A Little Leaguer's dream is waiting just over the horizon.
The diamond fantasy features the opportunity to meet former Arizona and Chicago Cubs star Mark Grace, the chance to attend a four-hour Diamondbacks Training Center clinic, the opportunity to register for summer Payson Little League play. There will also be free pizza and soda pop.
It all takes place 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 27 in the old Payson High School gymnasium and, weather permitting, on the Longhorn baseball field.
Payson Little League, Arizona Public Service and the Arizona Diamondbacks will jointly sponsor the festivities.
The contingent of Diamondback representatives scheduled to attend includes pitcher Doug Slater, catcher Chris Snyder, coach Glenn Sherlock and broadcasters Jeff Munn and Grace.
Those D-backs representatives will arrive at 11 a.m. and depart at 12:30 p.m., according to Diamondback Community Affairs Director Karen Conway.
During the stay, the Diamondbacks will participate in an autograph session, answer fans' questions and host a Little League awards ceremony in which members of Payson's 2006 all-star teams will be recognized.
Also, the first 100 aspiring local Little League players who register will be eligible to participate in the baseball clinic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
To register for the clinic, call Ann Henley at (928) 474-7627.
During the clinic, Diamondback coaches will teach the proper fundamentals of throwing, catching, hitting and base running.
Campers and parents can anticipate the clinic will be a shortened version of the Diamondback Training Center camps held each summer in Payson.
Tom Belcher, a longtime local youth league coach in three sports, predicts the Diamondbacks appearance in Payson could turn into a huge boost for the Little League program.
"This is awesome, it'll be fun for everyone," he said. "We are all looking forward to it."
Also during the day, parents may register their children for 2007 spring and summer play. Booths will be set up, just as they are at all town youth league basketball games, to accept registration.
Aspiring players, 6 to 15, are eligible to participate, but all those new to the program must present birth certificates.
Because the upcoming sign-up is the final one, Little League President Cynthia Chovich is urging all parents to take advantage of it.
"This is our last big push for players," she said. "After this, we must (place) players on teams, select coaches, have tryouts and (finalize) schedules."
The registration fee is $65 and discounts are available for families who have multiple children involved in the league.
For parents who cannot afford registration fees, scholarships are available.
"No child will be turned away," Chovich said. "We heard that some were (turned away) last year and that bothers us.
"We don't want to have that happen again."
The tour, the players
Although the Hometown Tour visited Payson the past two years, those stops didn't include an involvement with Little League. They did, however, draw good crowds of mostly adult fans to the now-closed Mad Dawg's and Mel's restaurant.
Among those to appeared in Payson during past visits were former Diamondbacks third baseman Matt Williams, catcher Kelly Stinnett, broadcaster Greg Shulte and Sherlock.
During the upcoming Diamondback visit, Grace will likely draw a good deal of attention mostly because he ranks among the most popular players to ever don a major league uniform and was a major contributor to the Diamondbacks winning the 2001 World Series.
Arizona fans fondly remember him as the player who led off the ninth inning of the seventh game with a single, off Yankee reliever, Mariano Rivera.
The hit rallied Arizona to a victory and the World Series championship.
During his 16-year career, he was never a flashy, power hitter, but compiled over 2,500 hits and 500 double, including an on-base percentage of .383.
He also won four Gold Glove awards and was one of the most accomplished professional players of the 1990s.
Alongside Grace in Payson will be pitcher Doug Slater and catcher Chris Snyder. Snyder is a 26-year-old, 6-foot, 3-inch, 230-pound catcher, who hit .277 in 61 games this past season.
Slater, a 27-year-old left-hander, appeared in nine games last year.
Snakes say thanks
Diamondback officials bill the upcoming tour as a "thank you" to fans across the state.
"This is a great opportunity to reach out to our fans," Conway said.
"We'll be hitting every corner in Arizona in an effort to thank fans for supporting us each season."
In addition to the tour stop in Payson, the Diamondbacks will make appearances in Flagstaff, Safford, Prescott, Tucson, Sierra Vista, Kingman and Yuma.