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Once Upon a Time in the Fest

Pitchers and catchers report on Friday; the Cactus League opens later this month; and we are now just fifty days away from the first pitch of the 2008 major-league season. Yes, it's so close, I can almost taste the hot-dogs. Yesterday's Fan Fest was another marker - a ray of sunlight shining over the horizon, indicating that the dawn approaches, and the long dark winter of the NFL, NBA and NHL will soon be over. Judging by the crowds at the event, it's going to be a monstrous season: my sources tell me that season ticket sales have already surpassed the total for all of last season. Why isn't it Opening Day yet?

Form an orderly line. All 10,000 of you.

We arrived half an hour before the gates opened, and the queue to get in already snaked around the concourse at Chase, and then down Fourth Street as far as the railroad tracks. I think this took the organizers by surprise, and the handling of the line was chaotic at best; marshals broke up the orderly queue and turned it into a seething mass of humanity to stop it from crossing the rail line. They also told people autograph tickets were available outside the park - causing more confusion and no few disgruntled patrons who left the line, only to find out this wasn't so. There's no reason they couldn't do that though, starting the sales before the gates open, and this would then avoid most of these problems.

Doug Slaten, a left-hander, like all the best people.

As it was, once you'd queued to get into the park, you then had to go straight into another line and queue again for your autograph tickets. We didn't bother: my attitude to autographs is that they're cool when easily obtained, but there is a very low threshold of difficulty involved in putting me off. Another thought for next year; sell the tickets by the actual locations where the signing will take place. The sessions were all an hour, but we went past a few that still had 10-15 minutes left, and the signers were sitting there idly, having dealt with all the pre-sold tickets. At that point, we would have been happy to pay the $5, except that would have meant trekking all the way back outside the park to get the ticket.

Me and Bobby Freeman. Note serious bling on my left hand...

Hmm: seems I've been very critical of the event so far, so let me balance that with some unrestrained praise for organist Bobby Freeman. He was set up in the middle of the concourse, playing away, but was delighted to stop and pose for some pictures with myself and Mrs. SnakePit. He was wearing his World Series ring and, entirely unprovoked, asked if I'd like to try it on. I didn't have to be asked twice; it's a phenomenally ornate creation, and also very heavy. Freeman said he only wears it on special occasions]. I briefly toyed with the idea of making a run for the border, but that would have been wrong, on every level. Still, Freeman was genuinely nice, and Chris is especially fond of him, since he pointed her in the direction of coffee. It was crap, concession coffee, but hell hath no fury like a Cuban denied her caffeine fix in the morning!

The new Jumbotron is coming along nicely - though I almost convinced Chris this was some new luxury boxes.

We also took a spin on the Gila River Casino wheel of fortune. I sense this was very likely rigged, since the five people in front of us all won a Gila River travel cup. What are the odds of that? [And remind me not to play roulette on any of their properties...] Chris, however, sussed it out, gave the wheel the weakest spin possible, and landed spot on the Webb bobblehead. Result! Inside the concourse, there seemed to be a lot more external merchandise than last year, with a lot of sports-card stalls and other memorabilia for sale, as well as the usual corporate partners - though most of the latter seemed to be out on the concourse, along with the whiffleball parks on Fourth, where young kids could get pitched to by major-leaguers present and future.

Scherzer prepares to flummox another six-year old.

Our first stop, however, was the Diamondbacks Yard Sale, where the organization clears out all its old crap - this was also somewhat a victim of its own success, with only two people at the checkout. Regardless, we stocked up on armfuls, including a Carlos Quentin bobble-head, Grace's Place T-shirt and - treasure of treasures - some Diamondbacks' plates. The player's dining-room was being cleared out of the old logo, and so they were selling the redundant crockery off at $2 each. We snapped up four each of the dinner and pasta plates. Though as I sat at home that evening, eating off my Diamondbacks crockery, drinking from my Diamondbacks mug and wearing my Diamondbacks shirt, I felt uncomfortably like Jimmy Fallon's character in Fever Pitch.

To think, Russ Ortiz may have eaten a donut licked donut glaze off this very plate.

The departed Diamondbacks from the 2007 season were also having their presences removed from the place. The banners for Hernandez 2.0, Valverde and Quentin which previously hung in the stadium were being sold off for $25 each, and there was also a large garbage-can filled with Scotty's broken bats. As suspected, the Matt Mantei autographed balls were now discounted to $2 each, and the same price would have got you a Russ Ortiz autographed picture. I was tempted to get one of these, purely so I could upload a video of myself either setting it on fire, or wiping my ass with it, but that's two bucks which I'd rather give to a homeless bum than spend on Manateemabilia.

