The D-backs prove a team can change everything you feel about a sport

Aug 5, 2018, 7:58 PM

Arizona Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt (44) is greeted in the dugout by manager Torey Lovullo, cent...

Arizona Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt (44) is greeted in the dugout by manager Torey Lovullo, center and bench coach Jerry Narron, after Goldschmidt 's home run off Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Luke Farrell during the second inning of a baseball game Monday, July 23, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Baseball is the greatest game ever invented. It flirts with extinction. It never fails to surprise. It’s too plodding and ponderous for America’s waning attention span. Until the suspense brings us to the edge of our seats.

The right kind of team can change everything you feel about a sport too important to fail. The 2018 Diamondbacks are proof.

Their 3-2 loss to the Giants on Sunday was something of a buzz-kill, ending one of the strangest weeks in team history. It featured a haboob, a baboon spawned by auto-correct, and a power outage that caused a 21-minute weather delay.

There was a sloppy loss to the Giants that featured Arizona’s first deployment of the new bullpen cart and mocked Mike Hazen’s brilliant performance at the trade deadline. Followed by the night when the manager was sent home for health reasons. Followed by a Twitter exchange for the ages, the kind that fuels the NBA’s global popularity:

Nearing midnight on Aug. 2, the Dodgers’ official account posted a picture of Matt Kemp hugging a teammate in the dugout. The message read:

“Who said it’s lonely at the top?”

On Aug. 4, the Diamondbacks reclaimed first place and countered with the following:

“We’re sure enjoying it.”

It spawned one of greatest social media threads of the season. A Dodgers fan posted a photo of his team partying in the Chase Field pool. A Diamondbacks fan responded with a photo of Randy Johnson holding the World Series trophy, something L.A. fans haven’t seen in 30 years. The rivalry we all crave never felt more real.

The 20-year anniversary also confirmed Arizona’s wild journey to adulthood, an event when team founder Jerry Colangelo finally felt at home in the stadium he built with a great expense, reconciling with the franchise he delivered to Phoenix.

“It was the fourth time I’ve been back since I left in 2004,” Colangelo said. “I was there for the 10-year reunion, Randy’s retirement and Gonzo’s retirement. The first three, if I’m honest with myself, didn’t feel comfortable. In fact, not all.

“It felt weird. It was not a good feeling. But Saturday was totally different. I let it unfold and it was just fine. I didn’t have any negative feelings at all.”

Nitpickers once criticized the checkbook championship Colangelo brought in Arizona. They failed to realize that splurging on star athletes only works if star free agents want to play in a bandwagon market, and that’s rarely the case.

Colangelo succeeded by delivering a pair of courtside season tickets to Johnson, who had moved to the Valley and wanted an up-close view of our NBA franchise. He bypassed a list of 5,000 potential customers on a waiting list to please the All-Star pitcher. He told Johnson’s agent he wanted some form of consideration in the near future.

“What do you mean?” Johnson’s agent said.

“I’m not sure what I mean,” Colangelo said.

When Johnson became a free agent, Colangelo called in his marker, requesting the first and last free agent visit. He even marginalized his manager, vowing to veto Buck Showalter’s clean-cut philosophy.

“I told Randy, ‘If you had tattoos from your head to the bottom of your toes, plus rings in your nose and ears, along with the long hair, it’s OK with me,’” Colangelo said.

Over the years, the Diamondbacks have failed too often to brag. They’ve been ridiculed too often to serve as the shining light of Arizona’s professional sports franchises. They fight attendance problems, weather issues and stadium battles. They rarely get their due for bringing the first major championship to the desert or making our region a big-league sports market.

It’s represents a compelling backstory for the 2018 season, where the Diamondbacks are attempting to make successive postseason appearances for the first time in 16 years. The stakes have never been higher. The results have rarely been so unpredictable.

Just look at the lineup. Daniel Descalso has gone from potential All-Star to gently-used bench player. The team is full of new arrivals and unexpected faces, including Jon Jay, Eduardo Escobar, Clay Buchholz, Jake Diekman and Matt Andriese. And after Sunday’s performance, Robbie Ray is still the team’s most enigmatic asset, a pitcher who could unlock a World Series berth if he could only resemble the player he was in 2017.

There were 50 games remaining when Ray took the mound on Sunday. That’s 10 for each starting pitcher, and nobody has a clue where this story is going. Not when the season continues to dip and soar, careen and veer, with no end in sight.

The Diamondbacks know no other way. Their history is their proof.

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

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