The Arizona Diamondbacks held their annual Fan Fest today at Chase Field for the first time since the 2016 season. Interestingly, the event was moved to Salt River Fields from 2017 through 2019 during a heated battle with Maricopa County over the future of Chase Field. I personally welcomed the change of venue to SRF for my own selfish reasons. Because of the multiple practice fields at Salt River, the team was able to spread the event and all of its features out effectively dispersing the large crowd of fans. They aren’t afforded that luxury at Chase Field having to cram some 30,000+ fans (my estimate) into a variety of lines. They attempted to work around this by using the multiple levels of Chase Field rather than keep everything on the field as they had in seasons past.
It’s obvious and wise that this event is generally geared towards children, with some minor exceptions. For good reason it has made me realize that sooner rather than later I’ll need to share that experience with my own child, but all in good time. The surest way that the Arizona Diamondbacks are going to be able to expand their fanbase is by engaging young children, and they do a tremendous job at that. New this year was that the outfield was used for baseball related activities such as hitting instruction, an area to play catch, and a seperate space to chase down pop flies. This was the first year I didn’t stroll around the yard sale, which was held by the admission gates, where you can usually find a Trevor Cahill signed baseball or Cody Ross t-shirt they’ve been trying to get rid of for a decade. If you attended today and did happen to walk through there or the upper concourse, please share your experience in the comments.
As usual, my attention was drawn towards the interviews on the stage show. I met with Jack in the stands near the stage where he shared some of his fascinating stories of his time with the D’backs and Mark Grace. Grace was first on deck with Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzales, Bob Brenly, and Greg Schulte which has become a mainstay at Fan Fest. If last year’s “theme” during the Q&A session was the departure of Paul Goldschmidt, this year the questions were mostly directed towards the sign stealing cheating scandal. It’s not going away anytime soon and will likely be discussed ad nauseam throughout the season. While Grace, RJ, and Gonzo were on stage, a fan asked them if they thought the Astros should be stripped of their World Series title. Ironically, Grace took the liberty in responding by saying that the most important thing those players will lose is their integrity. Of course, the three men on stage played in the heart of the Steroid Era. It’s telling that a player who experienced that scandal had such strong words of caution for current players.
It wouldn’t be the only time it was brought up during the stage show Q&A. Towards the end of the show a fan asked Derrick Hall to share as much insight as he could on conversations held with the league office and other organizations around the sport. Hall stated that in the past he felt there was some gray area as to what was allowed whereas now the league is more specific on the rules following the outcome of the cheating scandal. It’s clear that the league as a whole wants to move past the issue as quickly as possible.
Earlier in the event newcomer Madison Bumgarner was asked for his take on Carlos Correa’s comments that the Astros won their World Series title fair and square, no cheating involved. It was D’backs fans’ first glimpse of his no nonsense mentality up close rather than as an opponent when he was with the San Francisco Giants. He responded by saying that he hadn’t even heard the remarks and that his primary focus was on the name on the front of his jersey and his own clubhouse. It was consistent with his responses when asked about competition within the division against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bumgarner stated that he puts no weight into projections, his focus will always be on winning the most immediate game, and that he doesn’t like to over complicate matters by doing too much. Its not the only time we’ve seen that type of personality on the team, but it’s refreshing to know that there is a proven winner in the clubhouse who will not tolerate distraction or complacency.
Behind the scenes there was the following hard hitting journalism from Jack:
Derek Hall on CF Clock @ChaseField— Jack Sommers (@shoewizard59) February 15, 2020
They still have it & still trying to source parts to bring back. They considered leaving up with time set to when they won world series but thought it would be confusing. While he couldn’t guarantee he said they’d love to bring back
Humans have been building things for thousands of years, but apparently we haven’t mastered the art of repairing broken components in a clock. Hopefully this lights a fire under their rear end because it really is awkward to look up and not see the clock.
Other guests on stage during the Q&A session included Ketel Marte, Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, and David Peralta with Spanish broadcasters Rodrigo Lopez and Oscar Soria. Further down the road there were the “locals” Kevin Cron, Merrill Kelly, Kole Calhoun, and Josh Rojas. The amount of fan interest in the former group was enlightening to see considering the strong Hispanic culture in Arizona. It is easy for the fans to enamor themselves with those players, which in turn enables the team to retain them with contract extensions because they can identify strongly with the fanbase. The latter group shared their experiences growing up as young baseball players in Arizona and who they rooted for. Kevin Cron said he was a huge Justin Upton fan while Rojas’ guys were Orlando Hudson and Tony Womack. Kole Calhoun detailed his contract negotiations with the D’backs which took place around the holidays. He was spending time in Buckeye with his family and as talks progressed was in awe of the possibility that he could be playing for the team he grew up watching.
Today was a drastically different feeling from last year’s Fan Fest. Emotions were high following the trade of Paul Goldschmidt. Fans were scared that the team was not going to be competitive and uncertain of the future. Mike Hazen had to field questions of being the bad guy for trading the face of the franchise. This time around was a notably different atmosphere. Hazen and his staff have earned the trust of the ownership and the respect of the fans, many who gave lavish praise while he was on stage. While many of us are realistic and know there is quite a bit of ground that needs to be made up to win the division, there is now the expectation that the team will remain competitive. They will fight to win throughout the season through the competitive roster fielded by the front office, and under the leadership of Torey Lovullo. That’s what Fan Fest should be about. A brand new season which brings hope, joy, and excitement for the team and fans.