It’s a great, self-deprecating line from Berger’s second book, Big League Dream: The Sweet Taste of Life in the Majors (Mountain Arbor Press; paperback; $16.99; 262 pages). Berger is president/CEO of MedjetAssist, a global air medical transport. But at least once a year, he puts on a uniform and competes in baseball fantasy camps for a week.
Berger recounts the friendships he made with former major-leaguers during the camps in an engaging, entertaining style. Reading Berger is like sitting in a sports bar swapping stories with a friend, except the friend has the better tales to tell.
Berger, now 65, attended his first fantasy camp in 2010 and met his baseball idol, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski. What began as the realization of a dream became an obsession, as Berger was hooked. He’s right: There is something alluring about trying to recapture your youth, particularly if you love baseball. That was captured in Berger’s first book, 2014’s The Most Wonderful Week of the Year.
Big League Dream takes a baseball fan back in time, as Berger is an eager and willing listener as former baseball players. tell their stories. Many are not big stars, but they are interesting nonetheless. In addition to Bell, Berger devotes chapters to Jake Gibbs, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Fritz Peterson, Maury Wills, Ron Swoboda, Mike LaValliere, Steve Lyons, Kent Tekulve and others. There’s Bucky Dent, who wrote the foreword (in a whimsical touch, Berger calls it the “Pregame”); Jon Warden, who went 4-1 for Detroit in the Tigers’ World Series championship season of 1968; Chris Chambliss, remembered for his walk-off homer in the 1976 ALCS; and Kansas City teammates John Mayberry and Dennis Leonard. Hockey announcer Mike “Doc” Emrick also is profiled, and Berger devotes a chapter to women who have competed in fantasy baseball camps.
Finally, Berger expresses the joy of having his two sons attend the same camp he was participating in. There’s a funny line from Chambliss, too. Berger was on third and the bases were loaded, and as a third base coach, Chambliss was giving the usual instructions to the runner. And then ... “I’m not sure if you realize it or not, but the bases are loaded with Bergers,” Chambliss said, noting that Berger’s sons were the other runners on the bases.
Berger has a knack for telling a good story, and he gives the reader a nice behind-the-scenes look. The only criticism is some of the players' names are misspelled, like Dal Maxvill (spelled as Maxville), Tom Lasorda (spelled as LaSorda), Denny McLain (spelled as McClain), Carl Sawatski (spelled as Swatski), and even Caitlyn Jenner (spelled as Caitlin; no, Jenner was not in a camp, but Berger was trying to make a pop culture reference).
Berger said that the mistakes have been caught and will be fixed for the second printing of the book.
The mistakes do not detract from the overall theme and feel of the book. The cover shows Berger at the pinnacle of his camp experience — getting a bear hug from Dent after driving home the winning run in a 2014 fantasy game at Tampa’s Steinbrenner complex. Berger estimated that he had spent approximately $35,000 — his costs since beginning to play in fantasy camps — before realizing the thrill of a walk-off hit at age 62. It may not have had the drama Berger’s idol, Mazeroski, generated when he ended the 1960 World Series with a walk-off homer. But on that day in Tampa, Florida, a fantasy camper realized his ultimate dream.
“Sometimes they might come at a price, but dreams, even old, dated, forgotten-about, and parched ones, can come true,” Berger writes. “I had my ‘Big League Dream.’ Best money I ever spent.”