The attendance was announced as 25,000, but I'd have said it felt less. Whether it was the shift to Sunday afternoon, from a Saturday morning oriented event, or maybe it was the after-effect of last season's disappointing performance, it didn't seem as busy as the last time I was present. Not being a season ticket holder or otherwise eligible for early entrance, I got to Chase at noon, and easily found free street parking on 9th St, then meandered round to the entrance, and joined the FanFest, already in progress.
First stop was the Yard Sale, but that proved disappointing, as it had already been picked almost completely clean by the early arrivals. Virtually all that was left were a few T-shirts and two sad, forlorn pyramids of bobbleheads, commemorating those we have lost: Martin Prado and Gerardo Parra, available to clear at $2 each. Though I did toy with the idea of stocking up on a bunch of Parra bobble, simply so I could use them to troll AzDbackfanInDc over an extended period this coming season. I thought I had found the "real" yard sale nearby - but that just turned out to be a branch of the team store, which had been opened for the afternoon down on the field.
I headed into the bowels of Chase, for a quick tour round the locker room. The route this year did seem to require a bit more meandering, and also went through the trainer's room and the gym, which was plastered with inspirational posters bearing slogans such as "The only easy day was yesterday", and "The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital." Perhaps the most concerning of these - unless it was one left over from the previous regime - was the one which read, "Durability is more important than ability." Hmm. I can see what it's trying to say, but a roster of 25 cinder-blocks isn't going to win many contests.
The locker-room itself was a little disappointing, because unlike previous years, it appeared to have been stripped clean of all personality. I recall at some FanFests, being able to play detective based on the contents in and around the lockers, which gave a little glimpse into the personalities of the occupants. But this time, there wasn't even a Conor Jackson jock-strap to be seen: it was as if a memorandum had come down from on high, that all employees must be sure to leave their desks clean, because of a impending visit from head office.
I hung out for a bit at the Arizona Sports booth, where Mark Grace was being interviewed on his role as assistant hitting coach: he described himself as being hitting coach Turner Ward's "main tentacle," which raises quite a few mental images I'd rather not have had. He also explained the hitting philosophy he wanted to pass on to his charges, which can be simply summarized as "take the balls, and swing at the strikes." But most of the rest of my afternoon was spent by the main stage, where there were various Q+A panels going on, hosted mostly by Steve Berthiaume and Greg Schulte.
The first of these had Berthiaume talking to three of our new pitchers, Robbie Ray, Allen Webster and Jeremy Hellickson, and we learned that they do not appear too excited about the prospect of having to hit for themselves in the National League - which drew a quick "#PitchersWhoRake" response from Daniel Hudson on Twitter! The biggest applause there went to Ray, for saying his role model growing up was fellow left-hander Randy Johnson. Hey, it may be cheap heat, but the guy seems to know how to work an audience!
This was followed by a panel (above) with the young pitchers - the "Killer B's" of Archie Bradley, Aaron Blair and Braden Shipley [who should change his name to Shipley Braden, to fit in better]. Also present was Josh Collmenter, who began proceedings by "outing" Bradley as being newly single. In addition, we learned that Collmenter is currently reading On Solitude. This is a work by 16th-century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, so it appears we have our most intellectual Diamondback since Miguel Batista, who probably still has the edge considering he was a published poet.
But he's certainly not the only Diamondback with artistic tendencies as the next section proved. In between the panels, there was live music from local cover band, The Walkens - they did a particularly good version of The Who's Teenage Wasteland. However, for their final set, they were joined by the team's musicians: Mark Trumbo, A.J. Pollock and Aaron Hill on guitars, with Bronson Arroyo perhaps wisely avoiding anything that might strain his UCL and sticking to vocals. This was an offshot of a sideline which arose last season, where Arroyo and his pals turned a Chase Field storage locker into a "rock room". And perhaps the biggest surprise? They were pretty good.
Of course, it's hard to tell for sure, how much was them, and how much was the Walkens, but either way, it all seemed to gel nicely with Arroyo's vocals, which reminded me of... Dammit, I can't quite remember. They did a nice selection of covers, from Pink Floyd to Oasis, and I have to say, I have heard an awful lot worse from acts playing in bars. Let's just hope none of them suffer a Joel Zumaya-like injury: given he hurt himself playing Guitar Hero, I can only imagine what actual excessive rock-star windmilling might do to a finely-tuned athlete.
The last panel was focused on the front office, with Dave Stewart, Chip Hale and Derrick Hall. Nothing especially startling came out of this, though Stewart did say he currently expects to see Peter O'Brien in the majors, if not on Opening Day, then during the first half of the season. Hall also dropped some more vague hints about the "exciting" uniform news, which will formally be announced in about 10 days: based on what he hinted at, I suspect that there may be more regular use of the throwback uniforms, e.g. maybe every last home Sunday game of the month, or something like that. We'll see.
And with that out of the way, events were clearly winding down and so, I climbed back up from the field of play, and wandered along the concourse, past the snaking lines of autograph seekers, waiting patiently for their sessions. The next time I'm at Chase, it will be for real baseball, and meaningful games as the Diamondbacks seek to show that last season was not who they really are.
I think most fans will agree, that day can't come soon enough!