Diamondbacks emerge as contenders in Valley thirsting for title

Jun 12, 2023, 3:53 PM | Updated: 3:56 pm

Mike Hazen, Torey Lovullo, and Ken Kendrick of the Arizona Diamondbacks look on as Corbin Carroll a...

Mike Hazen, Torey Lovullo, and Ken Kendrick of the Arizona Diamondbacks look on as Corbin Carroll addresses the media after siging a contract extension before the Spring Training game against the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on March 12, 2023 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

(Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

The Valley is thirsting for a champion. For the parade and validation that come with a title-winning team in a major professional sport. We have waited 22 years and counting, an absurdly long time in a region with the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB.

But suddenly, we have another contender in our midst.

The Diamondbacks have emerged as one of the more dangerous teams in baseball, with an offense and defense perfectly suited for the pitch clock era, a team able to create and prevent base path mayhem. With an upgraded pitching staff, the Diamondbacks could make a run at another World Series trophy, in a year when the Mets, Cardinals, and Padres are profoundly underperforming.

Imagine if the Diamondbacks win their second championship before the Cardinals, Suns or Coyotes win their first.

Imagine the organizational flex at besting the runaway spenders in the National League West.

Imagine the emotions that might swirl inside general manager Mike Hazen, who built this foundation through unspeakable tragedy, while losing his wife and life partner to an aggressive brain tumor.

The gut-wrenching timeline:

In June 2019, Hazen and his staff drafted Corbin Carroll with the 16th overall pick in the draft. Eleven months later, he witnessed his wife’s first seizure, as she was emerging from the kitchen. He knew immediately that something was wrong.

Hazen did not go on road trips during the 2020 season for fear of bringing Covid-19 into his home. He attempted to work remotely, generally managing a baseball team, a sick wife and a house full of young boys.

Hazen is also a fierce and proud competitor, and he couldn’t stay away. He would be seen in the GM’s suite at Chase Field observing games in person, even though he was supposed to be at home with his family.

“Just this once,” he’d likely say. Until the next game.

Hazen’s bond with manager Torey Lovullo was strengthened by the swirling adversity. Lovullo was carrying his own burden, tasked with managing a team stripped of talent on a series of one-year contracts. The Diamondbacks were unprepared and abysmal during the pandemic, 17 games out of first place after 44 games played. Their encore was a 110-loss season in 2021, the kind of number that gets 99 percent of baseball managers fired.

But Hazen and Lovullo remained committed to each other. When Hazen returned to the office, Lovullo’s wife, Kristen, would go and spend the day with Nicole. All day, every day. They were a team covering for each other on the deepest of levels. All the while, the organization had their backs.

Nicole Hazen died in Aug. 2022, at age 45, leaving behind four sons between the ages of 12 and 16. This means the dynamic baseball team that is currently thrilling Arizona and surprising the rest of MLB was built during the darkest moments of Hazen’s professional life, with notes of heartbreak and sadness.

It’s almost a cliché that great artists do their best work in torment. It doesn’t feel like a cliché in Arizona.

In the worst of times, behind the scenes, Hazen spoke about walking away for good, intent on giving all of his energy to his boys. Those discussions never went far. At one point, team president Derrick Hall told Hazen the Diamondbacks simply would not accept his resignation.

And here we are.

Hazen is currently the toast of baseball for showing the foresight to build a team in perfect synch with a new era of baseball; for trading Daulton Varsho for two impact players (Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.); and most of all, for signing Carroll to an eight-year contract, preventing another Paul Goldschmidt debacle. Analytics and statistics can tell you everything you need to know about this baseball team.

But the emotional depth of this story is staggering. With any luck, we’re just getting started.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7.

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