It would appear that I have become the unofficial Fan Fest recapper of late. The past few seasons I’ve been in attendance have been unplanned and spur of the moment, but I’ve always enjoyed covering the event regardless. Last year a cancelled barbershop appointment drew me out to Salt River Fields for Fan Fest, and this time it was a last moment invite from my mother. Unfortunately, the weather today was slightly less enjoyable than last year in the eyes of a native Arizonan. A quick Google search and my failing memory tells me it was a comfortable high of 70 degrees allowing me to wear shorts and a t-shirt. Today? It was 58 degrees and quite windy walking back to the car. Woe is me. We really are spoiled in this beautiful state.
There was a minor change made to this year’s event that you may want to prepare for should you attend in the future. In the past, Fan Fest was free for those who wanted to attend and did not require a ticket. It was also free to attend today, but fans were required to have a ticket to gain admission. I heard that this was to aid in obtaining an official attendance count, Steve Gilbert reports a record crowd of 40,000, and tickets were still available after the gates opened.
As it was last year, the kids activities were held on one practice field, the autograph lines and merchandise yard sale on another, and the Q&A session on the main field. It’s a setup that works well in distributing the crowd as much as possible. The merchandise yard sale for whatever reason is hardly as interesting as it ever was when Fan Fest was held at Chase Field in the past. Unless you’ve been searching endlessly for a Trevor Cahill autographed baseball or Fry’s grocery store branded, highlighter yellow, youth D’backs jersey there isn’t much there worth braving the crowd for.
Because of the ticket requirement, there was quite a line to enter through the north gate where we had arrived. It took us roughly 15 minutes to get through the security check point where someone, who I presumed it was her first day in any sort of security related job role, smacked me around with a metal detecting wand for a minute or two. It’s a slight overkill for an event of this nature in my opinion, but I suppose that’s a discussion for another time. This delay resulted in me catching the tail end of Mike Hazen, Torey Lovullo, and Derrick Hall during the Q&A session. However, I was able to catch their answers to topics that piqued my interest fortunately.
As if we haven’t beaten this topic to death here at the Pit in recent days, the first question I caught was regarding the potential implementation of the designated hitter in the National League. Derrick Hall took the liberty in answering and his response was rather candid and should be of little surprise to any of us here. He used the exact words “it’s a bargaining chip for owners,” and we can assume that he is referring to collective bargaining negotiations with the Players’ Union. His comments combined with what we’ve already discussed here lead me to believe that the implementation of a universal designated hitter is all but inevitable. However, his response is revealing in the sense that MLB and team owners will use it to their advantage in negations for the next collective bargaining agreement with the Players’ Union, so we’re provided with a potential timeline.
Hall also mentioned that this is something teams will be given prior notice of as to give them ample time to construct their rosters accordingly, so the rule change is at least a few years down the road. We know that this is something the MLBPA wants because it creates a well compensated roster position on half the teams in the league, so there is no incentive for league owners to give it away for nothing in return. It doesn’t matter what any of us fans want or argue for because at the end of the day the sport we love is an entertainment business with competing financial interests. Now go argue about it in the comments. Moving on...
Manager Torey Lovullo at #Dbacks FanFest says that it’s “way too premature” to name Archie Bradley as closer.— Steve Gilbert (@SteveGilbertMLB) February 9, 2019
The above has been a recurring theme the past few years. Torey Lovullo goes on the record in the offseason that with a gun pointed to his head Archie Bradley would get the nod for the closer role. Then a few weeks prior to the start of spring training Mike Hazen acquires a Brad Boxberger through trade or Greg Holland through free agency and suddenly the picture isn’t as clear. Most managers, Lovullo included, have always promoted competition and uncertainty in roster construction during spring training. Competition is nothing but beneficial to professional athletes and their teams who strive for the best possible roster. Expect the decision for the closer role to go down to the final week of spring training barring significant injury.
The next question concerning Clay Buchholz was directed towards Mike Hazen, and at this point it appears a reunion with him is unlikely. Mike cited the offseason additions of Luke Weaver and Merrill Kelly and commented that what Clay is looking for might not be a match for the Diamondbacks at the present time. It would seem then given that Clay is again ending a season with injury concerns that he might need to accept a minor league offer with an invite to camp from a given team and hope that his performance is enough to create another opportunity. I’d imagine that door isn’t completely closed for the D’backs and Clay because as we’re well aware injury will cause a starting pitching shortage at some point during the season, and the best stopgap might not be an internal option.
Get your brown paper bags ready because Lovullo left almost no doubts that Alex Avila, John Ryan Murphy, and Carson Kelly will make the roster to form the next catching Cerberus. The obsession with this form of roster construction has been nauseating for fans at times and will surely result in a shortage of bullpen arms again this season. Lovullo commented that he prefers catchers on the roster with positional flexibility and specifically mentioned Avila taking reps at first base occasionally. Oh how I long for the days of Miguel Montero averaging 124 games per season at the battery. It speaks to the value he carried in the prime of his career, and why J.T. Realmuto was a sought after commodity on the trade market the past few seasons. Catchers of that caliber are rare to come by. Can Carson Kelly utilize his youth and high cieling to secure more of a majority share at the position this season?
