clinics partner): “The spirit of the community, the resolve of the Lendoskys, the fact that I just witnessed a small town that I grew up in that had an event that had happened and the event that just happened this past week. They all support one another, they all take care of each other. I didn’t hear one negative thing. All I heard was a bunch of people having fun. I had so many people come up to me thanking me for helping bring this together, and quite honestly, it is the most humbling thing I think I have ever had in my life.
“John Lieber was a last-minute add. I went down to Chicago O’Hare and picked him up and brought him back. After the first night, that was after the softball game, he and I were talking and he goes, ‘I want to make this bigger.’ He said, ‘This is amazing.’ Today at the end of the day I picked him up at the ball field. He got in the car and he shook my hand and he said, ‘Thank you for adding me.’ He said, ‘This was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had.’ That says a lot about a guy like that. He played a lot of years, made a lot of money, and we called him out of the blue to come to unfamiliar territory and his excitement about trying to make this bigger excites me too. That says something about him too.
“I never want to settle for something. Did it exceed, yeah, and I am always looking how to improve it. We already have something in plan, or in place to make it bigger. I got a great idea for next year. I want more guys coming in. There is nothing better than seeing the smiles on people’s faces and the hugs, the handshakes, the love that is going on. I just want to keep making it bigger. This is my one week’s vacation out of the year.”
Rob Deer (Brewers’ outfielder from 1986–90: “The obvious thing is that this whole thing was put on by the Lendoskys and that it was all about Derek. I will remember the kids that were at the camp. Three days of great kids, great parents, great families. Everyone should experience this.”