For those of us who are baseball fans stuck in the early spring gloom that is Northeast Pennsylvania in late March, the photos and videos of spring training baseball from the sunny, green ball fields of Florida mean that warm weather and Opening Day is right around the corner.
Corey Camasso owner of Platinum Baseball Cards in White Haven, has made baseball his life. Camasso comes from a family of die-hard Phillies fans, and has grown to know his grandfather, who died when Corey was very young, through the sport and team that he loved.
“I had heard such good things about him and wanted to know him.” said Camasso. “Every picture he had Phillies hat on; he would bring his radio to family events so he could listen to the game.”
Camasso used to hang around Lackawanna County Stadium (now PNC Field) as a kid, filling in as bat boy occasionally, catching foul balls and getting autographs from the then Red Barons. As he grew, so did his passion for the Phillies and his memorabilia collection, which is now the third largest collection in the US.
When one considers Camasso’s bio, it comes as no surprise that he makes an annual trip to Florida this time of year to the Phillies spring training camp in Clearwater, Florida. He and his girlfriend, Sarah Brister just returned to the mountain last week. Although a long time baseball and Phillies fan, it was Sarah’s first trip to Spring Training.
“Everyone I had spoken with always said how great it was. The atmosphere is relaxed, the players are more approachable. It is my annual trek,” remarks Camasso.
He explains there are five fields in the Spectrum field complex, home to Phillies Spring Training and the Clearwater Threshers Single A team, where he and Brister spent most of their time. They often were up early, at the ballfield by 6:30am to catch the players arriving for team meetings and early workouts. The first practices begin around 10am and games typically start at 1pm. At Spectrum, the early bird really does get the worm, as being one of the first in line when the ticket window opens also means scoring a few front row seats –seats normally held by wealthy or celebrity fans.
“The first row is the same price as any other tickets,” explained Camasso. “The Phillies really do take care of their fans. There are few fields where a common person can sit in the front row.”
Camasso emphasizes the atmosphere as something for everyone and rarely crowded. Unlike the regular season, when positions have been assigned and the game becomes a day to day grind of reaching the World Series, the players at Spring Training are relaxed –there to learn from each other and prepare for the season ahead. Players are even instructed to spend so much time per week meeting with fans, taking pictures and signing autographs.
There are also plenty of activities for kids and families and the cost is affordable. Ticket prices are half what one would pay at a major league park, and certain nights of the week offer stadium food and drink at deeply reduced prices. There is a discount store as well, where leftover items from all the team stores in the farm system, as well as Citizen Bank Park, are on sale.
And did he happen to mention the beach?
“Clearwater Beach is one of the top beaches in Florida and it is 5 minutes from the ballpark,” says Camasso who also explains that there is plenty of free or affordable transportation in and around Clearwater. “A lot of people will hang out on the beach for the morning, then catch the games in the afternoon.”
Not only does Camasso go as a fan, but he also goes as a collector. This year he came home with 125 autographed items for his personal collection and his store, which he says will nearly pay for his trip. For Camasso, attending camp is the best way to evaluate what players are going to do, or where they’ll end up during the regular season. From a business standpoint, it is an opportunity to keep an eye on players whose memorabilia may be worth more over the course of their career.
“Spring training is the opportunity to increase my collection, get up close and personal with the players ill be watching. I can get a better business sense to identify which players have the mindset to succeed,” said Camasso.
One of the highlights of the trip was when Camasso had a chance to meet and talk with Roy Halladay. Imagine hanging around, chatting it up with Cy Young Award winner, Roy Halladay. “We talked about his trade, what it was like to play for the Blue Jays, how he felt the season was going to be. It was the best experience. I got the opportunity to ask players questions you only see on ESPN. “
Many times, the teams will field “split squads”, where squads of Phillies players will play a game against each other. Camasso says it is the only time of the year that all of those farm teams are in the same place at the same time. Celebrity players also return as instructors during Spring Training, and this year the likes of Mike Schmidt and John Kruk took the field with first overall draft pick, Mickey Moniak.
“It’s a Collectors dream,” comments Camasso.
While Camasso explained that this year is a rebuilding year for the Phillies, the fact didn’t seem to dampen his excitement for the upcoming season. He was able to see the veterans of lore and the young prospects who will now move through the farm system.
Camasso himself is preparing for his season.