Fantasy camp attendee draws respect from his idols

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SARASOTA - The concept of Major League athletes holding fantasy camps is that fans get to hob-knob with their childhood heroes for a week while playing a sport they love. Last week at Orioles camp, one man turned the tables on his heroes.

"Any chance I would have a chance to get out here and meet Orioles players, and play baseball for a week, who wouldn't want to do that?" Todd Hyson is a tried and true Orioles fan, and he gets to play baseball with his heroes for a week -- but his perspective is much different from other campers when his alarm clock goes off at camp. “Words can't describe how great this is. Every day I wake up and no one is shooting at me. Nothing is going off around me. This is terrific."

Hyson retired as a Marine in 2009, but he still works for the State Department as a helicopter pilot and inspector in Afghanistan. Although other campers come up and thank him for his service, he doesn't think he is much different from them. "We get breaks every now and then. Fortunately I am able to come over here. It’s just a job like everybody else, I just have to come a lot farther this time."

It was nice to be out at this Orioles fantasy camp to see the transformation, as the Orioles hero-worshipper became a hero himself -- to his heroes. "I think it’s phenomenal that a guy loves baseball so much that this is how he wants to spend his free time. At the same time, we get to honor him and let him know how much we appreciate it," says former Oriole Tom Niedenfuer.

Hyson flew out to Japan on Saturday where he will reunite with his wife for a short vacation together before returning to Afghanistan.