Another Chapter Ends

The majority of the fan base of the Arizona Diamondbacks will remember that Sunday October 1, 2006 was decreed as Luis Gonzalez day by the governor of Arizona. The day will be replayed in everyone’s mind and it will consist of the cheers for Gonzo and Craig Counsell. Some may even remember that Miguel Batista also carried the line-up card to the umpires before the game and that Bob Melvin brought Batista into the game in the ninth inning to throw to one batter then leave the game to thunderous applause by a grateful stadium of loyal fans. But lost in the midst of all of this was the passing of another torch. One that has been carried for the past 13 years to a time even before baseball had arrived in Arizona. In 1993 Jerry Colangelo approached Rich Dozer to ask for his assistance to bring baseball to the state. Dozer had been a successful accountant and had a very good position within the Phoenix Suns organization. But the challenge to bring a Major League Baseball franchise to the valley of the sun was too much to pass up. So Dozer began working to secure a team for the Phoenix area. The results of his efforts along with countless others were realized on March 9, 1995 when commissioner Bud Selig announced that a franchise had been awarded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Subsequent to that announcement Jerry Colangelo named Rich the president of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He along with the staff that he build began working on the details that would lead to March 31, 1998 when Arizona played the Colorado Rockies in their first game as a big league team. His work ethic and attention to detail were amazing as he guided the team’s business operations to a successful first year and then built upon that to make the Diamondbacks successful.

My first experience with Rich Dozer came during the inaugural season when I would see him interacting with various people around the stadium. I knew who he was from pictures I saw in the media guide and programs. He was always very nice and would always say hello whenever you passed him on the concourse. Regardless of how busy he was, Rich would take the time to talk with the fans and make sure they were enjoying their experiences at the ballpark. This open communication has always been appreciated but on a fateful night in early September 1998, it led to something he could never have imagined.

When the team was awarded in 1995, it happened to occur on my birthday. Being a lifetime baseball fan, I always dreamed of playing and when that didn’t work out I did the next best thing, I cheered. Growing up in Idaho there were no major league teams anywhere near us. Instead I became a fan with my only link being the Saturday game of the week. I would watch each weekend glued to the television cheering on my favorite team the Chicago Cubs. When we moved to Arizona and they were awarded a team shortly after that I was determined to adopt this new franchise and become a loyal fan. On the first available day after the announcement I took my family down to America West Arena and stood in line in the pouring rain to put down a $50 deposit on season tickets that would be available three years later. From 1995 through 1997 I would drive out of my way to go down to the construction site to see Bank One Ballpark begin to take shape. I would drag my family to watch as cranes lifted up girders of steel that would become the roof truss. It was a magical time and each day I became more excited for baseball to begin. I was there for the expansion draft rooting for each selection filling out draft cards and trying to predict who would be chosen next. I was in Tucson for the first Spring Training game to see what the team may look like and to see the purple and turquoise uniforms. And I was in attendance at the first game at Bank One Ballpark on a rainy night in March as the Diamondbacks played the Chicago White Sox.

On March 31, 1998 as a season ticket holder I was in Section 107 Row 24 Seat 16 cheering wildly as Andy Benes threw the first pitch in the franchise history. That game began a streak whereby I would attend all 81 games not missing any. Each game I would bring either Trina or one of the children with me to try and instill in them a love for the game of baseball. The kids were all fairly young and this was all so new to them. It was the greatest experience I had going to these games with my kids. As the season wore down to only a couple of weeks left, Trina and the kids unbeknownst to me decided that there should be some sort of celebration for going to all the games. They were sure that I was the only fan that had done that but I explained that there were probably countless who were as dedicated as I was. Among the family they wanted to do something special to commemorate this feat but no one knew what to do. They talked about getting an autographed baseball but none of them knew how to go about doing that. After one of these discussions, it happened that the Diamondbacks were in town and it was Trina’s turn to go to the ballgame. We loaded the seat cushions and went to the game early enough so that we could watch batting practice. Shortly after the Diamondbacks hitters concluded, Trina and I decided to go to the Team Shop to see what new merchandise may have been added since the last time I was at the game. We began walking the concourse towards the front. Walking in the opposite direction was Rich Dozer president of the Diamondbacks. As he walked by I said hello and he did likewise and we both continued walking. I turned to Trina and said, “Do you know who that is?” She nodded that she didn’t. “That is Rich Dozer, president of the Diamondbacks. I see him time to time at the games and always try to say hello.” Trina continued walking for a moment not saying anything then turned to me and said, “I forgot something in my seat cushion. I need to go back and get it. You go ahead and I will meet you at the Team Shop.” This isn’t out of the ordinary as she always seems to be forgetting something so I just shrugged and started off towards the Team Shop.

What I didn’t know was that Trina had not left something back at our seats and that this was just a way to get rid of me and that this one point would be a defining in my life. She turned towards our seats but instead of going down to section 107 she ran after Rich Dozer chasing him halfway around the stadium. She finally caught him calling his name. He stopped to see a grown woman out of breath chasing after him. She introduced herself by saying, “My name is Trina Summers. You don’t know me but I think my husband should throw out the first pitch at a Diamondbacks game.” Now I can’t speak for Rich and I have no idea what he must have thought at the time but he was polite and asked her why she thought that. Trina began the story as I told it above that I had not missed a game, that I had brought each of the kids to every game to teach them baseball, how the team was awarded on my birthday, and so forth. By the end of the story Rich was laughing and his mind began thinking through the possibilities. He asked Trina to please write this all down and to send it to him as he wanted to run it by Jerry Colangelo.

A few days after that eventful encounter, Trina received a phone call from Rich Dozer. He said that they had talked it over and both he and Jerry thought this would be an amazing end to the season and asked if he could call and invite me to throw out the first pitch at the final game of the 1998 season. Trina provided him with my work phone number and one afternoon I received a call. Answering the phone I heard, “Hello Jeff this is Rich Dozer president of the Arizona Diamondbacks and we were wondering if you could do us a favor and throw out the first pitch.” At first I thought this was a cruel prank call that my co-workers were playing on me but it quickly became apparent that this was for real. I was in shock at what was happening but eagerly agreed. On Sunday September 27, 1998 in front of a sell-out crowd I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the final game of the inaugural season. My family and I were out on the field. My daughter Mallorie and son Dakota accompanied me to the mound to throw out the pitch to catcher Damian Miller. After the pitch, Rich came up to me and shook my hand. The players all came out of the dugout and also shook my hand as well. They thanked me for my loyalty and presented me with a schedule keychain which was the only promotional item we missed that season and with an autographed baseball from the entire team. Words cannot describe how I felt and I will always be grateful for that experience.

After that time, I wrote to Rich Dozer each season to provide him with how the season was going from a fan’s perspective. He was always polite and wonderful returning my letters or calling me to thank me for writing. We were invited to several games over the years as guests of the Diamondbacks always through the generosity of Rich Dozer. In turn I have tried to be the most loyal fan and Diamondbacks evangelist. When I was laid off from my job in 2002, it was Rich who called and offered his well wishes and support. He has become a true friend not just to me but to all baseball fans. So when we heard that he was resigning at the end of this season, our family bought extra seats so that we could be in attendance to cheer for him. When the game ended yesterday Trina did what she had nine years earlier, she ran through the stadium to get close to Rich Dozer and called his name. This time he was on the playing field and we were in the stands but as always he made time for the fans can came over to talk. We thanked him on behalf of everyone who has been to a Diamondbacks game for the warm hospitality and wonderful atmosphere. He will truly be missed as he moves forward with another chapter in his life. I feel I am a much better person just to have met him and gotten to know him.

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