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The thrill of a lifetime


New Durham resident shines at Red Sox Fantasy Camp



SHughBaver
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NEW DURHAM’S HUGH BAVER (in white) poses with former Red Sox pitchers (l to r), Frank Viola, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd and Luis Tiant, as well as longtime Red Sox scout Felix Maldonado at the Red Sox Fantasy Camp in Fort Myers, Fla. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
March 15, 2010
NEW DURHAM — Any sports fan can harken back to where they were when certain events took place. New Englanders surely remember where they were when Carlton Fisk drove that ball off the foul pole in the fateful summer of 1975. Hockey fans remember when Bobby Orr soared through the air with his arms spread wide.

In more recent years, football fans might remember where they were when Adam Vinatieri split the uprights at the Superdome with time ticking away against St. Louis. And of course, any New Englander worth his or her salt remembers exactly where they were on the glorious night of Oct. 27, 2004, the night the moon shone red and history was made on a diamond in St. Louis, with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon inexplicably dancing the night away after Keith Foulke fielded Edgar Renteria's bouncer back to the mound and tossed it to Doug Mientkewicz.

Those are the classic moments that are forever embedded in sports fans' memories, the good times, so to speak.

However, not everyone makes a life-changing decision based on a moment like that.

New Durham resident Hugh Baver did just that. And recently he got to share the story of that moment with the person who made it happen, a certain gap-toothed centerfielder who had a summer and fall to remember back in 1986.

Baver walked on to the Michigan State baseball team as a freshman and helped his team win the Big 10 championship. He enjoyed a brief minor league career following his graduation from college, but it was the summer of 1986 when Dave Henderson changed his life.

Baver was a Red Sox and an Angels fan back in those days, and in 1986, those two teams met in the American League Championship Series. The Sox were down three games to one in that series and Baver was in California, still uncertain where his life was going to take him when he called up a cousin here on the East coast.

"He said, if the Red Sox come back will you consider moving out here," Baver recalls.

And as Sox fans know, it was Henderson who pulled the Sox back from oblivion in game five of that series and eventually led the team to the 4-3 series win that propelled the Sox on to the World Series for the first time in more than 10 years.

"As a result of that bet, I moved out here," Baver said.

Nowadays, Baver lives in New Durham and works out of his home for IBM. However, he remains a sports fanatic and his house, stuffed with sports memorabilia from both his playing days and beyond, is a testament to that. It was that love of sports that led him to the meeting with the man who helped shape his life. But, it all started with another familiar baseball name.

The Red Sox hold a fantasy camp every winter in the spring training site in Fort Myers, Fla. One night, Baver was checking out information on the site and noticed that one of the people that was supposed to be in attendance was former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan, who was the architect of "Morgan Magic" in 1988, a summer of comebacks for the ages by the Sons of Tom Yawkey.

Baver had some good memories of Morgan and seeing his name on the fantasy camp roster brought back those memories.

In 1982, Baver went to Winter Haven, Fla., then the spring training home of the Sox, for a tryout with the Red Sox.

"At that point in my life, all I wanted to do was be a baseball player," Baver recalls. He went to the tryout, where Morgan was one of the people in charge of assessing players.

While Baver didn't make the team, he did have a shirt from the occasion hanging around his house, worn thin from use, and he had a strong desire to have Morgan put his signature on the shirt as a memory of that tryout back in 1982.

So one night, at about 2:30 a.m., Baver clicked on the fantasy camp Web site and went through with it, signing up for a week in the sun with a ton of Red Sox legends.

And while Morgan ended up not being able to attend, that old shirt from 1982 now bears the signature of many, many former Red Sox players. And there's still one choice spot reserved for Morgan.

Fantasy camp

"I realized I had to do something I wanted to do, something I enjoy," Baver said about signing up for the camp. "Needless to say, I'm still on Cloud Nine."

The camp ran from late January into early February and as coincidence would have it, Baver ended up on the team coached by Ralph Truel, who happens to live just a few miles up the road from Baver's New Durham home, in Wolfeboro.

The first day of camp, the players all head out on the fields for "tryouts," where they take ground balls and fly balls, throw some and hit. Then, the managers of the team, all members of the Red Sox coaching family, hold a draft and Baver was chosen by Truel, who had Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd as his assistant coach for the week.

Over the course of the week, the team played nine games and Baver pitched three times. He finished with a 0.69 earned run average, which earned him the coveted Cy Young Award for the camp. The award was presented to Baver by the voice of the Boston Red Sox, Joe Castiglione, at a banquet at the conclusion of the camp.

The only disappointment coming out of the experience was the fact that Baver's team dropped a 2-1 decision in the championship game, as an unearned run crossed the plate to win the game for the other squad.

Baver pitched about 15 innings, struck out 30 and in his first game of the week, threw a one-hitter.

Former Red Sox manager Butch Hobson told Baver that the game was one of the best he'd ever seen in fantasy camp and even offered the New Durham resident a chance to come to Maryland and tryout for his independent league team, the Maryland Blue Crabs.

"For someone my age, I think I made a pretty good impression," Baver said.

During the camp, Baver also made tons of connections, setting up a chance to check out the Red Sox Baseball Academy in the Dominican Republic in March thanks to longtime Red Sox scout Felix Maldonado.

"I just have to brush up on my Spanish," Baver laughed, pointing to a series of cards with Spanish words spread out across the table in his house.

Attendees of the Red Sox Fantasy Camp get to use the same fields and the same facilities that the Major League players use during Spring Training and while Baver and his fellow campers were there, a number of Sox minor league players were there working out.

"It's the same training area and weight room that the professionals use," Baver said. "The same fields, the same training staff. They seem like they really want to have a good time with you."

One of the coaches added to the camp after a last-minute change in staff was Henderson and now, in his office at home, Baver has a business card with the cell phone number of a man who, without knowing it, changed the course of his life.

"This was the thrill of a lifetime," Baver said. "The whole thing about it was to just be immersed in baseball for a week."

In fact, Baver was so immersed in the experience that when he returned home and went to get back to work, he had actually forgotten his IBM log-in password.

However, in its place, he has a plethora of memories to last a lifetime and a fantastic number of connections with players and coaches he has been a fan of for years.

That's not a bad trade.

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