Rounding out questions directed to the front office and the manager, Derrick Hall took the time to address the future of the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. His response on this topic was slightly reserved as he suggested that the team is not far along in their search for a new venue now that they’ve been allowed to look elsewhere. The franchise has taken advantage of being able to control non-baseball event booking, noting Royal Rumble and the upcoming Billy Joel concert. Hall stated that the organization has to be strategic with the additional revenue stream and how those funds are allocated because of the necessary repairs the team has identified and because of how long they can reasonably forecast staying at Chase Field.
Now any of you who have attended these events in the past might be aware that fans can ask some... interesting questions as it’s essentially an open mic with little pre-screening. It can be a bit nerve wracking posing a question to a professional athlete with ~30,000 strangers in attendance leading to awkward exchanges at times. It’s for this reason that I typically prefer to sit back and observe rather than participate, but when Luke Weaver and Carson Kelly came to the stage for their session I felt it appropriate to ask them something that will likely come up numerous times during their careers in Arizona.
Couldn’t make it to #DbacksFanFest? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. https://t.co/wBtzfKIF7v— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) February 9, 2019
If you fast forward to about the 11:40 mark, you’ll hear me sheepishly ask Kelly and Weaver what impact it has on them, if any, being the players coming over in return for arguably the greatest player in franchise history, Paul Goldschmidt. Through absolutely zero fault of their own their names will forever be tied to that trade. I was both impressed and not surprised by their responses, and I think it’s reasonable of me to say that both of those things can be true. Both of these young men are just beginning their careers and have their own promising future in front of them. It’s unfair to expect them to replace Goldschmidt because doing so would be almost impossible. Their responses give insight into Mike Hazen’s line of thought in making the franchise altering trade. He was faced with one year left of a superstar who might not have been inclined to return to the Diamondbacks in free agency netting only a compensation draft pick, so he had to maximize the best return possible. Left with a difficult decision he was able to acquire two major league ready players, an intriguing prospect, and a compensation draft pick. Quite the return for one year of a single baseball player. There are plenty of question marks surrounding Weaver and Kelly, but the responses both young men gave me demonstrate that they are prepared to contribute towards a winning future as best they can. Leading me to the next point and probably the overarching theme of this year’s fan fest.
“I think the biggest thing we’re all trying to do with respect to Paul is Paul’s gone, and we really want to harp on that,” [Archie] Bradley said. “Paul’s not here anymore. We’re not the Arizona Goldschmidts, and I mean that in the most respectful way. Paul was amazing here and is a legend forever, but it’s time to move past the Goldschmidt era and have us step up and play some baseball here.”
The above quote from Archie Bradley is similar to a remark made by Jim shortly following the Goldschmidt trade.
“I was a fan of the Diamondbacks before Paul Goldschmidt was drafted, and will still be a fan now that he is no longer part of the team. To be blunt, I support the name on the front of the shirt, not the one on the back.” Jim McLennan, December 7th, 2018
When the impact of the trade was still raw it would have been difficult for me to agree with the truth in these statements, but as a new season draws near and as I feel my excitement growing, as it always has, I begin to accept this point of view. Because it is the reality as a fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks, we have no other choice but to look forward towards the future of this franchise. Although some of us might disagree, Mike Hazen and others appear to believe that this is still a team that can be competitive. Make no mistake that plenty will need to go right for this team to make the postseason. The most optimistic predictions/projections of this team hover around the .500 mark, or roughly what we’ve watched throughout this decade.
I’ve made the argument that Hazen should strip the team down to the studs with the hope of being a contending force in a few seasons, but that doesn’t appear to be his style. And perhaps he is right, who am I to criticize? If this team plays above their expectations, and we’ve seen them do it before in the past, they might only need a few minor tweaks to make the postseason again. Or as Nick Piecoro put it recently, Hazen will attempt to thread the needle between competing and rebuilding. What other choice do we have as fans of this franchise other than to support the name on the front of the jersey? The future is both uncertain and bright with an obscene amount of draft picks this season, a pair of promising Bahamian prospects in Jazz Chisholm and Kristian Robinson, and potential impact arms Jon Duplantier, Taylor Widener, and Taylor Clarke. That’s before we even begin to discuss the assets on the major league roster. This optimism was repeated multiple times at Fan Fest today by players, coaches, and the front office. Perhaps the propaganda got to me?
The event, as always with most events put on by the D’backs, was remarkably kid friendly. They dedicated the entire Q&A session for Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, Zack Godley, and Robbie Ray to questions from the children which always generates plenty of laughs. Most were posed to Bradley considering he is a fan favorite among the kids. One moment of hilarity in particular involved a kidcaster from last season, Aiden. Her favorite player is David Peralta, and while she was interviewing him last season Bradley interrupted and questioned why she chose the Freight Train. Not letting Bradley forget, she used it to her advantage to pry a hug and an autograph out of Bradley at Fan Fest. Aiden is clearly going places.
As I concluded last season, feel free to share your experiences in the comments section. Being that I don’t have children of my own, I spent most of my time observing the Q&A session as that is where my interests are. Because of that, I very well may have missed out on a number of the activities offered.