Loyalty is Not Just for Dogs

Loyalty is an interesting concept, especially as it pertains to sports. If you ask anyone what one of the biggest changes in sports today, a large number of those questioned would exclaim free agency. With the advent of the free agent, Major League Baseball changed forever. Gone were the days when a player would break into the big leagues as a rookie and play their entire career for one franchise. With the retirement of Tony Gwynn we may have seen the final player of our generation begin and end with the same National League team. Fans everywhere are becoming accustomed to seeing their favorite player move from the hometown team to a rival. When these moves occur, the fans are in an uproar as the player is admonished for their lack of loyalty. “Where is their sense of community?” they ask. “How could they abandon the fans like this?” or “The players are nothing more than a bunch of pampered millionaires looking for money.” These comments are often heard on sports talk radio or read in print. Soon, that player that was the cornerstone of the local team is now publicly ridiculed and derogatory remarks are made that he didn’t care about the fans or didn’t care about the game.

Loyalty though is a two-way street. Some times it is the fans that are responsible for the departure of the players and in many cases it is hard to blame the players for changing uniforms.

Over the course of this season, one Arizona Diamondbacks player has become the focus of the wrath of the local media and fans. On December 1, 1997 the Arizona Diamondbacks in a trade with the Cleveland Indians acquired Matt Williams. Williams, an off-season resident of Arizona, made it clear to Cleveland management. He wanted to be traded to the expansion Diamondbacks or he would retire. At first glance, that seems quite arrogant to make such a demand. But to understand that decision is to understand Matt Williams. Matt had two small children at the time and wanted to be close to his family. Rather than subject his kids to many cross-country flights, he gave up an opportunity to return to the World Series in exchange for playing at home so that his children would not have to travel to be with their father. Regardless of what you might think of Matt Williams as a ballplayer, you have to admire a man that would give up his career aspirations for his children. During the inaugural season with the Diamondbacks, Williams struggled. The fans immediately began to get on him. It didn’t matter that Williams was injured or that he had no protection in the line-up. He was to be the savior. In 1999, Matt had one of his best seasons of his career and was a strong candidate for the MVP. Instead of the media providing him accolades for his accomplishments, comments were made such as, “Well, that is his job. He should do that.” Moving ahead to this season, Williams has struggled there is no question about that. But through it, he has not complained nor has he made excuses. He merely tried to work harder to help his team return to the play-offs. Although there were countless games where Williams has made spectacular plays in the field or gotten hits that helped the team win, the fans and the media chose instead to focus on the miscues that occurred or the times when he didn’t get a hit. Soon, with every play where Williams did not execute perfectly, the fans began raining him with boo’s. The negativity continued to be piled on by local self-appointed pundits who had never played even one pitch but were now an expert on why Williams was a failure. When the Diamondbacks lost it was a result of Matt Williams. When the Diamondbacks won it was in spite of Matt Williams. Fascinating how in a team sport one man had so much influence. Now, the Diamondbacks are in the play-offs and Matt Williams is 0-7 at the plate in the first two games. In each inning, he is met with boo’s by the hometown fans. What a sad state of affairs. Matt Williams has been the most loyal man to put on a Diamondbacks uniform. He suffered through playing for an expansion team and countless injuries. He has worked with the community donating time and money to many causes to make Arizona a better place to live. He has been a positive influence in the clubhouse helping younger players learn the right way to play the game. And in recognition for all of his tireless work, he is greeted with complaints and disgust.

Matt, as a loyal fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Major League Baseball I would like to personally thank you for all you have done for this team and for this game. I would like to apologize for those who do not yet understand the meaning of the word loyalty. Mostly though I would like to wish you luck. Go get them Sarge.

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