It was July of 2006. I could tell my boss was dishonest.
It’s one of the difficulties of this business. I get paid to sit on my butt and talk sports. You do the same thing everyday and don’t get paid for it. The catch is how quickly it can end and suddenly you’re looking for a job.
I got ahead of the game and started looking for a new job when my Kansas City boss said everything will be fine. They just weren’t ready to talk contract with me.
I had always loved Arizona from the number of family vacations I had out here. When I heard that a city as big as Phoenix was starting a new sports station on a station that gets the label of “heritage” in our industry, I knew that I would give anything to get the job.
I loved Kansas City. I couldn’t believe the passion of the fans. Until you live there, you’d never know how much they adore sports, their teams, and sports-talk radio. There was one thing about Kansas City that I could never get over: the Royals.
The Royals have not been to the playoffs since they won the Championship in 1985. They’ve only been above .500 a couple times in the last 20 years. 2003 was one of those years. It was my first year in KC and the Royals were the surprise team of the country. They were in first place most of the season. In my first week in town, they had a day game to make up from an early season rain-out. Every ticket sold was considered general admission. A game that wasn’t on the schedule, a mid-week afternoon game, and they had over 20,000. I couldn’t believe it.
I had been to a Royals game during a family vacation about 10 years before that. I had been to a Royals game during my interview in KC. What was different about this game was this was my first Diamondbacks game. Aaron Guiel hit a lead-off HR off of Randy Johnson and the Royals controlled most of the game. However, the D-Backs never quit and actually took the game in the 12th. As a Mets fan, I already liked the D-Backs because I didn’t want the Yankees to win in 2001 but it was great to see them play in person.
I felt like I hit the jackpot when I came to Phoenix for the beginning of Sports 620 KTAR. We had Ian Johnson on our first show the day after he ran a Statue of Liberty play against Oklahoma to lead Boise St. to a win in the Fiesta Bowl. A week later we hired a producer (Yoda) from Colin Cowherd’s show. Then our station signed Gambo & Ash. All of it set-up perfectly for the 2007 Diamondbacks.
After getting a taste of good baseball in 2003, it was depressing to go through three years of losing and feel the weight of 20 years when fans called in to talk about the Royals woes. The first thing I realized in Phoenix is how apathetic the fans were. The brand of baseball the D-Backs played was great. They were so exciting. I felt like a kid wondering who was going to be the next opponent. I had to have the radio or television on. I hated missing a pitch. Yet there were no fans at the game. The whole year I kept thinking that the fans here didn’t get it. I thought they were missing out on the magic. I couldn’t help but think of how the fans of KC would react to a team like this.
I thought I could change a culture. I didn’t buy into the excuses people have regarding attendance. It was very simple to me. The Diamondbacks were putting a product on the field that was more than worth the price of admission, but fans didn’t care enough to go support them. I knew Phoenix was missing out on something very special.
I bring this up now for one reason. We’ve been presented this year with one of the most gutless baseball teams in Major League Baseball. They are closer to a number one pick in 2010 than they are to the playoffs. The lack of respect for the game is appalling. The knowledge of how to play the game is absent. The heart to compete is disgustingly low.
I refuse to believe this team isn’t talented. You don’t win more games than any other team two years ago and bring back mostly the same people to fight for draft position unless the players on this team have an over-inflated opinion of themselves, a lack of professionalism, or both.
John Wooden used to say, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” This is a team that just sits around waiting for someone else to get hot. How about making adjustments? Working to find out how the other team is pitching you and then executing your game plan? Instead, we get a bunch of kids who look at it as a waiting game. The talent is there but not the heart.
So the next time I go off about attendance, please understand I’m not attacking you. I just don’t want you to miss magic because you never know when egos will get out-of-control and you can’t re-create the magic. Which is what we have now.