There is, well, life: work, kids. I ask pitcher Mike Ryan, 29, how his wife takes to a season that stretches for months on end, eating up weekend after weekend. "Beginning of the season it's alright," he says. "Then the middle, she realizes it's the summer and says, 'What are you doing?' "

But spend a little time with the guys and you realize that baseball doesn't just compete with real life, it is central to it. Several of the guys on the Dodgers grew up together in North Providence. Some have known each other since Little League.

When I make my way over to the bleachers, I find Dan and Cyndi Carroll keeping an eye on their son in the dugout. "He's 26 now," says Dan, a mailman. "We've been watching him since he was eight."

Dan offers me a drink from a cooler packed with drinks and chips for the players. He's always bringing provisions.

"He has an Italian mom," Cyndi explains.

Across the diamond, on the Black Sox bench, I take a seat next to Greg McGee, who is playing third base alongside his brother Michael, the manager and shortstop.

As we chat, center fielder Steve DiMezza steps to the plate. DiMezza has been with the team forever, McGee tells me, just before the batter is plunked in the head with a pitch.

He's OK.

"Might straighten him out," says McGee, loud enough to be heard by the whole bench. "Might wake up in the morning wearing tights, saving people."

The sun is burning through the clouds, now, headed for the horizon. It'll be late when the guys get home.

I ask Greg what brings them to the field weekend after weekend, year after year. Simple, he says. "We're junkies.

"I tell people I'm a baseball player. I just work so I can eat."

David Scharfenberg can be reached at dscharfenberg@phx.com.

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