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January 25, 1985 - Image 45

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-01-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Friday, January 25, 1985 45

Bo b McKeown

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Jerry Lewis poses with the "Boss" in his Southfield office-"museum."

of school for 20 years, developed a
career and saved a few dollars.
"Then, there was a second group of
people. These people didn't care if they
had to beg, borrow or steal the money.
All they knew was that they were
going to Lakeland to play the (former)
Tigers."
While 14 doctors made the trip,
there was also a young man from On-
tario who borrowed the money from
his credit union, according to Lewis.
And although most of the fantasy
campers were in their 30s and 40s,
there were others, like 75-year-old
Paul Schaefer, "who just had to be
there."
"I 1968, I lived in the center field
bleachers at Tiger Stadium," said Dr.
David Forst, a 1984 camper who is re-
turning to Lakeland next month. "It
gave me a chance to meet the players
who had been my heroes in person."
Dr. Forst is making the return
trip to share the experience with a
couple of friends who will be "rookies"
at this year's fantasy camp. "Besides,"
he said half-seriously, "I figure since
(Detroit outfielder) Ruppert Jones
hasn't signed his contract for 1985 yet,
the Tigers may just realize their mis-
take last year in not picking me up,
and offer me a contract."
Both the former Tigers and the
fantasy campers will get "first-class"
treatment for this year's $2,495 fee,
according to Lewis. Included in the
price is round-trip air fare, lodging,
meals, a Tiger uniform, jackets from
Members Only and a banquet on the
last night of the camp.

.

Lewis, whose eyes seem to mist
over when the subject turns to the Ti-
gers, has made the camp a mirror-
image of his boyhood dream, which is
one of the reasons for its overwhelm-
ing success. From the time partici-
pants first walk into their hotel room
and see a major league uniform with
their name across the back, a per-
sonalized baseball card, a Louisville
Slugger bat and a ball laid out on the
bed, to the day of the fantasy game,
there is an almost-complete suspen-
sion of reality. Lewis wouldn't have it
any other way.
The Mumford High School and
Wayne State University graduate has
accepted the fact that "God didn't bless
me with great strength, height or ath-
letic ability." He has become the con-
sumate fan.
"I always wanted to play for the
Tigers," he said. "But when I was 14, I
was only about 4'7" and usually the
last one chosen for pick-up games. It
was then that I realized I wasn't cut
out for major league ball."
Sports broadcasting was the next
incarnation of the dream. That how-
ever, gave way to a more practical
career in business. Rather than leave
the sports world behind though, Lewis
has taken it with him, as one look in-
side his Southfield office (his
"museum," according to secretary Eli
Witrack) reveals.
There are autographed photos of
Gordie Howe, Jimmy the Greek,
Monte Clark, Jerry Cooney and dozens
of other athletes, coaches and sports
personalities. Several prints by cele-

brated artist Leroy Neiman line the
walls. On the corner of one shelf sit 12
autographed baseballs, including of
course, one from the 1968 Tigers.
No description of Lewis' office
would be complete without a word
about his "boss." The "boss" is actually
a polyurethane mannequin decked out
in a Tiger cap, white jacket and aviator
sunglasses. He sits in a chair opposite
Lewis' desk "smoking" a cigarette,
"listening" to his portable stereo and
"waving" a pennant from Super Bowl
XVI at the Silverdome, one of the three
National Football League cham-
pionship games that Lewis has
attended. The Southfield resident says
he keeps the "boss" around for com-
pany when he comes in to work at
night or on the weekend. More often
than not however, evenings and
weekends are spent with the Tigers,
Lions, Pistons or Red Wings. (He has
season tickets to all except the Wings.)
Almost buried among the sports
memorabilia in Lewis' office are some
clues that there are things in his life
which carry more weight than the
latest Detroit home run., touchdown or
three-point play. A picture of his two
daughters, _Stacie and Carrie, for in-
stance.
And if you can get him to turn off
the sales spiel, you will find that the
thing that most impresses him about
the fantasy camp experience is how a
gathering of incredibly diverse people,
most of whom had never met each
other before, "become such a close-knit
group in one week's time."
"The Tiger camp really didn't re-

volve around the baseball," Lewis
said. "It revolved around the players
and the campers."
Longtime Tiger spring training
traditions like Willie Horton's annual
barbeque were really what the people
enjoyed most, Lewis said. "Even when
the food wasn't cooked until 10 at
night, not one player left and not one
camper dared to leave."
Still, there were those who took
the baseball part of the camp a little
more seriously, hoping to improve
their game for summer softball or rec-
reational leagues. "By the end of the
week, these guys really were a team.
They had picked up so many fielding
tips from guys like Kaline and Dick
McAuliffe that it would have been im-
possible not to improve."
The former Tigers, who were
"paid a good week's salary" for their
time and expertise, according to
Lewis, felt obligated to do their job
properly.
One problem Lewis did have was
juggling his role as camp adminis-
trator with that of fantasy camper.
After all, playing baseball with Kaline
and Lolich was his dream and he didn't
intend to give it up just to make a little
extra money.
"Playing the two roles was
tougher than I thought it was going to
be. Since Price was taking care of the
actual baseball part of the camp, I was
the one everybody ran to when_they
had a problem with a plane ticket or
their hotel room.
"There was a lot of pressure to get

Continued on Page 57

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