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DIAMONDS ARE FOREVERESPECIALLY IF YOUR FANTASY IS BASEBALL

The white lines of the batter's box are pristine in the slanting morning sunshine, and the base paths are clean and untrod. In the outfield, looking like white flowers against the green grass, 52 bodies in baseball uniforms sprawl and 52 right legs stick into the air, stretching in preparation for the day's activities.

Every single one of those legs is sore.
This is a fantasy baseball camp, and a closer look at the bodies on the ground will reveal bald heads, ample guts and eyes that can no longer read the box scores without glasses. These are men with unfulfilled hopes in their hearts, and pictures of their grandchildren in their wallets. They have paid $3,000 to spend a week learning baseball from former major leaguers like Jimmy Piersall, Joe Pepitone and Bob Gibson. The $3,000 gets them the chance to play two games every day, in actual major league uniforms that are washed for them every night. It gets them seven nights at the Embassy Suites in Scottsdale, free breakfast and lunch for a week, 50 baseball cards with their picture on them, an autographed bat and ball, and the opportunity to be called "asshole" by guys they have stood in awe of for three decades. JIM MARSHALL IS SITTING on the bench at Indian School Park in Scottsdale, watching his team struggle. This camp has drawn 52 men, enough for four squads of players. Marshall is managing one of them. He managed the Chicago Cubs in the late 1970s, not very successfully, and isn't doing much better at the moment.

"I looked over there and I saw a guy fall in center field. I thought he was shot." Marshall, who lives in Scottsdale and is a scout for a Japanese baseball team, is given to remarks like this. He mutters them offhandedly, in a confidential tone, and in this way provides a running commentary on the action, kind of like the chorus of a Greek tragedy. Except Marshall is wearing a most peculiar-looking toupee.

He nods his chin at a figure in the distance. "I know if I gave you the ball right now, you could throw it better."

Suddenly a voice can be heard in the background shouting, "Christ all-fucking-mighty." It belongs to Jimmy Piersall, who's managing the team that's Marshall's opponent today.

Jimmy Piersall is famous for a couple of things. One of them is running the bases backward after he hit his 100th home run. The other is having had a nervous breakdown, the subject of a book and a movie titled Fear Strikes Out--and a great deal of raillery this week.

Piersall is wearing baseball pants that emulate the ancient flannels in their bagginess. They hover around his ankles. The crotch is pretty low, too, which makes him look a little like a rap singer, except that he's a geezer now, with gray hair and bifocals.

He's one of the better coaches, though, as far as teaching goes, with a lively way of getting his point across. When he's showing the outfielders how to backhand a fly, he tells them, "Wait until you're almost to it before you raise your hand. Then raise one hand. Guys who start like this"--he runs along with both hands raised--"are faggots. It blocks their vision."

Piersall doesn't miss a trick, from the blond with the ying-yangs on the tennis court a quarter of a mile away to the lousy outfield teaching going on at a Giants Instructional League camp on an adjacent field. "Lookadis shit," Piersall says contemptuously, watching an outfield coach tell the kids something immeasurably stupid. "How can you judge the ball off the bat?"

He doesn't put up with much, either, and today he's not putting up with Marshall's shortstop, a wiry, loudmouthed little guy who has been griping that Piersall's base runner is taking too long a lead. The guy has a point. Base stealing is mercifully forbidden in fantasy camp baseball, because the campers show more flair for how their stirrups are worn than for fielding.

Still, Piersall resents such officious interference and screams at the shortstop, "Who the hell are you to run the game, you little cocksucker?"

The shortstop, abashed, goes back to his position. Marshall has gotten into the fray in a perfunctory way and called the umpire an asshole. Later, comfortably back on the bench, he confides of the campers, "They're very competitive. We go at each other's throats to create the atmosphere."

IT TAKES ONLY a few days to establish that the team co-managed by Bob Gibson and Bill Campbell (who is universally referred to as "Soup") is the worst in camp. It is also one of the friendliest. It includes Frank Thompson, 48, who's in the freight-expediting business in Houston. When Frank runs the bases, which does not happen much, his stomach shakes up and down. When he gets back to the bench, he lights up a smoke and makes comments about other players in a Texas twang. He says he'd rent a car to see the town, but his feet are too sore to drive.

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Anna Dooling