It’s always tough when this day arrives each year. After spending 83 days at Chase Field watching at a minimum 747 innings of baseball, it is hard to say good bye. I always feel as though I am leaving home go to away to school. Sure you can come back for holidays or to have a home cooked meal (in this case that means Friday’s Front Row grill) but you ultimately have to go back to school and you just can’t wait for the year to be over so you can come home again. When you go to this many games each year you get attached to your seat location and you form a bond with the other fans that sit around you, and you know you are going to miss seeing them for six months. Well you will miss all of them except maybe the syringe guy who sat in front of you during the San Francisco Giants game. To forget him would require a lot of therapy. I started to think back on the 2006 season and all that we’ve seen at Chase Field. From catching the foul ball off the drunken guy’s face to watching Baxter the Bobcat toss a quarter of a sheet cake in the face of a Mets fan, this season has been amazing. Nothing in the first 82 games (counting the two spring training games in March) could have prepared me for the festivities of the day.
The fans and the team have been building up to this day for the past few weeks ever since news leaked out that left fielder Luis Gonzalez and shortstop Craig Counsell would not be back next season. It has become a love fest at Chase Field as everyone tries to say their good byes to these two fan favorites. Television camera crews have been set up around the stadium both inside and outside to capture the remarks of well wishers wanting to say farewell and tell what these players meant to them and to the city. The Diamondbacks found themselves caught up in this as well and wanted to make the game and the day special. As we entered the stadium and looked onto the field you were immediately aware of how important these two players were. In left field was a giant number 20 painted where Luis always stands. Behind second base was a large number 4 identifying that Craig played both second and short during his tenure with the team.
There was a feeling of electricity and anticipation in the crowd as they milled around the concourse making their way to their seats. It was amazing to see this many people at Chase Field. The paid attendance was listed at 48,946 making it not just the largest crowd of the season but the largest crowd in Arizona Diamondbacks history for a regular season game. Before the game even started the fans were in rare force letting their voices be heard. As Luis Gonzalez and Craig Counsell came out of the dugout to begin warming up before the national anthem, everyone rose to their feet to cheer for these two players. Both of them showed a lot of class waving to the fans and acknowledging the people for their support. When the game finally began, Craig Counsell batted lead-off and came to the plate to a roaring ovation. This occurred each time he came up and it was obvious he was very touched by the ovation. He gave a little something back when he hit a Woody Williams pitch into the right field stands during the fourth inning breaking up a no-hitter and shutout.
While the fans were loud for Counsell, they stepped up the noise level when Gonzalez came to the plate. In what has to be one of the classiest things I have ever seen, Gonzalez entered the batter’s box in the first inning then before the first pitch he called time-out and went to the first base side of the backstop and called down former Diamondbacks general partner Jerry Colangelo and shook his hand and thanked him for bringing him to Arizona. He then went to the third base side of the backstop and called down outgoing Diamondbacks president Rich Dozer and former general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. and likewise thanked them. Luis then returned to the batter’s box to allow the game to continue. To acknowledge the people who brought him to Arizona and allowed him to blossom into the most prolific hitter in Diamondbacks history was a great gesture by one of the best people in the game. I’m sure that Gonzalez had played his last game in his mind over and over and I am sure none of them ever went 0-4 without reaching base but sometime fairy tails don’t end with happily ever after. In the end, manager Bob Melvin lifted Luis Gonzalez in the ninth inning with the game outcome decided so that Gonzo could have one last ovation by the fans who adore him. It was touching to see him hug his replacement Scott Hairston and share a few words with the rookie before running to the dugout and his well deserved curtain call.
While the game had been billed as the final audition for Brandon Webb to solidify his Cy Young credentials, it ended up being a party for the San Diego Padres. Webb allowed 7 runs all earned in 4 innings of work and left trailing the game 7-1. The Diamondbacks would slowly chip away at the lead inching closer and closer until the score was 7-4 in the ninth. This meant that Webb’s main competition for the Cy Young award would enter the game. Trevor Hoffman too has had a great year capped by breaking Lee Smith’s all-time saves record. He came into the game with a 3 run lead and everyone thought the last inning was a mere formality. Instead Hoffman decided to make it exciting for the home fans. After getting Eric Byrnes to fly out to the shortstop, he gave up back-to-back home runs to Chad Tracy and Conor Jackson. He then walked Carlos Quentin putting the tying run on first. Catcher Chris Snyder hit a ground ball to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez who forced out Quentin at second. Chris Young came in to run for Snyder and Diamondbacks minor league player of the year Alberto Callaspo pinch hit for Jose Valverde. Callaspo hit a ball to the hole between first and second which nearly hit Young who fell to the ground. Second baseman Josh Barfield miraculously got to the ball and threw to first but the throw was not in time and Callaspo was safe. Young struggled to regain his feet allowing Adrian Gonzalez to attempt a throw to second. Young slid and second base umpire Larry Poncino called Young safe which from the replays appeared to be the right call. Padres manager Bruce Bochy came out and argued and Poncino reversed his decision calling Young out ending the game. Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin came out to argue in vain. Chris Young remained standing on second while the Padres celebrated at the pitcher’s mound as they clinched the National League West title. After a 162 game season you think you have seen just about everything then on the last play of the season the baseball gods remind you that you haven’t seen anything yet. It’s a call that will be lost in a week but will remain etched in my mind as the winter months stretch forth.