"Hmmm... Yes, perhaps the hit-and-run is in order..."

One of the major enhancements to last year's event was that you could now go down beyond the seats, onto the edge of the hallowed turf itself. Well, to be honest, it wasn't looking very hallowed as yet, but one images some relaying will be in order over the next seven weeks. From there, you could go sit in the dugout and make believe you were reaching for the bullpen phone [the marshals had a hard time stopping just about every person who sat down from really reaching for it!]. You could also go down the tunnel, and get seriously behind the scenes, seeing the batting cages and the locker-room for the home-team.

Why is there a tire on the way to/from the locker room?

I asked about this, and it appears this is something the players can hit against either as a warm-up - or to take their frustrations out on, after popping-up weakly on the infield [it being a less damaging alternative than punching walls or team-mates]. It would seem to me still somewhat risky, since tyres are not exactly soft and fluffy, as anyone who has ever been run over can likely tell you. But, then, I speak as someone who never actually played the game, even at the Little League level; my entire experience of batting is one session in the 70 mph cages at Crackerjacks. I managed to put bat on ball a decent amount of the time, but my swing is very much a cricket-based one, intended to put the ball on the ground. If I were a pro baseball-player, I'd likely be in the mould of Ichiro. Except, y'know, without the speed. Or the .333 career average. Anyway...

The Lyon's locker. Note beer helmet on left-hand wall.

It was interesting to get into the holy of holies, the Diamondbacks' changing-room, and see the hordes of devotees genuflecting in front of the shrine of Brandon Webb's locker. Okay, slight exaggeration, but I've never seen so many pics being taken of eight T-shirts and a number plate. Obviously, most of the spaces were not exactly in use, but there did appear to be the occasional personal touch still present, such as a skateboard to be found in Byrnes' locker or the framed photo (of his family) on O-Dawg's space. Of course, if I was on the team, I would likely have snuck back to their locker the day before the Fan Fest, and left something embarrassingly incriminating on their table, just for laughs. One wonders if that's what happened to CoJack?

For this is Jackson's home territory, and on the right-hand wall...
Has that been there since October? :-)

We met up with Dawn, manager of the Team Shop, who remembered us, having personalized our SnakePit shirts at last year's Fest. She also manages over at US Airways Center, and with the arrival of Shaq to the Suns, she's been having a rather busy week. We discussed the 10th anniversary patch, the adjustment of the snake logo, and the clearance sale on Conor Jackson items [not because he's going anywhere, but because he's changing his number from #16 to #34. Which must really piss off Sara Anderson, whose pic was in the Rep today, proudly clutching her personalized number-plate, CJFAN16. We should get CJFAN34, just to mess with her. :-)]

Grace and Sutton ponder a point

As we prepared to leave, we grabbed a random passing D-back employee and asked if the front exit was the only one, or if the side ones, closer to our car, were also available. He wasn't sure, but no big issue. However, as we turned and walked away, I heard a shout of "Jim!" from behind me. Whenever I hear that, my first instinct is to drop to the ground, and avoid the burst of small-arms fire which will follow, from one of my enemies [possible candidates including Russ Ortiz, Barry Bonds and the entire fanbase of the Chicago Cubs]. Fortunately, in this case, it turned out that the random employee we'd grabbed was actually Mike Dellosa, whom we'd been exchanging emails with about our group outing. It's a small world, after all.

Knee-surgery rehabber Chad Tracy looked in good spirits.

[Here's something for Chad and Doug Slaten: a Virtual Knee Surgery simulation. Okay, it's actually replacing a worn-out joint, rather than the microfracture surgery the pair went through, but we take the Flash animated operations we can get...] As well as the autographs, there were also photo sessions, which let you have your picture taken with two D'backs. This would have been cooler, except for the over-zealous security guard, who ordered me to stop taking photos of the photo session, from comfortably outside the barrier. This was not the only incident I heard about where the infamous Chase Field securinazis left a bad taste in attendee's mouths. While I can understand the need for restrictions, this, of all events, is supposed to be fan-friendly, and a little flexibility should have been exercised.

Mrs. SnakePit enters 'publicity whore' mode. :-)

But I don't want to leave the impression this was anything but a really fun time. I think the scale of the attendance did take organizers by surprise, and this caused some issues. However, I'm certainly happy to see the team over-run with interest from their fans, and this is hopefully an indication of things to come for the season ahead. We had a blast, and Chris even got interviewed by a Spanish-language TV station, getting a plug in, both for the SnakePit and her lucha libre show this afternoon at The Sets. If I was looking forward to the season before, I'm now really enthusiastic. Opening Day can't come soon enough,