It rained on the third day we were in Tucson to visit the Arizona Diamondbacks at their spring training facility, which also happened to be the day the team was to take the field for the first game of its Cactus League, or preseason, schedule. Rain was not something we had counted on, but it didn’t dampen our spirits too much, because the two days we spent at the facility a week earlier were picture perfect, as you can see in our portraits of the D’backs’ early-season workouts on the pages that follow. Besides, to love baseball is to embrace unpredictability. And even in the rain, there’s no better sight than an emerald green baseball diamond after a winter in hibernation. It still serves a purpose of whetting the appetite. Because if not today, there’ll be a game on it tomorrow. Hope springs eternal. And while the Diamondbacks are coming off a third-place finish in their division in 2003, the Florida Marlins’ come-from-nowhere World Series victory reminds us that in baseball, even in these days of multimillion-dollar salaries, under the right circumstances, lightning strikes.
Attending a Diamondbacks game from Sedona means about a two-hour drive, mostly down I-17, a little over 85 miles. Then, it’s just a short hop on I-10 East and a little local driving to reach Bank One Ballpark, which is at 401 East Jefferson St. in Phoenix. For some helpful hints to avoid congestion both when you arrive and leave the ballpark, visit the Diamondbacks Web site at arizona.diamondbacks.mlb.com and click on the Bank One Ballpark link. Then, in the menu on the left, click on Area Information, and then on Directions & Parking.
The Web site notes that there are 33,000 parking spots within a 15-minute walk of the ballpark.
Single-game tickets for Diamondbacks home games went on sale in early March. The Diamondbacks reported selling more than 82,000 single-game tickets within the first few hours after the box office opened, a new team record. One boon for ticket buying in Sedona is the development of the team’s Internet ticket-sales capacity through its Web site. In fact, of the record first-day single-game sales, the Diamondbacks reported that 60 percent, or some 50,000 tickets, were sold online.
On the field, one of the highlights of the upcoming season is sure to be the visit of the New York Yankees, returning to Bank One for the first time since surrending the world championship to the Diamondbacks in the ninth inning of World Series Game 7 in 2001. The Yankees come to town for three games, June 15-17, as part of this year’s midseason interleague interlude.
If the Diamondbacks are to make it back to the postseason this year, it’ll be without two key members of that 2001 championship team: pitcher Curt Schilling is in Boston, while first baseman Mark Grace is retired. But the pitching staff is still anchored by Randy Johnson, who will likely be joined in the rotation by Brandon Webb (10-9 W-L record in 2003, with a 2.84 ERA), Elmer Dessens (8-8, 5.07), and Shane Reynolds (11-9, 5.43 with the Atlanta Braves). The No. 5 spot in the rotation was up for grabs in mid-March, with reports giving an edge to knuckleballer Steve Sparks (0-6, 4.88 combined with the Detroit Tigers and the Oakland A’s).
The projected D’backs starting lineup includes a revamped right side of the infield, with newly acquired power-hitting Richie Sexson taking over at first base, and Roberto Alomar trying to regain his All-Star status at second (see below for the new faces expected to have an impact in 2004). In-season arrivals Alex Cintron (.317 batting average) and Shea Hillenbrand (.267) are the projected starters at shortstop and third base, respectively.
Catching duties figure to be split between Robby Hammock (65 games with the D’backs in ’03) and veteran Brent Mayne.
The outfield is anchored by 2001 World Series hero Luis Gonzalez in left field, with Steve Finley in center and Danny Bautista in right. Matt Mantei entered spring as the bullpen’s closer; he finished strong in ’03, converting 22 of his 23 save opportunities after July 1.
MORE SEDONA ADVENTURES AND SPORTS: Helicopter, hot Air balloon and biplane tours, skiing, snowboarding and ice skating, four-wheeling, kayaking, hang gliding and skydiving, hiking, biking, rock climbing and backpacking, golf