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Dan Bickley

Struggling local teams need support, but Diamondbacks make it tough

Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, left, talks with manager Torey Lovullo as the Diamondbacks bat against the Colorado Rockies in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in Denver. Arizona won 6-3. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Zoom out 20 years, and the Diamondbacks might be our heroes.

Playoff team at Age 2. World Series winner at Age 4. Champions of the community. Murderers of our perspective. A franchise that always delivers the goods, the bad and the ugly.

Today they’re in a different place. The 2018 Diamondbacks are a team that can’t win and won’t die. Their proximity to first place makes us watch. Their performance on the field makes us curse. They’re dead millionaires walking, coughing up hairballs, the worst of emotional investments.

The bill for this team could be extreme.

The Valley is a hard place on failed sports teams. We bond in good times but never in failure. We don’t absorb disappointing seasons as a show of our mettle and loyalty. We don’t embrace the power of pain and how it can enrich all future success.

Instead, we resent the teams that tease, please and ultimately freeze under pressure. Every season is viewed as a success or failure, with little nuance or empathy. Bad teams are not chapters in our life or symbolic of life’s struggle. They are an excuse for all transient fans to revert back to their childhood teams. And in the end, we remain more bandwagon than brotherhood.

The sad irony: Those from elsewhere understand the galvanizing effect of sticking with the local teams through thick and thin. They know the communal force of one city, one team. That’s how many of them were raised and why many live here without full emotional commitment. And yet too many won’t hand that transcendent gift to Arizona teams.

Then again, it’s hard to extend any courtesy to a team like 2018 Diamondbacks. They squandered a 21-8 start by stinking in unison for an entire month. Their offense suffers from narcolepsy, disappearing for hours at a time. They beefed up the bullpen at trade deadline, only to give us more relievers capable of blowing games and breaking hearts.

Entering a weekend series in Houston, the Diamondbacks are 18-28 in games decided by one run, including eight consecutive losses. Seven of the past 11 losses were shouldered by relief pitchers. The numbers properly reflect a team that has steered its fan base into an iceberg, providing no shortage of sucker-punch defeats.

By contrast, the Diamondbacks have had five playoff teams in their 20-year history,

The math still looks better than their performance on the field. Their postseason odds were just under three percent with 15 games remaining. Many teams have overcome greater odds, snagging playoff berths at the finish line. But nothing about this team leads anyone to believe they’re capable of a hot streak, and the shame is only beginning.

The final indignity? Next week, the Diamondbacks return to Chase Field. They will play the Cubs, Rockies and Dodgers. If Arizona’s fan base has fled the scene for good, the final home-stand of the season will feature a stadium (a) overrun by Cubs fans; (b) followed by empty-house games against Colorado; (c) followed by an invasion of Dodgers fans, the worst of them all.

A vested sports town might stand by their Local Nine, absolving the Diamondbacks for all of their competitive sins, crossing their fingers and praying for miracles.

But that’s not us.

In these parts, a bad season is always a loss and never a chance for communal growth. Great sports towns commiserate together, turning disappointment into strength. But there’s no company for misery in Arizona. The concept of bonding in failure is impossible because the audience always scatters when dark clouds roll in, when diehard fans can’t find solace at an empty water cooler.

That’s why the 2018 Diamondbacks are threatening to leave a terrible legacy. They were supposed to be the first team to post successive playoff berths in 16 years, creating real momentum for the future, erasing their reputation as one-hit wonders.

Instead, this team will likely go down with a whimper, promptly torn down and rebuilt. And judging by the fiery contempt in the Valley for a baseball team that couldn’t, very few will object.

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

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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