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Dan Bickley

Change of fortune has Diamondbacks fighting for local attention

Arizona Diamondbacks Paul Goldschmidt heads to first on a bases-loaded walk that allowed John Ryan Murphy (36) to score during the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in a baseball game Tuesday, April 3, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Diamondbacks have problems. Their slugger can’t hit. Their stadium makes too many headlines. Their brief reign atop the Valley is suddenly in jeopardy.

Rarely does a first-place team in a weak division feel so vulnerable.

Our perspective has also changed dramatically in the past month. The Cardinals lucked into Josh Rosen, a rookie quarterback already wowing veterans with star power and command of the huddle. The Suns won the NBA draft lottery, defying the bad luck that has cursed the franchise for 50 years.

We are a basketball town by birth. We’ve become a football town by necessity — out of love for Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and a Super Bowl run that blew our minds, changed the landscape and painted the Valley from orange to red.

Those two teams are again dominating the conversation, eclipsing everything else in the vicinity. Their collective run of good fortune has created an interesting dynamic in the marketplace.

A month ago, the Diamondbacks were deep in the heart of Arizonans, ranking among the best stories in baseball. Despite a rash of injuries, they won series after series, making their case as the best team in the National League. And then the timeline changed.

On April 26th, Rosen fell into the Cardinals’ lap, after a pre-draft coin flip between the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers. Oakland lost the toss and a chance at their targeted offensive lineman, making them susceptible to Steve Keim’s trade offer. The events led Rosen to Arizona, nearly atoning for the lost coin toss that cost us one of the greatest players in NBA history, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

On May 15, the Suns won the NBA draft lottery, a night when confetti swirled inside Talking Stick Resort Arena. The riotous scene proved what Jerry Colangelo has insisted for years, and long after he sold the team to Robert Sarver: If the Suns ever compete for championships in the future, they will own the Valley all over again.

That’s what makes the Diamondbacks’ current standing so precarious. In 2017, the heroics of J.D. Martinez, the antics of Archie Bradley and that playoff victory over the Rockies changed the game for everyone. Their stoic start in 2018 only enhanced their standing in the Valley.

But then Rosen arrived, followed by the Deandre Ayton-Luka Doncic debate. In between, on May 9, Maricopa County officials agreed to end their legal battle with our MLB team, allowing the Diamondbacks to search for a new home, potentially abandoning Chase Field in five years.

They have won one of eight games since, after the ballpark became the story yet again, mostly because of a humidor that has had an undeniable effect in Arizona. It seems to have strengthened an asset that needed no fortification (pitching) while marginalizing a lineup that needed help following the departure of Martinez.

Let’s get this out of the way: In the long term, the Diamondbacks need a new stadium. They need a reduction in capacity, a new environment and a cozy, intimate vibe.

And maybe the easiest solution is to allow our baseball team and soccer franchise, Phoenix Rising FC, to switch locations.

The short term is more important, fraught with urgency, where the Diamondbacks face a different challenge. Goldschmidt must have a statement game early in this road trip, serving notice to opposing pitchers and energizing his own clubhouse. Jake Lamb needs to hit the ground running when he rejoins the lineup. Liberated from a stadium that has become the enemy once again, they must rediscover the secrets to winning baseball on the road.

Otherwise, it will soon be football and basketball season in the Valley. Our attention will be fixated on the Cardinals and Suns, teams recently stuck in competitive quicksand. The Diamondbacks will face competition not found in the National League West.

This is happening right in their backyard. And the fight for survival begins anew.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier