One man’s look back at the year 2017 in Arizona Sports
There’s only two days remaining in the year 2017 and as I sit here and reflect on the year, I struggle to come up with an adjective to describe the experience for the Arizona sports fan.
Bleak with a hint of optimism?
Regardless of what word is settled on, it was quite an interesting 365 days. Here’s one man’s look back at them.
Team of the Year: Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-backs moved on from the Tony La Russa-Dave Stewart regime for a new front office/manager combo with a decidedly Boston feel. General manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo took the reins and provided a Red Sox-ian result in their first year on the job.
Arizona engineered a 24-win turnaround in 2017, winning 93 games and claiming a National League Wild Card spot in the process — the team’s first postseason appearance since 2011. Their run ended in a sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series, but can only be seen as the beginning of a return to relevance.
Honorable mention: Arizona Rattlers (won the United Bowl championship in their first year as members of the Indoor Football League), Arizona State Men’s Basketball (won their first 12 games of 2017-18, finishing the calendar year ranked third in the nation).
Athlete of the Year: J.D. Martinez
D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt was his normal excellent self, and finished third in the National League MVP balloting — his third top-three finish in the last five years. But for as good as Goldschmidt was, he was overshadowed by one of his own teammates. J.D. Martinez was acquired from the Detroit Tigers in July and went on a historic home run binge.
Martinez clubbed 29 home runs in 62 games for the D-backs, a pace that would equate to 75 homers over 162 games. At times late in the season — namely September — when Goldschmidt struggled, Martinez carried the D-backs’ offense. He hit four home runs in a single game against the Dodgers on Sept. 4.
It’s likely the free agent has played his last game in Sedona Red, but Martinez was a huge part of the D-backs’ return to the postseason in 2017.
Honorable mention: D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs reliever Archie Bradley, Suns guard Devin Booker, ASU guard Tra Holder, Mercury guard Diana Taurasi
Story of the Year: ASU’s football coaching change
I’ve worked in sports media in Phoenix in some capacity for 21 years, and I’ve never covered or reacted to a story quite like ASU’s coaching change in all that time. The story generated intense reaction on both sides of the fence. There was some outrage over the fact that Todd Graham got fired after a 7-win season during which the Sun Devils unexpectedly finished second in the Pac-12 South after being picked to finish fifth.
Then, there was the decision by Ray Anderson to torch the traditional coaching search model to anoint Herm Edwards — who hasn’t coached a down of college football since 1989 — and to introduce a new management model for the Arizona State program, moves that got snickers from a good portion of the national college football media.
Obviously, it remains to be seen how these decisions will work out in the long run, but one thing is undeniable: To this point, it has been fascinating theater.
Honorable mention: The Diamondbacks’ stellar season, Shane Doan’s retirement/treatment from the Coyotes, the Earl Watson firing/Eric Bledsoe trade.
Moment of the Year: Archie Bradley’s Wild Card heroics
The D-backs were leading Colorado 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Bradley — who had only four regular-season at-bats in 2017 — came to the plate to face All-Star reliever Pat Neshek with two outs and two runners on. Bradley laced a 2-2 pitch to the fence in right-center field, scoring Jake Lamb and Daniel Descalso and inciting the loudest crowd noise at Chase Field since November of 2001.
It was the perfect topper for Bradley, who did more to elevate his profile in 2017 than any other athlete in the state. Think about it, heading into 2017, Bradley was a popular figure, but very much a disappointment on the diamond, where he had a 5.18 ERA in his first two seasons as a part-time starter. Last year, Bradley emerged as one of the top relievers in the game, and a building block for the Arizona bullpen moving forward.
Honorable mention: Devin Booker’s 70th point in Boston, J.D. Martinez’s 4th home run in Los Angeles
Coach of the Year: Torey Lovullo
For his efforts, Lovullo was named the National League Manager of the Year, becoming the third D-backs skipper to win the award.
Honorable mention: ASU men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley, ASU football coach Todd Graham, Arizona Rattlers head coach Kevin Guy