Masked fan crusaders have become all the rage around major league ballparks in recent years. Whether on your television or in your seats, you’ve seen fans from all over take on this popular team-branded persona. In fact, if you look up...
Take a moment to reflect back to ; game one for the D-Backs’ 2013 season. Actually, continue trekking back to even the days of spring training at Salt River Fields. Remember how refreshed and optimistic you felt? The promise of a “new look” and 162 games still waiting on the horizon?
Gone were the days of incendiary egos setting the clubhouse ablaze. A cutthroat vision was in place; out with the old, and in with the new. But would it be immediately realized? A roster carefully manufactured by GM Kevin Towers, president Derrick Hall, and manager Kirk Gibson for a specific prototype; a nitty-gritty player who would grind it out every single night.
We knew this team would not rely on the home run. We knew it did not have the star power or sexy name to front the franchise just yet. Regardless of the unknown, there were certain confidences that obviously were not met. Holding on to first place in the division became the expectation, Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin became the story and fans got a tantalizing taste of the club's future.
Before our eyes we watched the gap in the NL West grow thinner and thinner. The D-Backs fluctuated with ever-changing issues and lack of consistency. One night it would be blown saves, followed by an outing of solid pitching but lack of run support. What a tease.
A strong case could be made it was as though they never truly reached a sense of urgency. Flashback to early July in the heat of a first-place NL West race, the D-Backs’ swept the Rockies at home, then went down in three straight to the L.A. Dodgers. The Dodgers pulled to within 2.5 games, and that’s when things got real. Yasiel Puig real. Hall even saidnight on the final D-Backs’ game broadcast that this clubhouse was possibly just a little “too nice.”
In the cloud of 81-81 frustration there is a hint of electricity in the air that should makes this “underachieving” season one to eventually remember as the one that turned the skies loose on the D-backs' NL foes in typical Arizona fashion: with a lot of fury. So when you’re at the bar with friends and Debbie Downer invariably brings up stats like 29 blown saves, or consecutive back-to-back .500 seasons, stick them with this thunderclap.
1. MVPaul. There is no question Paul Goldschmidt became the face of this organization and zero doubt that he is more than well-deserving of some national love because of it. Being named to the All-Star team is like finding out the girl likes you, and the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Award is the kiss. Give Goldy the kiss! There is no line sweeter than this, Ms. Downer: 302/.401/.551. Oh, and not to mention 36 homers, 103 runs scored, 125 RBI and finishing up the year riding a 19-game hitting streak. Had the D-Backs finished a little stronger, he would have run away with it. Award or not, fans should look at his overall performance this year and feel geeked about what’s to come from this guy. Build around Goldschmidt, hope his bat stays hot, and it's a reasonable assumption he’ll be holding more than just an MVP award in his hand in the near future.
2. “NO Dodgers diving in the pool.” Can anyone please make a sign for cautionary reasons? Safety first people. This growing rivalry just makes everyone more invested, and that only makes for a more potent narrative as the storyline unfolds. This is what sports are all about. I love watching games between two teams who just want to kick each other’s you know what. And I love when it’s raw and unfiltered from both sides. Let’s be serious: the sugar-coated answer is just no fun. It’s cute and classy, but take that elsewhere. Sports are entertainment, it’s the best kind of reality television and that’s why we love to watch it. Passion, urgency and ambition are derived from some good competition. From the hit-by-pitches and benches-clearing brawls to the Dodgers clinching the NL West and making a splash at Chase Field. Not to mention all after putting up a helluva second half run, stealing first place in the division and boom, down go the D-Backs. Fans, I hope you get a deep-rooted emotional reaction inside of you from just reliving the timeline. And I hope the D-Backs get a little fire under their belly and take new meaning to the term “Beat L.A.” Just guess how this tale continues. The D-Backs will open up their 2014 season in Sydney, Australia, with guess who? The Dodgers. The season opening series is scheduled to take place March 22 and 23. Who else is counting the days until that match up?
3. Free baseball- OK, this one can have both negative and positive outlooks from observers. But since we are looking on the positive side, is there really such a thing as too much baseball? This team had some of the most exciting, Double Bubble walk-off wins I have ever seen. Just when you thought the game was over, the team would rally back in dramatic fashion. Fans got to see it right off the bat, three games into the season against the St. Louis Cardinals. The game goes 16 innings, Cliff Pennington ended the marathon with a walk-off single. I have the scorecard saved and at the top I have scribbled “longest game played at Chase.” History made. That came to be the unrelenting storyline for this 2013 season. The D-Backs set the MLB record for most innings played in a season. They also hold the record for most extra innings played in the modern era, 80, since 76 was set by the 1969 Twins. You can definitely expect no shortage of excitement with this team. There is something thrilling about throwing around the term “free baseball.” It reminds me of being a kid, staying up late on the edge of my bed, eyes bloodshot, waiting to see who the hero of the game would be. We got to watch that over and over with this Diamondbacks team witnessing several players come up big in clutch situations. It was fun for fans to get a glimpse of their resilience. All worth the price, a reduced price at that given the amount offered at no additional charge.
4. Class act organization- There is a certain amount of pride in knowing that your organization is one that others respect and often try to mimic. The efforts put forth by everyone in the front office from stadium management to the leaders sets the foundation, From Hall, Towers and owner Ken Kendrick, the D-Backs have seemingly always “done it right” from a community standpoint. Nothing can compare to the efforts put forth this season for the victims and families affected by the Yarnell fire. The 50/50 raffle raising $100K just days after the devastation was one of the most feel-good moments inside that or any stadium. Watching the fans come to a roar as the final monies raised were put on the big screen was truly an unforgettable moment from this season. They have won numerous awards in recognition for all their efforts made and are applauded as community leaders in the Valley. To hear Hall’s name be tossed around as a worthy potential candidate for commissioner of Major League Baseball one day is also something to take pride in.
5. Health- Aaron Hill, Eric Chavez, Cahill, Adam Eaton, Willie Bloomquist, Cody Ross, Jason Kubel, Miguel Montero, J.J. Putz and Daniel Hudson. The vision of this team and the people put in place to make it happen was truly never fully intact this year. Injuries did play a major factor this season, hindering many players who could have ignited this team in various ways. At different periods of time, the team missed either the veteran presence of Chavez or the youthful aggressiveness of Eaton. There were only flashes of potential. Imagine what the full force of a healthy team is capable of doing. I know every team goes through its battles with health and injuries, but the Diamondbacks were hit especially hard this year. A lot of missed opportunity. Get healthy, makes some moves and expect a better performing core group. And maybe a little more lightning.