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Dan Bickley

Opening Day is a time to be hopeful for restructured D-backs

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zack Greinke (21) shakes hands with manager Torey Lovullo as the two speak in the dugout after Greinke got out of a bases-loaded second inning by striking out the final two Cleveland Indians batters in the second inning of a spring training baseball game Thursday, March 7, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

There is one major professional championship trophy in the Valley. On a cold morning in February, it sat on the passenger seat next to Chris Taylor, the Diamondbacks’ security coordinator tasked with bringing the artifact to Fan Fest 2019.

All good. Until he was pulled over by police who saw the trophy riding shotgun and suspected a heist in progress.

You can only hope our future is as well-guarded as that trophy.

It’s a strange omen for Opening Day, normally a time of great nostalgia for baseball fans. This is the day for dreamers. This is the event that redefines hope, an American ritual that symbolizes new beginnings and the long journey ahead.

The Diamondbacks are in a different place. Last place?

Paul Goldschmidt is in St. Louis, playing for a contract that seems too reasonable for comfort. If he responds with an MVP trophy, it will be a long, hot summer for the team that let him get away.

Patrick Corbin is gone, marginalizing a rotation full of low-ceiling pitchers. A.J. Pollock is gone, diminishing the D-backs’ middle defense. Steven Souza Jr. is injured again, weakening their depth and their clubhouse. How can anyone find a contending team inside this garden salad?

This is where faith comes in handy.

Smart baseball fans understand that the Diamondbacks have something more important than a contending team in 2019. They have a future.

Torey Lovullo ranks among the most trusted leaders in Valley sports. Mike Hazen is cutthroat and cutting edge, to the point where the rival Giants did the unthinkable, asking for permission to interview the Diamondbacks’ general manager over the offseason.

This is their time. A time to build something with staying power.

The 2019 Diamondbacks are a bridge team. Zack Greinke is still an elite pitcher. David Peralta has late-blooming star power. Adam Jones is winding down his career after a terrific run in Baltimore. The bullpen looks decent.

But the team again feels light on offense, personalities and clubhouse alpha males. It’s been a while since fan-favorite Archie Bradley produced to his level of popularity. Christian Walker is the team’s best hope at giving you something sizzling and unexpected. And like Jake Lamb hitting lefties, that’s probably too much to ask.

Las Vegas isn’t inspired. The National League West is in a state of flux, with the Giants eroding and the Padres adding Manny Machado, but it’s too much division for team that will struggle to score runs. The ballpark experience will improve, with lovely new synthetic grass and an exquisite menu of $30 hot dogs. But it doesn’t take much to see this season going off the rails. Some even suspect the Diamondbacks of tanking in the short term, emulating the championship path endorsed by the Astros and Cubs.

The Diamondbacks swear that isn’t the case. Their leaders are fierce competitors. They recognize the Goldschhmidt Embarrassment Factor is a potential saboteur lurking in the background, especially when the team is still paying Greinke and Yasmany Tomas. They have made some very tough decisions, ripping Band-Aids off a broken baseball team. They must live with the consequences.

Still, baseball is a funny game. Money doesn’t always equate to playoff teams and winning percentage. The 2018 A’s won 97 games with a $66 million payroll on Opening Day, the lowest in the sport. There are many paths to the playoffs, and Opening Day is the time to embrace all possibilities.

It’s a time to feel the sunshine and smell the grass. Even if your team is now playing on synthetic turf, blessed with the lowest of expectations.

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