In full disclosure, I did not initially intend on being in attendance at today’s Fan Fest at Salt River Fields, but when my barber unfortunately cancelled today after coming down with the flu I figured that I should make good use of my time. Besides, one can only sit on the couch and continue to watch various forms of skiing in the Winter Olympics for so long before succumbing to boredom. My girlfriend and I decided an hour prior to the gates opening at SRF that attending Fan Fest was more appealing, so off I went (in desperate need of a haircut mind you).
This was the second year in a row that Fan Fest was held at the Diamondbacks’ Spring Training facility. I have attended a handful of them at Chase Field previously but found the event to be more enjoyable at SRF. Large crowds in small places are burdensome for most people, myself included, but the open air atmosphere of SRF effectively eliminates much of that anxiety with plenty of space. Steve Gilbert reported that today’s event broke an attendance record for Fan Fest with the crowd approaching 30,000 fans, but there was plenty of room to breathe. The team held their merchandise yard sale, always popular with fans looking for a bargain, and the autograph tables on one of the separate practice fields with the kid’s activities on another effectively controlling much of the crowd issues. It was always quite overwhelming with all of that happening at once on one field at Chase. The checkout line for the team merchandise yard sale was exceptionally long, as it typically is, so we opted to “window shop” rather than stand in line to purchase a $5 sweatshirt or $3 bobblehead. In between those two practice fields, fans of all ages were given the opportunity to take three hacks in the batting cages, so those lines appeared to be moving rather quickly.
The real treat of the entire event was obviously the Q&A session with current and former players and the coaches, but not for reasons you would typically expect. The questions coming from the kids easily stole the show. We sat in the seats down the third baseline opposite from the stage, and the first question we heard was addressed to Torey Lovullo.
Kid just asked Torey Lovullo, “How do you control your attitude after a loss?”— Keegan Thompson (@k_man5000) February 17, 2018
Oh to be young and innocent again at a time when losses arguably have less of an impact on the mindset. Something tells me this young one has been coached before to be graceful after a loss, surely an admirable trait. After letting out a chuckle with the rest of the crowd, Lovullo wisely deflected the attention towards General Manager Mike Hazen and his reactions after a loss. My girlfriend and I retreated briefly to a burger concession stand to fuel us for the day, and I was quickly reminded that I do not miss ballpark food pricing.
Paul Goldschmidt, Brandon Drury, and Jake Lamb followed up afterwards. Goldy was asked about his notable September slump and if it had anything to do with his balky elbow. In true form without missing a beat, he responded simply by saying that he was not putting together good at bats and, contrary to popular belief, he is not a “robot” and will have his share of struggles in his career. It was a reasonable question in my opinion considering the dramatic cooldown he had in the final month of the season, but perhaps a bit of relief that he did not attribute it all to the injury. He mentioned that through the ups and downs it may seem like the players are providing canned responses to the media, but they truly go through their job remaining focused on the task at hand regardless of how well they may be playing and those expressions are reflective of that mentality.
Returning to more important inquiries (/sarcasm font), the next kid asked the group how they feel when a new teammate joins the ball club. Jake Lamb seized the opportunity to thrust J.D. Martinez into the conversation by replying, “It’s pretty fun when they come in and hit 30 home runs in a few months.” Witnessing the historic second half Martinez had made all of us, teammates included, feel some type of way.
All three players also addressed a question directed towards the installation of a humidor at Chase Field and how they anticipate it to factor into their offensive performance in the Valley. Unsurprisingly, they steered clear of discussing the specifics and stuck to the response that it would not change their daily preparation or approach. I anticipate that the analytics staff has been preparing the players behind closed doors well in advance of the humidor officially getting the green light.
Next up on the docket was a contingent from the reliever corps with Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, along with newcomers Brad Boxberger and Yoshi Hirano taking the stage.
The kids’ questions are highly entertaining.— Keegan Thompson (@k_man5000) February 17, 2018
“How much allowance do I have to save so J.D. Martinez comes back?”
“Did you [Archie] get any bugs in your beard today?”
Archie’s response to the first question:
How is that GoFundMe account going now that you mention it?
We've been advocating this on Az Snakepit for months lol https://t.co/G3dcuXuZcT— ISH95 (@imstillhungry95) February 17, 2018
The friendship between Bradley and Chafin was center stage in response to the second question above when Bradley revealed that Chafin is his appointed beard groomer. It was evident that Archie has quickly emerged as a fan favorite after an eventful offseason and his performance last year with the fan response after he was announced to the stage. I would not be surprised to see him take it upon himself to help integrate Boxberger and Hirano into the bullpen dynamic. When asked who was the most difficult batter the pitchers have faced, Yoshi replied that Shohei Ohtani was typically his biggest challenge. Of course, the Diamondbacks will face the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani’s major league team, both in Spring Training and the regular season so keep aware for a potential matchup between the two countrymen.
Ketel Marte and the blazingly fast Yasmany Tomas joined Rodrigo Lopez for the Spanish portion of the program. It was quickly mentioned that Marte’s offseason workouts in the Dominican Republic have not gone unnoticed, and I strongly encourage you to take a peak at his Instagram videos to see what the buzz is about. Keep an eye out because we may see him push the issue in the middle infield and have a Jean Segura-esque breakout this year.
What would a Diamondbacks Fan Fest be without a trip down memory lane featuring the real life legends racers Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez, and Mark Grace? Randy Johnson’s post playing career transformation continues to astonish me, and he made a point to stop and sign autographs down the left field line after emerging from the bullpen with Luis Gonzalez. He seems to take the “Special Assistant to the President Derrick Hall” more to heart than the other innumerable special assistants, and his personal investment in the success of the organization’s pitching staff was on display again today. When asked which player he sees as most similar to himself, he provided an insightful response naming Robbie Ray. It is a comparison that plenty have made before given Ray’s struggles early in his career with his pitch count and inability to pitch into the later innings of the game. Johnson pointed towards the success Ray had every fifth day on the mound as a left hander, and he sees Robbie building on that performance this season. The addition of the humidor could possibly benefit him the most.
The concluding Q&A session of the 2018 Fan Fest consisting of the outfielders has me reading between the lines slightly and perhaps incorrectly. Yasmany Tomas had already made his appearance, so it was rather surprising to see Chris Owings join David Peralta and A.J. Pollock to conclude the session. Owings quickly mentioned how Peralta and Pollock have been of great assistance in getting him acclimated to playing in the outfield with Pollock going as far as loaning his glove to Owings on Opening Day in 2016. Again, this is likely me reading between the lines entirely incorrectly because Lovullo will probably utilize both Owings and Daniel Descalso in the outfield on occasion. However, I think we could possibly see Chris Owings secure a starting role in the corner outfield over Yasmany Tomas should the team not make an addition through trade or free agency prior to Opening Day. This would be consistent with Lovullo’s previous comments stating that there will be a competition for a corner outfield spot. Take that as you will.
Bullpen prospect Jared Miller took over the team’s Twitter account responding to questions posted there. After addressing a few questions pertaining to his thoughts on ABC’s The Bachelor (whaaa?), he shared how he feels when an opposing batter takes him yard.
Gotta have thick skin when playing your minor league games in the Pacific Coast League!
Feel free to share your experience in the comments! I am certain there was quite a bit I may have missed seeing how I spent much of my time parked in a seat listening to the Q&A sessions.