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But Laser's the one, at every hesitation in the group press conference, who takes charge and answers the questions, the no-nonsense alpha dog with one leg jiggling beneath the table. Late Riser's the one who sits back in his chair, happy to blend in with the wallpaper, the one who throws off-season bullpen sessions wearing camouflage and never quite peels it off. Kid Quantum's the innocent kid brother, smiling and drinking it all in, easiest of The Four to approach. The one most eager to widen his circle beyond the circle of clay, the one heading to Ethiopia as soon as this season's over to adopt an AIDS orphan and teaming with his wife to build a school in Malawi. The 27-year-old who former Mets pitcher Ron Darling says is taking a "class with Einstein and the greatest minds of all time," and yet, the only one of The Four with a championship ring.
It's a Masters program that'll meet in pregame outfield shagging sessions and ice tubs and on the top step of the dugout for three hours every night, one that's paying off already. Loose Laser's cutter? It's now in Kid Quantum's arsenal, his third-out pitch; he just had to have it after watching Cliff carve with it for three months in '09. Along with the Tunnelman starter kit—the binder of notes on hitters and the pitching bible written by sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman that Kid Quantum now walks around with, not to mention Tunnelman's contagious commitment to marathon video sessions and fierce off-season conditioning that brought Kid Quantum to camp with an arm stronger in February than the one he used to have in May.
Atlanta's rotation bonded by golfing 50 to 70 times a year. The Four are likelier to go kill something together, Lee and Oswalt already flashing each other photos of deer snapped by the motion-sensitive cameras set up on their hunting properties and sent daily to their BlackBerries (check out this rack!), Hamels good for the occasional bird hunt as long as it isn't five-below and Halladay an avid harvester of crappie and bass. The table at the center of their Clearwater, Fla., clubhouse became The Legion's daily forum this spring, Halladay relaxing more in the first two weeks with his mound mates than he did all of last year, Oswalt surprising them with his gift for deft storytelling of life in the Mississippi backwoods, the two Roys discovering a shared love of vintage cars, Hamels checking in with reviews of the latest movies and books.
So what happens when masters are brought under the same roof? Tunnelman becomes more tunneled than ever—his wife, Brandy, says she has never seen him slip off into the darkness so early or eagerly, nor with more glint in his blue eyes. Late Riser's mom says, "His whole personality's changed. Last year Roy looked like a whupped puppy going to [the Astros'] spring training. This year he's ready."
"They'll feed off each other like piranhas," vows Loose Laser's dad, Steve.
"Sure they will," agrees Smoltz, who visited camp to interview The Legion for the MLB Network. "We had an unspoken rule on those Braves staffs: One guy would pitch a three-hit, one-run game, the next guy had to do one better."
"It'll make them each better," predicts Moyer, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. "If they stay healthy, you could see the best out of each."
Swell. Everyone agrees ... except The Legion of Arms. They're just too damn levelheaded to get swept up in hullabaloo or some new hot thing—hell, three of The Four, all but Kid Quantum, married women they knew as kids. Just too certain of their own engines and ignition to permit any jumper cables. "I focus on my job at hand, and that's it," vows Tunnelman. "The more you start bringing in these other desires or wishes or competitions, it starts to cloud the picture."
"Nope, no difference for me," agrees Laser, who told his wife not to buy the four aces T-shirt in the Philly airport that she was about to purchase for his father. "I could care less what the guy ahead of me did, whether he gave up five runs or threw a shutout."
"Don't fool yourself," says Joe Lynn Gant, a Mississippi legend who coached Oswalt in high school football and became his friend. "These four guys are going to look at each other and compete with each other. There are four aces, but one will emerge, and don't think he won't. They'll love each other—and want to win more games than each other. They'll still each want to be the Man."