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Dan Bickley

D-backs’ brutal closing stretch needs energetic support from fanbase

Arizona Diamondbacks' David Peralta, left, A.J. Pollock, middle, and Steven Souza Jr. celebrate the team's 3-1 win in a baseball game against the San Diego Padres on Friday, July 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Two laps remain in the regular season. The Diamondbacks are a marathon runner elbowing through a crowded pack, too flawed to break free, too stubborn to let anyone pass.

They need a strong finishing kick or this season will feel like a colossal failure, a waste of their money and our emotional investment. So who wants it more?

Them? Or you?

Division races don’t get any better, more bizarre or endlessly infuriating. The Diamondbacks have been a .500 team since May 8. Their moments of weakness have taxed the attention span and fervor of a bandwagon market melting in the August swelter. The Valley is too split and too spoiled to properly appreciate an underdog like this, clinging to first place with 37 games remaining.

Our baseball team should command your eternal empathy. They face challenges unlike any other team in baseball. They are burdened with staging a summertime sport indoors, in a hostile climate, in a stadium too big for love affairs. Their spring training home is an impossible dream, a sparkling facility that puts their primary home to shame. New customers are hard to reach on all fronts, where diehards are content to spend the bulk of their dollars on the Cactus League, opting for sunshine, boutique charm and the relative intimacy of games that don’t matter.

They rank fourth in division attendance, conceding enormous advantages to three dangerous rivals fueled by spectacular fan support: the Dodgers (No. 1 overall), Giants (No. 4) and Rockies (No. 6). They understand the lurking apathy is not always our fault, rather a confluence of factors the team can’t control.

Like winning a World Series title in their fourth year of existence, killing perspective, the sense of journey and the struggles that make it all worthwhile.

While television ratings are robust and reflect a healthy franchise, they are irrelevant to those in uniform. Couch dwellers can’t fill a stadium with energy or fuel home-field advantage. This team is better on the road (37-27) than they are at home (32-29), a serious regression from their breakout season at Chase Field in 2017, where they finally showed signs of dominance (52-29).

This could work in their favor. The first lap of the stretch run ends on Sept. 17, following four away games at Dodger Stadium, four games in Colorado, three in Houston and three more in San Francisco. It will test their conviction.

The final lap will be staged at Chase Field, featuring a nine-game home-stand against the Cubs, Rockies and Dodgers, followed by a season-ending getaway to San Diego. Their schedule is the hardest in the National League, where opponents have a .529 winning percentage entering Monday’s games. The way it should be.

These 37 games could also represent the team’s best chance at a World Series berth in the near future. The drama is divine, with the unpredictability that other sports just can’t duplicate.

The Diamondbacks want to be the Dodgers. The Rockies want to be the Diamondbacks. One team has all the money. One team did nothing at the trade deadline. The team in Arizona seems so close and so vulnerable.

We’re not alone. Disgruntled fan bases permeate the sport. The Nationals are a disgrace. The Indians have no competition. The Athletics are the best team in California. The Astros have been slogging since the All-Star break. The Yankees are the stuff of legend in New York except they’re nine games out of first place. The dysfunctional Dodgers could launch at any moment and the Rockies are closing fast, a team that just matched the record for most consecutive games against winning opponents.

That streak encompassed 46 games, symbolizing the proving ground now facing the Diamondbacks:

They have 37 games left, 20 at home, most against elite competition. If they make the playoffs, they will not be backing into their parking spot. And where will you be?

This is not a plea for packed houses and sellout crowds at Chase Field, even though the return on investment could be exponential. Athletes and entertainers all crave the same thing. They need their energy and effort to be reciprocated, a relationship built on a two-way street, lifting them to places they can’t go alone.

You don’t have to be in the stadium. But it should be a lot louder around here.

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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