By Ted Waddell
ROSCOE March14, 2006 Yes, Dorothy, youre back in Kansas and fantasies can come true.
If you really believe.
Roscoe Central School Principal Scott Haberli, who is a die-hard New York Mets fan and head coach of the new Devil Cats jayvee/varsity baseball program, a merged team of players from Livingston Manor Central School and RCS, lives and breathes the All-American sport.
Born in 1964 and the youngest of six kids (including three older brothers), Haberli first picked up a baseball as a 4- or 5-year-old living in New Jersey. But he missed out on watching the old New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers play on the field of dreams. One of his first baseball memories is listening on the radio to the 1973 National League Championship series, in which Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson got into a fight with Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds.
That was it, I was a Mets fan, Haberli said. I dont recall the outcome, but Im sure Pete had the leg up on that one.
He started playing T-ball, then moved up to Little League, where he was a pitcher and shortstop. During his high school career, Haberli switched over to guarding the plate as a catcher.
I liked being in charge out there, he said.
While Haberli lines his office walls at school with Mets memorabilia, including an autographed photo of Tom Seaver and other heroes, he recently added some shots of himself in a Mets uniform posing with some former greats.
No, he didnt quit the field of education for the field of dreams. Haberli went to the Mets Fantasy Camp in Port St. Lucie, Florida as a gift from his wife Joann.
We were watching a Mets game last August, and she said Why dont you go?, so I called up that same day and signed up, Haberli explained.
So from January 21 though January 25 he fulfilled a fantasy, spending a week with the pros at Tradition Field, the Mets official spring training complex. Haberli and 119 other fantasy campers from around the nation were coached by some of the greatest players ever to don a Mets uniform in the fundamentals of hitting, fielding, pitching and baserunning.
After arriving at the spring training facility, the rookies were introduced to former Mets catcher John Sterns, who ran the camp while everyone called him The Commissioner.
In his first day at baseball fantasy camp, Haberli walked into a locker room filled with 120 lockers aligned in four rows. He then found his locker filled with Mets home and away uniforms. The jerseys had his name stitched on the back and labeled 15, which Haberli noted was the number worn by Jerry Grote, who was a great defensive All-Star catcher of the late 1960s and early 70s.
Once suited up, the rookies headed out for an evaluation session with the pros during some outfield, infield, pitching/catching and hitting practice. Then came lunch, and a draft to assign the players to the many teams. During several games, Haberli took his place in the line-up with other rookies and former Mets stars. He played his opening game at right field with a team called the MLBs (Major League Baseball), under the managing eye of Buzz Capra, a relief pitcher for the Mets in the 60s and 70s.
After that, I either pitched or caught, so it was a thrill, Haberli said. The MLBs wound up playing for third place out of 10 teams. In that third-place game, Haberli pitched and earned a 4-1 win.
On the last day at camp, each team of fantasy campers played a three-inning game against the pros out on Legends Field. Haberli pitched one of those three innings, facing four of the Mets greats from a few seasons past: shortstop Felix Millan, outfielder Steve Henderson, utility infielder Lenny Randle and Grote.
Randle got a hit off me, and he was jawing at me all the way, calling me Hey, Ber Lee and saying You cant pitch! and What are you doing out here?, Haberli said.
Randle was famous for blowing a ball into foul territory while playing third base in a game at Shea Stadium.
Someone made a beautiful bunt, and he got down on his belly during the game and blew the ball foul, said Haberli.
The full-time educator struck out Henderson, which caused a stir in the stands as the 400 to 500 spectators leapt to their feet. Henderson received a lot of razzing from his teammates.
I felt that twinge in my arm, telling me I was done for the day, Haberli explained. I pitched as hard as I could.
On the next to their last evening at fantasy camp, the rookies faced a kangaroo court presided over by Judge Bobby Wine, who wore a Mets uniform in the1960s. A total of about $3,600 in fines was donated to breast cancer research.
Baseball is a passion for me, Haberli explained. I was a typical baseball kid
I wanted to be a New York Met, but as far as my skill level was concerned, it wasnt going to happen.
At Mets Fantasy Camp, he got a taste of the majors.
They make you feel like a pro, and youre treated first class all the way, Haberli said. The pros bust your chops all the time, like telling you did a good job stretching a double into a single.
Haberli and his fellow rookies took home a gym bag full of Mets goodies, including personalized baseball cards, from the fantasy camp.
But the camp experience is not quite over for Haberli and his teammates. In August, they will travel to Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens to play a game against the professional players prior to a regular season Mets game.