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DIAMONDS ARE FOREVERESPECIALLY IF YOUR FANTASY IS BASEBALL

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The game itself turns out to be anticlimactic. Mike Greenwald strikes out twice but at least he doesn't get thrown at. Jerry Deichstetter makes contact with the ball, then heads uncertainly toward first base. Soup Campbell holds the ball until Jerry, encouraged by the men in the dugout, gets close enough to first not to be shown up.

Jerry and 80-year-old George Goodall get the biggest hands as the players are introduced over the loudspeaker at HoHoKam Park. There is really no need for a loudspeaker, since, with 52 men on the campers' team, there are more people in the dugout than in the stands.

THE CULMINATION of the fantasy camp is the Saturday-night banquet, at which the campers will be given baseballs autographed by the coaches, a videotape of the Saturday game, baseball bats and their last ration of shit.

Joe Pepitone is wearing a white shirt with unnaturally long collar tabs, of a style Brooks Brothers probably does not carry. He refers to it as his "John Gotti shirt," assuming everyone will recognize the name of the Mafia don. Larry Friedman is wearing a black shirt, a watch with diamonds around the face and no socks. Paul Burbank is wearing chinos, a white knit sport shirt and a navy-blue blazer.

There are scabs visible on almost every elbow, and there's one black eye. Its owner is already rehearsing the story: "I was standing talking to Gibby, and these two guys were throwing on the sidelines . . . ." Another man says he wants to put on his uniform, walk into the executive conference room and give his employees the Joe Pepitone treatment: "The first one of you cocksuckers to screw up . . . ."

Each coach is given a chance to say a few words. Jimmy Piersall gives an accomplished after-dinner speech of the kind he delivers for a living, full of jokes and reminiscences. Bob Gibson talks about his dislike of the press. Jim Marshall lists a dozen managers he played for, and says none would have helped his team. Joe Pepitone introduces his entourage, Dominic and Eddie, and says he never got any respect from his players. Randy Hundley singles out Mike Greenwald for his "infectious enthusiasm."

Greenwald is smiling. He has never, in fact, been caught without a smile. "What a great time this has been," he has said on any number of occasions. "This has been fantastic."

Craig Deleo is still talking. So far, he's gone to a Joe Diffie concert, had dinner at Rawhide and developed a warm friendship with a waitress at the hotel, with whom he is going to the Grand Canyon on the morrow. He's still in the process of getting his keys back. He left them in a car belonging to two young ladies he had met at What's Your Beef?. Some elements of his story still appear to be missing.

A couple of seats down, Larry Friedman is recalling how at last year's camp he got a hit off Ferguson Jenkins that went to the wall. "I watched it over and over and over and over," he says, his hand hitting the repeat button of an imaginary remote control.

Deleo, taking his usual Will Rogers approach to humanity, says confidentially, "You know, I used to think he was just loud and obnoxious, but he's really a nice guy."

Before the members of the four teams go up to get their bats and baseballs, Gene Oliver takes one last swipe. "I talked to the people at the airlines," he says, "and they said bats were considered weapons, so you have to check them. I said, `We've watched these guys all week, and you don't have to worry.'"

"I looked over there and I saw a guy fall in center field. I thought he was shot."

Pepitone asks his first baseman, "Hey, you deliver babies. You drop a lot of those, too?"

"That's a major league play in the sun," he says in genuine admiration.

One guy has been to 55 camps, which means that he has spent $150,000 over the past eight years to take batting practice and get yelled at.

"This feeds our ego," says one ex-big leaguer. "They can tell us everything we ever did."

"All he's doing is dropping a ball in a pitching machine and he's laughing like he's throwing strikes."

Possibly major league ballplayers could stand without the assistance of bats, but they seem unwilling to run the risk.

"We don't bunt on old pitchers," Bob Gibson warns the campers. "You get hit if you bunt.

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Anna Dooling