Every day as a kid, I rode my bike to Clark’s Market to buy a copy of the Salt Lake Tribune for 10 cents. It was the only way you could read the baseball box scores in my hometown.
I read every box every day, even the hated Dodgers. I knew more about the Yankees than the Yankees knew about the Yankees.
By the time I got my first full-time newspaper job, at Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, I would often sit by The Associated Press Teletype machine watching as the box scores were transmitted, line by line. Breaking news.
I had a baseball addiction like nobody’s business.
This craziness continued into the 21st century, enabled by the Diamondbacks, who were irresistible for the first five years of their existence. The D-backs had personality, superstars, and a bullish owner, Jerry Colangelo, who bought the club a World Series championship and an identity.
They were Tucson’s team by a mile.
The Dodgers had been Tucson’s favorite baseball team for more than 50 years, no contest, because their games were broadcast on local radio — the incomparable Vin Scully every night! — and Tucson baseball fans frequently trekked to Dodger Stadium for a summer getaway.
That all changed when the D-backs began spring training on Ajo Way and, almost overnight, became a powerhouse, available in Tucson on TV and radio for 162 games a year.
The Diamondbacks became so trendy that 10 people in my office bought season tickets in 1998. We had a party, a draft; we each hand-picked eight Diamondback games for the inaugural season.
The D-backs averaged 44,571 per game that season, about 93 percent of capacity. Bank One Ballpark was a little piece of baseball paradise. I must’ve gone to 20 games for each of the D-backs’ first five seasons. I didn’t even mind the midnight drive back to Tucson.
I thought of that the other day when a friend said he had dugout-side tickets to the D-backs-Cubs game on a Saturday night. “I’ll drive,” he said.
No, I said. Not a chance.
No D-backs. Not this year. Not last year. Not next year. I haven’t watched an inning of a D-backs broadcast for years. If a D-backs game is on the car radio, I switch before the next pitch.
My membership to the Baseball Writers of America lapsed. Too much exposure to lousy baseball smothered my baseball addiction.
It’s not because the Diamondbacks abandoned Tucson as spring training headquarters. It made business sense for them to establish a base in Phoenix; they got a much better offer. The D-backs gave Tucson 13 years. It was fair.
The reason the Diamondbacks are no longer celebrated (or liked much) in Tucson is because they are awful. They are unrecognizable and unwatchable.
At 46-60, with no prospect of making a charge (now or in the near future) they are not good news.
Attendance at Chase Field is 25,601 per game, and by October it will surely fall below 25,000, which will be the lowest in club history (25,425 in 2005). When Canyon del Oro High grad Ian Kinsler and the Detroit Tigers were in Phoenix for three games last week, the D-backs failed to sell 66,303 seats.
They are just 5-10 in postseason games since the epic 2001 World Series.
They have drafted poorly, traded poorly and are now in a ballpark that is more a relic, a warehouse, than a fun place to watch a ballgame.
Much of the reason the Diamondbacks are in such a fix is because they’ve made a mess of their personnel decisions.
They traded Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer for Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson. They botched first-round draft picks by selecting Daniel Schlereth, Bobby Borchering and Barret Loux.
They paid $24 million for 37-year old pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who soon blew out his elbow. They are paying outfielder Cody Ross $27 million; he has hit 10 homers in a year and a half.
It’s one thing to mortgage the future by paying for Randy Johnson. It’s another to pay J.J. Putz $13 million for six saves since 2012. One thing about the Colangelo management: it always made you feel the Diamondbacks were a good story.
You don’t have any confidence that someone in the front office will spin a trade for the next Curt Schilling.
The Diamondbacks aren’t much different than the Cleveland Indians of the 1989 movie “Major League.”’
“I play for the Indians,” Jake Taylor, played by Tom Berenger, tells a woman.
“Here in Cleveland?” she asks, astonished. “I didn’t know they still had a team.”
“Yup,” says Taylor. “We’ve got uniforms and everything.”