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For the 80 or so major league baseball players who have joined new teams since the World Series shouts and sighs died away last October in Oakland, it was a time to test the dimensions of a different parcel of space, to finger the letters of a different uniform, to see the spring sun over a different tree, and to cast a glance over the shoulder at the clubs that had cut the cord. This is how it was last week with some of the most notable travelers.
COCOA. His day's work done, Claude Os-teen showered and then selected a sunny spot in the stadium. From there the ex-Dodger pitcher watched his new Houston Astro teammates labor through a ragged eight-inning intrafamily spat. Mostly he watched the young pitchers, the big, strong kids with live fastballs and fervent hopes that some of their bullets would cross the plate somewhere. He spotted the flaws and filed them away, and later, if he could think of a tactful approach, or if he were asked, he would gently suggest a cure. When the Astros signed Osteen he decided he was going to give them more than just the winningest left arm in baseball.
Osteen watched as a youngster wound up and fired a fastball—behind the hitter. He laughed softly and said, "I was like that once: a thrower. When I threw a curve I never thought about getting it over the outside corner. I just threw it because the pitch before it was a fastball. It was just something to do. I never really thought why."
One game turned it around for him. That was in 1963, after three nothing seasons with Cincinnati and an 8-13 record with Washington the year before. The 5'11", 173-pound southpaw drew a start against the Yankees, who were still brutish. Hobie Landrith, the Washington catcher, cornered Osteen in the locker room before the game and made him map out a strategy, pitch by pitch, batter by batter, for the whole game. He had never done that before.
That season he finished with nine victories, had 15 the next, and then was off to Los Angeles, where he won 147 in nine years, including two 20-game seasons.
Last December, just before the start of the winter meetings, the Dodgers told him that he might be traded. He had expected and dreaded it. "There have been Dodgers who were better, but none loved that uniform more, or wore it with more pride," Osteen said.
That something, he quickly discovered, was the ability to get along with Leo Durocher, who was being replaced as manager by Preston Gomez. "That was enough," Osteen said. "I didn't have to dig any deeper." His first day in camp Osteen observed the players' evident respect for Gomez, and he felt relieved. He went fishing, something he does every day, unless he is playing golf.
The intrasquad game ended and Osteen stared out at the field. "I won 21 games against this club," he said, "and I can't remember many that weren't awful close. If they had been doing then what Gomez is drilling us hard in now—bunting, running more, not waiting for the big hit—I have to believe that some of them might have gone the other way." It was a pleasant thought, and he took, it with him fishing.
YUMA. Willie McCovey took his final few powerful batting-practice swings and strolled stiff-legged to deepest right field, where in solitude he performed the painful calisthenics that help keep his arthritic knees functioning. It was the finish of a three-hour workout in the punishing Arizona sun and McCovey, a 218-pounder, was breathing heavily.