DAN BICKLEY

Diamondbacks defying all expectations with early success

May 2, 2019, 8:41 PM | Updated: 8:42 pm
Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate after a baseball game against the New York Yankees, Tuesday, April 3...

Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate after a baseball game against the New York Yankees, Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Phoenix. The Diamondbacks won 3-1. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

The Diamondbacks complete us. They are the last major professional sports franchise to arrive in the Valley and the first to bring home the big trophy. Together, we planted a flag on top of the mountain. They gave us status, one of the greatest World Series on record and a championship parade.

And yet:

Any serious conversation about them begins with the following ground rules, a concession to how hard it must be to operate at Major League Baseball franchise in the desert:

Baseball is summer. Arizonans hate summer.

Baseball is communal and pastoral. We live in a desert teeming with transient strangers. We build cinderblock walls to hide our neighbors.

Baseball is a sport built on generational support. Except we don’t grow with our teams during bad times. We flee to our shelters of safety, to the teams of our youth.

Baseball craves fresh air and sunshine. We offer up a retractable roof and air conditioning. In sum:

The Diamondbacks play on fake grass, against teams they can’t outspend. They won a World Series in Year 4 and were way ahead of their time. They can’t possibly be relevant to the masses until their fans become grandparents.

They are the hometown team in a state that houses the Cactus League, where tickets for exhibition games are more in demand than most Diamondbacks games.

In the end, few franchises in professional sports face a longer uphill journey than a Major League Baseball team attempting to ascend in Phoenix. We are everything the game is not.

But the 2019 Diamondbacks are defying their own odds.

They moved on from three marquee players: Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin. They lost Steven Souza Jr. and Jake Lamb to injury. Yet their offense is even better by subtraction, almost slump-proof. They seem to have forecasted the breakout of Christian Walker, a first baseman who had been toiling in the minor leagues; sensed the sizzle inside Eduardo Escobar; and how they might fill the rotation with a rookie who had been pitching in Korea.

This is why baseball is so great.

The 2019 season could’ve been a nightmare for Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen, who gambled that Goldschmidt was on the decline and not worth long-term money. His cutthroat maneuvering rocked the Good Ship Lollipop, angering fans who thought the team wronged one of the great feel-good players of our generation. It’s exactly the kind of leadership that should energize Valley baseball fans. It’s the kind of ruthless decisions that Bill Belichick makes with the Patriots.

Better yet, Hazen doubled down, claiming this dismantled team would somehow compete in the National League West despite the obvious defection of talent. Most media types who understood the rebuild in Arizona were willing to give him some time, some margin for error. Which Hazen and Torey Lovullo wholly rejected.

The Diamondbacks are currently 18-13, surviving an arduous month of competition and bipartisan crowds at Chase Field. They have gained an early stamp of credibility, a big victory following an offseason when the team traded Goldschmidt and let Pollock walk away for good.

There are obvious suspicions. The Diamondbacks are famous for unfulfilled promises. For teams that can only get you so far. For teams that impress early and fade away.

Yeah, it’s early. But it feels promising at Chase Field. And sports fans in Arizona are about due for something special. Something that doesn’t involve a draft pick.

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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