Dick Leinenkugel stepped into the batter’s box Tuesday and took a few big swings. One ball jumped off the bat, and Leinenkugel joked that it would have been headed for the left-field corner. Another ball slammed into the ground, and Leinenkugel remarked it was headed for third base but that he would have beaten out a throw.
Leinenkugel, the president of Leinenkugel Brewing Co., is headed to the Minnesota Twins Baseball Fantasy Camp in Fort Myers, Fla., which begins Saturday and runs through Jan. 14. Over the course of the week, he’ll play eight to 12 games on an official-sized baseball field.
“I’ve thought about it for a couple of years,” he said. “I was playing in little league when the Twins went to the World Series in 1965. Me and (older brother) Jake would have little league Wiffle ball lineups.”
However, Leinenkugel just turned 60 in October, and attending the fantasy camp (which costs $4,595) is his birthday present to himself. He’s in good shape — he plays golf regularly and works out at the Chippewa Valley Family YMCA four times a week, hitting weights and machines. While Leinenkugel is a lifelong baseball fan, and particularly a Minnesota Twins fan, he hasn’t played baseball since he was 12.
So Leinenkugel called up Momentum Baseball Academy, 3528 Spooner Ave., Altoona, for help preparing himself for the fantasy camp.
“My worst fear was to get down there and on day one get injured,” Leinenkugel said. “My arm would be sore, or I’d tear a muscle. I wanted to get in good baseball shape. This is a whole different set of muscles. The hand-eye coordination is different than golf.”
Leinenkugel signed up for 12 lessons, which he started in early December. Momentum Baseball Academy trainer Brad O’Connell admits he did a double-take when he heard a voicemail from Leinenkugel, asking about getting in baseball shape.
“I admire what Dick is doing — he wanted to do something fun, but he had to get himself physically prepared,” O’Connell said. “We work with all ages and skill levels, including girls softball.”
O’Connell said his workout regimen isn’t really different from any other client’s. He and Leinenkugel begin their workouts by tossing the ball around; then Leinenkugel takes a few swings off the tee. O’Connell tossed several pitches from about 20 feet and then backed up to 45 feet, allowing Leinenkugel to get ready for moving pitches.
“I’m giving him pointers and tips,” O’Connell said. “The first thing we worked on was making sure he was comfortable in the batter’s box. We backed him off the plate, giving him more room. It was about getting him more reps and getting him to hit moving baseballs. And we’ve increased the level of intensity.”
Dick’s wife, Jean Leinenkugel, said her husband has mentioned wanting to do the camp for at least the past five years. She knows he’s been a Twins fan his whole life. She wasn’t worried about him injuring himself.
“I think it’s marvelous,” she said. “I’m really thrilled for him. He’s in pretty good shape. He’ll do great.”
Stan Dickman, Twins Fantasy Camp coordinator, said there are 115 campers this year — the eighth consecutive year of sellouts for the weeklong event. The players will arrive Saturday, and by Sunday night a draft will be held, with eight teams of each roughly 12 to 14 athletes. The pro staff working with the fantasy camp includes Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven and several players from the Twins 1987 and 1991 World Series championship teams: second baseman Steve Lombardozzi, catcher Tim Laudner, pitchers Rick Aguilera, Juan Berenger and Scott Erickson, first baseman Kent Hrbek, infielders Gene Larkin and Al Newman, Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Frank Viola and closer Jeff Reardon.
“Not only were these guys my baseball heroes — especially in the World Series years of 1987 and 1991 — but I’m interested in getting to know them outside of baseball, and sitting down and hearing their stories and having a beer with them,” Dick Leinenkugel said.
Leinenkugel said he feels ready for the big week ahead.
“I’m feeling good now — after the first couple of days (of workouts with O’Connell), I was sore,” he said. “I strengthened my core quite a bit. Even off the tee, I was huffing and puffing. When you are up here swinging, you are exerting.”
The Twins Fantasy Camp is at CenturyLink Sports Complex, which is the Twins’ spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla. The camp participants “dress in a big league locker room each day, wear a major league uniform, play a minimum of seven games on the same beautiful and well-manicured diamonds used by the Twins,” the website states. Teams are usually “balanced and competitive.”
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