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Fantasy Camp all about D-backs family

MLB.com @SteveGilbertMLB

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Andy Meyer was walking by the batting cage at Salt River Fields one morning during the recent D-backs Fantasy Camp when he noticed former big leaguers Mark Grace and Matt Williams each working with a group of campers.

"Here were these two former Major Leaguers who didn't have to be out there early in the morning working with campers like we were real players," said the 62-year-old Meyer, who has attended 12 D-backs Fantasy Camps.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Andy Meyer was walking by the batting cage at Salt River Fields one morning during the recent D-backs Fantasy Camp when he noticed former big leaguers Mark Grace and Matt Williams each working with a group of campers.

"Here were these two former Major Leaguers who didn't have to be out there early in the morning working with campers like we were real players," said the 62-year-old Meyer, who has attended 12 D-backs Fantasy Camps.

To Grace and Williams, along with the rest of the former big leaguers who make up the camp's coaching staff, working with campers -- those well past their primes and ones who never had them -- is what makes their week so much fun.

The D-backs have 12 coaches in camp each year, two per team, and rather than struggling to fill out the coaching staff, they actually have to turn some away.

Tweet from @Dbacks: Campers are living the dream this week at #DbacksFantasyCamp with alumni like Gonzo, J.J., Gracie, and Matty coaching them along. pic.twitter.com/YHIUN6AiBt

Grace, along with current D-backs bullpen coach Mike Fetters, have participated in all 13 camps, while Williams, recently hired as the A's third-base coach, was forced to miss a couple while serving as manager of the Nationals.

Even after Grace and Williams had their big league coaching contracts not renewed by the D-backs following the 2016 season, they still showed up at Fantasy Camp three months later.

"I'm loyal to the [campers]," said Grace, who serves as the judge for the daily kangaroo court sessions. "It's a great week for me. I look forward to it. There's nothing that I don't get excited about for the week. It's the stuff we do here at the complex, and then it's remaining together and hanging out off the field. We don't just go our separate ways when the day is over."

Tweet from @DbacksAcademy: 2001 #WorldSeries Champs reunited at #DbacksFantasyCamp. @baseballhall Randy Johnson says teammate Mike Morgan could always make him 😁 on game days! 🤜🤛🎥👀#BigUnit & #MoMan������ pic.twitter.com/Ein0cnVPkl

With the majority of the campers having done at least one previous camp and others like David Weekly, Jeff Johnson and George York having participated in all 13, a bond has developed.

"Friendships, that's what I think," Williams said of his motivation for coming back each year. "I don't know much about other fantasy camps, but I'm pretty sure this one is special because of all the relationships that have been built. It's fun for me. It's probably the most laughs in a five-day period that we'll have all year, even in a regular Major League season. Because here, that's what it's all about -- fun, laughs, the people. Nobody here has an ego. It's just fun."

Tweet from @DbacksAcademy: #DbacksfantasyCampChampionship game lineups pic.twitter.com/CcppZ37BHA

It also serves as a reunion for the coaches, many of whom -- like Mike Morgan, Luis Gonzalez and Greg Swindell -- played with Williams and Grace on the 2001 World Series championship team.

"I get to see Mo Man once a year," Grace said. "I get to see [Swindell] once a year. It's just great to get together with these guys, too, and rehash old times and talk about the present and see how everyone is doing."

But, Williams is asked, wasn't there a temptation not to participate after he was let go by the organization?

"That's business," Williams said. "This is friendship."

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks