A seasoned GM, several new coaches, additions to the roster and a sparkling new Spring Training facility means the time for D-Backs baseball is here! There is one single, strong message from Kevin Tower’s General Manager’s office, “The status quo is not acceptable!” Energy and enthusiasm for playing the game right in the passionate pursuit of victory is the D-Back trademark firmly rooted in the hearts of GM Towers as well as field manager Kirk Gibson. The memo is clear: Bring your “A” game everyday or do not plan on being a part of this club! As far as roster moves, Mr. Towers knows what he is doing and is certainly unafraid when it comes to pulling out all the stops until the club is right. Even the commitment to such a first class facility at Walking Stick demonstrated this organizations dedication to the task of winning as a habit. Of course there is a lot of variables in the 162 game adventure, but at this point, in the land of the Diamondbacks, there is certainly cause for great expectations.
It is now painfully obvious that the problem with the Arizona Diamondbacks was not manager A.J. Hinch. The team is still scuffing badly since A.J.’s dismissal. The biggest surprise of the 2010 National League West continues to be who’s in first (the Padres) and who’s in dead last (the D-Backs). It does not add up. The Padres are pitching and playing great, but the Diamondbacks are talented and playing terrible. It is not a matter of the manager (or coaching staff), it is a matter of the heart! Only as an outside observation, the Arizona boys are talented, but do not play like they are hungry. The new manager, Kirk Gibson, certainly wrote the book on playing aggressive, all out baseball. Everyone hopes he will passionate fire to the D-Backs, but the desire necessary to win championships in MLB can only come from the heart. The D-Backs need the Roy Hobbs factor. Remember the classic film The Natural? The New York Knights were miserable until Roy Hobbs broke into the lineup. In an attempt to end the losing, management brought in a psychologist holding boring team sessions highlighted by his professional observation, “Losing is a disease.” Roy Hobbs, the ancient rookie side tracked by some poor personal choices when he was a young, highly touted prospect, leaves the meeting in disgust. Talking about losing is a waste of time. Recently departed Coach John Wooden never even mentioned either winning or losing! The greatest coach of all time, he only spoke of each player doing his absolute best and putting the team above all else. View image The Roy Hobbs effect in The Natural took off when Hobbs, a passionate and desperately hungry player excels with his new opportunity loads the team on his back by example and carried the Knights to the championship. This is what the D-Backs need. It won’t be the manager. It will be a player, not highly touted nor highly paid, but passionate about the opportunity to play major league baseball. Who will it be? The “Roy Hobbs” will be an unexpected surprise. It needs to be a player no one expected to show up, make the roster and excel. It will most likely be a long time minor leaguer who has survived through determination, passion for the game and a major league dream. The “Roy Hobbs” type player teaches the more talented by example. Some of the highly touted will get it, but many may not. Large amounts of cash can easliy extinguish passion and consistent performance. If Roy Hobbs does not show up soon, the Arizona Diamondbacks are doomed … and it won’t matter who the manager is.
This time of the year the trades and releases are finalized so that the new rosters are trimmed and ready to roll out at Spring Training. Sometimes it is expected, sometimes it is a little shocking and there are times when a particular cut is sad.
The January thaw is already happening. Obviously, writing from California, this has nothing to do with the weather. The warming trend we sense is spring training coming right around the bend. The winter meetings are done, large numbers of free agents have landed and the most cereberal of the blockbuster off season trades have completed. It is nearly time to head for camp. Every winter we survive the revelations, the retirements and the new rosters. Okay, Mark McGwire has sort of come clean. The motivation was health and anyone near the game recognizes the greatest challenge is staying healthy for the long eight months, over 170 games, lengthy road trips and infrequent days off afforded to major league baseball players. That being said, it must be admitted that performance enhancing drugs do not improve hand eye coordination required to hit successfully. McGwire claims he would have hit all of those dingers anyway. In reality, probably not. If the steroids restored health, then he was able to get back on the field faster and more often than he would have without the substance. This fact alone increases homerun numbers beyond what would have naturally happened without the substance assistance. One thing is for absolute sure: we will never know! While on the subject, when will one of these substance abusers come out and simply say, “I did it. I wish I had not done it. Steriods are aweful, terrible and dangerous stuff. Given the chance the juice will ruin your career and life.” Wouldn’t that be refreshing? I loved watching McGwire bash the ball, pick up his son at homeplate and embrace the Maris family. I just wish it had all been good, clean fun.
