SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Monday’s Diamondbacks FanFest at Salt River Fields gave fans an opportunity to interact with players and get acquainted with this year’s team.
Last season, there were high expectations for the club after the D-backs added pitchers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller to their rotation. However, the team stumbled badly and won just 69 games, avoiding last place in the NL West only by beating the Padres on the final day of the season.
The club was once again active this offseason but in a different way.
The Diamondbacks fired manager Chip Hale and general manager Dave Stewart, replacing them with skipper Torey Lovullo and general manager Mike Hazen. The team also reduced the role of Tony La Russa, who had been the Diamondbacks’ chief baseball officer.
Fan Eric Smith said a new manager and front office are as exciting as adding new players. They rejuvenate the team in a different way.
“I think there’s a lot more hope that the players they have will be used better,” the 37-year-old Smith said at FanFest. “Like a catcher getting better at pitch framing, things like that, because we play in a hitter-friendly stadium. So we need every strike, every out we can get. We have plenty of good hitters, so I think the changes will have a good impact.”
The Diamondbacks’ 2001 World Series title came just four years after their inception. However, the franchise hasn’t been to the postseason since 2011.
Fans seem to be taking a wait-and-see attitude this spring.
“I think when you lose some of these players, the guys that have been here for a while, it sort of breaks that cohesion down,” said fan Thomas Hogan, 51. “I think this leadership team from the general manager on down is interested in kind of building that and bringing that back to the team. From what I understand, a lot of the training activities are more team-oriented as opposed to so individually focused.”
Hogan said it will be difficult for Arizona to make the postseason in an NL West with postseason regulars like the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he said finishing among the top three in the division would be a successful season.
Jason King, 44, attended FanFest from Winslow, which is about a three-hour drive from Phoenix. King said he believes the team will make the playoffs if it stays injury-free, which did not happen last year.
“They just got to look out for San Francisco and Los Angeles,” King said. “If they can stay up with them the whole season, I mean they’ll definitely be in that mix for the NL West. Just being a young organization that started at the end of the 90s, they have got a lot of division titles. They can bring up another division title.”
The D-backs did make personnel changes, too. They acquired 24-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker in a trade with the Seattle Mariners in November, and he figures to bolster a starting rotation on a staff that had a league-worst 5.09 ERA last year.
“I kind of kept track of him in Seattle too,” King said. “I saw him upstairs (at FanFest), he’s a pretty big guy. I think he can definitely bring some wins here.”
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