A great week comes to an end

Fantasy Camp Day 5: A great week ends

The Diamondbacks held their first Fantasy Camp down at their Spring Training complex in Tucson, Ariz., this past week. Steve Gilbert, who covers the Diamondbacks for MLB.com, took part in the camp and this is the final installment of his daily diary.

TUCSON, Ariz. -- We came to camp last Sunday as 44 strangers and out-of-shape, would-be ballplayers.

One week, six games, one black eye, one pulled groin, 127 sore muscles, 4,386 pounds of ice and 122 pounds of Icy Hot later, we left as friends.

We finished strong on Saturday -- well the other guys did, I should say -- with a camp game in the morning, the much-anticipated game against the staff in the afternoon at Tucson Electric Park and the closing banquet in the evening.

Graces Aces paired up with Fetters Fenoms in the morning to take on Bugseys Bangers and the Williams Maulers. It was the first time during the camp that campers pitched as opposed to coaches and it became clear as the game wore on why we had waited so long to do so. I don't think you'll see too many campers that pitched today yelling, "C'mon how hard is it to throw a strike?" this year when Russ Ortiz is on the mound.

One of the things I enjoyed most during the week was seeing how my teammates interacted with the coaches. It wasn't so much the baseball instruction that they received, though there was plenty of that, but just the conversations they had with them particularly at our evening bull sessions.

All the coaches were generous with their time, which presented some really unique opportunity for the campers. I mean you have Mark Grace talking about what it was like to play in the 2001 World Series and when he knew it was time for him to retire after the 2003 season.

You had Carlos Tosca giving a detailed scouting report on newly acquired second baseman Orlando Hudson in response to someone asking if he was as good as advertised. Tosca ought to know -- he managed Hudson in Toronto. It's access and answers that as a reporter I take for granted, but is so unique for fans.

Our final kangaroo court of the morning was every bit as good as the rest, with Grace giving over his gavel and robe to Daiton Rutkowski. Everyone's hero, Don Kucharek, the 71-year-old who was in better shape than the rest of us, was fined for the first time. It seems Don left his black D-Backs hat -- we were issued two uniform sets at the beginning of camp -- at dinner on Wednesday night. With his team, which I was on, scheduled to wear black on Thursday Don tried to cover for his lack of a black cap by telling everyone that the team was actually supposed to wear purple ones.

We bused over to TEP after lunch for the game against the staff. It was quite a lineup they threw at us with an outfield of Mike Aldrete, Brett Butler and Lee Tinsley and an infield of Matt Williams, Jay Bell, Chip Hale and Mark Grace.

The final score escapes me, though I'm sure we must have won. Or maybe we didn't win, but we did score a run, which certainly felt like a victory.

Rutkowski as usual was doing his best to get in the other team's head from the dugout. My favorite line of the day was when Chip Hale, way out in front of a pitch, swung and missed. Chip looked like that swing tweaked his back or neck and, as he was kind of stretching a bit, Rutkowski yells, "Little out in front of that one, eh Chipper? Hurts don't it? Now you know how we felt all week."

The Awards Banquet was a great way to finish off the experience, with Joe Garagiola Sr. emceeing. Each manager introduced his squad and handed out MVP awards. Autographed jerseys were awarded and everyone had a great time.

I've got to give a shout out to Robert Tallman, who captured the Gold Glove Award for the week. Robert played third base next to me throughout the week and, like I said earlier, he was like Brooks Robinson out there.

Rob Peterson won the MVP Award for the Fetters team, though, I think everyone in camp would agree when it came to the mound he was neither a closer or setup man, but more like a long reliever/mopup man.

There were so many interesting stories in camp, that this diary only barely scratched the surface. It's hard to pick a top one for the week, but certainly Gary Bender's is right up there.

Gary is an environmental geologist in Tempe, Ariz. and the camp was a thank you gift from his wife, Kelly. What did Gary do to deserve such a gift? A couple of years ago, he donated one of his kidneys to Kelly. In a real touching moment, the amazing couple received a standing ovation at the banquet.

You don't often see an owner at Fantasy Camp, but one of the D-Backs lead owners, general partner Jeff Moorad, spoke and presented some of the awards. Moorad said he was amazed at the amount of media coverage the camp got in the Valley area and, in a surprise announcement, the Diamondbacks said that while they will likely raise the price of the camp next year, those who participate each year are locked in at their current price.

It will be interesting to see how many open slots there are next year as nearly everyone was vowing at the banquet that they would be back in 2007, but if you're interested in receiving information, send an email to fantasycamp@diamondbacks.com.

This was my first fantasy camp experience, so I wasn't sure what to expect. What I found reminded me how much I love baseball. It's easy to lose sight of that when your job revolves around the game. This group of guys from different backgrounds, states and countries proved just how lucky I am to do what it is I do for a living.

No one thought they were there to make a big league team. They were just people, who had a blast every day putting on a uniform and playing the game. Some played better than others, some were in better shape, but they all loved the game the same and in the end that was what it was all about.

Thanks guys, for letting me be part of the group. It's an experience I won't soon forget.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.