There is a reason the young Diamondbacks play so hard. Actually, there are several reasons, but one significant influence has gone unnoticed. Much attention has been given to the amazing array and develpment of draft picks, to the aggressive and successful front office team as well as the truly insightful leadership of the manager Bob Melvin. One of the least mentioned reasons for the quality play of such a young team has been the undeniable influence and impact of the D-Backs bench coach. Recently, Micah Owings headed up to the plate in a pinch hitting role and promptly took the first pitch deep for an opposite field homerun to tie the game. In the post game victory interview Micah indicated the last person he spoke to before heading up to the plate was “Gibby”. Arizona bench coach Kirk Gibson is a huge reason for the young D-Backs great success. The next time a TV camera scans the dugout take note of two things. First, young D-Backs are always standing near Kirk Gibson. In fact, the closer and more intense the game is, the more are standing near him. It’s all business and his presence seems to radiat focus and success. Second, notice how the faces of the young D-Backs reflect the Gibson “game face”. We can see it in Mr. Gibson’s eyes and the eyes of his apprentices. Manager bob Melvin’s cereberal, almost magical management skills instill confidence in every Diamondback while Kirk Gibson’s passionate intensity brings competitive greatness to this team. What better mentor to teach the right way to play baseball. Kirk Gibson is the significant influence from the bench!
Last month, on Easter Sunday, I sat in the bright Arizona sunshine with my son, Peter, at a Diamondbacks – Brewers spring training game. The Maryville ballpark is cozy, pristine and a terrific place to watch a game. It was a beautiful day. There was some irony involved with seeing a game on Easter Sunday. Without intending to be, that game was all about resurrection, new life and transformation. The winter had grown dark with the steriod hearings and Mitchell report, but somehow, that day in the cozy Maryville park, the light was shinning and baseball, the way it supposed to be played, was back. It is certainly true in the case of Major League Baseball that “cleanliness is next to Godliness.” The winter seas were rough with all the Bonds to Clemens saddness, but that Easter Sunday the celebration of the colossial ressurrection of Jesus Christ was also linked to the phoenix rise of Major League Baseball. Look at the starrt of this season. Is there any team more fun to watcvh play the game than the young and talented Arizona Diamondbacks? This bolg, Laying Out is dedicated to those willing to give their all out effort. The Diamondbacks streaking start is a statement that last year was not enough. They are driven. The heart of the D-Backs is more important to me because it signals the resurrection of real baseball in MLB. No one more epitimizes the Laying Out heart more than Doug Davis. No public self pity, no grand standing and no whinning. Doug simply did his job, helped his team and went absolutely as far as the doctors and his body would allow. No selfishness, just passionate team play! Happily, baseball is back and we all look forward to the healthy return of #49!
This one is going to hurt. The Mitchell Report will pop the cork on Pandora’s box and we will need to ride out a horrific storm. In the end we hope the ship realigns and courage to do the right thing replaces the passive and expedient thing. Professional baseball is going to struggle to maintain equilibrium. The lethargic approach to banning and testing for performance enhancing substances is boomeranging back. It is going to get ugly. Cheaters need to go. Some million dollar athletes will find out that the rest of us do not make that kind of money … and neither should they if they cannot do it cleanly.
The great ray of hope is the purest game of baseball. Watch a little league, high school, college or even a Men’s Senior Baseball League game and the game is played in a tidal wave of joy, honor and sportsmanship. Hopefully, the Mitchell Report will drive a stake in the ground and professional baseball will go an sin no more.