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DIAMONDS ARE FOREVERESPECIALLY IF YOUR FANTASY IS BASEBALL

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Piersall's loudmouth shortstop is leaning on the fence, watching Jerry take his turn. He is Larry Friedman, a Chicago commodities broker, and he sounds like he took elocution lessons from Mayor Daley.

At 33, Friedman is one of the youngest campers and one of the best athletes. That he is rich is no secret. He enjoys the kidding about the size of the house he's building in Highland Park, Illinois, and he freely admits he earns $1.5 million a year. Around his neck he wears a gold Spanish doubloon that could double as a boat anchor. All this entitles Friedman to buy a lot of drinks for the former major leaguers, some of whom never earned more than $38,500. But snaring the friendship of former major leaguers is one of the reasons guys come to camp. In that department, however, Friedman faces tough competition from an import-exporter who rented a stretch limo, piled all the coaches into it and bought them all dinner.

"Hey, Jerry, rip the ball today," Friedman shouts.
"I gotta see what this guy's got," Jerry tells him, in mimicry of a big leaguer.

Also taking batting practice today is George Goodall. At 80, George is the oldest man in camp, and in a lot better shape than many. He plays with a glove that has become an object of curiosity and admiration. He got it while he was in the Army in 1942, through the time-honored process known as "midnight requisition."

George lives, as he says, "15 miles from Busch Stadium" in Belleville, Illinois. A retired pharmaceutical salesman--he still works a couple of days a week selling press-on labels--George has been to 24 camps so far.

Another attendee at the batting cage is Craig Deleo, a chatty fellow in his mid-30s from Southern California. With dark, curly hair and mustache and a bronzed complexion from working in the sun, Deleo has the build of a natural athlete.

He works for the Corona Clay Company, which he'll tell you redid the infield at Angels Stadium this year. Deleo chats about anything and everything, quietly and tirelessly, and has not a harsh word to say about anyone. Today he is pursuing the topic of how nice the Phoenix police are. Because he does tend to go on, a listener's concentration can wander, and so the start of this story is lost in confusion. The part he has arrived at now has to do with the police sending him home in a cab, rather than arresting him. There is also something about missing car keys.

"Some guys that come here," Deleo says, "they act like they're playing for a team. They're in bed early and they don't have any nightlife. When I come here, I want to get into the nightlife a little bit."

EVERY MORNING at 9, the coaches address the players, seated like schoolchildren on a bank of bleachers in front of them. The coaches stand around, leaning on bats, until it is their turn to talk. Possibly major league ballplayers could stand without the assistance of bats, but they seem unwilling to run the risk.

The idea of the morning meeting is to recap the previous day's game, but usually, the presence of an audience brings out the comedian in the coaches. One day Joe Pepitone arrives without his toupee. "Somebody stole my hair," he claims, sweeping off his cap to reveal a shiny dome.

The morning meeting also allows Bob Gibson to announce, the day after his team has finally won a game, "My club isn't as horseshit as I said they were." Jim Marshall takes the opportunity to accuse a fellow coach of having been drunk for three days, and hears the explanation: "You would be, too, if you watched my team. The only thing these guys have is a good net worth." Jimmy Piersall manages to summarize his own personality and much of the contradictory ethos of baseball in a couple of sentences on the subject of Mike Greenwald: "That SOB is really nuts, it's a pleasure to be around him. Plus that he's a faggot, but he can hit."

This morning, Randy Hundley is explaining the rules of Saturday's campers-versus-former-big-leaguers game. Every camper gets two at-bats and two innings in the field. The game usually goes on for hours, and Hundley is explaining that, to speed it up, he doesn't want to see the campers let a lot of balls go by waiting for the perfect pitch.

Bob Gibson jumps in and elaborates. "If you don't swing, you're gonna get hit in the fucking head." He steps back, and takes a golf swing with the baseball bat he's been leaning on. Another thought occurs to him. "We don't bunt on old pitchers, either. You get hit if you bunt."

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Anna Dooling