Late last week I received an email from the Arizona Diamondbacks. That event may become one of the good/bad day criteria very soon. This email happened to be from Diamondbacks Magazine. In the message the team described the changes that would be occurring with the team’s printed media. I know this is probably very difficult to imagine but I am an avid reader of this publication. I first started reading Diamondbacks Magazine in 1998 and I think I have every issue the team has produced. The magazine is a great way to keeping up with the team during the year. Diamondbacks Magazine is also the official game program so during the season I end up with multiple copies of each month’s issue since I always buy a program for each home stand to get the scorecard and player numbers for the upcoming games. When a new issue arrives at our house there is usually a fight between me and my daughter Tiffany to see who gets to be first to read it.
Whenever I get any communication from the team I spend a lot of time reading and re-reading the message just to make sure I don’t miss something. This email was from the editor Greg Salvadore who talked about upcoming changes that were going to happen with the magazine. With each description I started to get excited knowing that baseball season would be right around the corner. Part of the changes being planned revolve around the upcoming tenth anniversary of the Diamondbacks being formed. I’m already looking forward to the celebrations I am planning with my family to commemorate things we have experienced going to the Diamondbacks games. We have nothing but fond memories of the team and Bank One Ballpark/Chase Field. Well, mostly fond memories. I am still dealing with the aftermath from July 11, 1999 but that is a story for another day. As part of the events leading up to the tenth anniversary the Diamondbacks are asking fans to share their memories from special events in Diamondbacks history. The first two they have chosen are Opening Day 1998 and Randy Johnson’s 20 strikeout game on May 8, 2001. Oddly enough I was at both of those games and vividly remember the events of those nights.
Opening Day is always special anyway but more so on that magical night on March 31, 1998 when the Diamondbacks played their first game ever. Trina and I had tickets to that game and we took our son Dakota who was not even a year old. Our seats were in section 107 which is above the visitor’s bullpen. We went to the ballpark early just so we could become a part of all the festivities. My sister-in-law Darlene had a parking pass for the Phoenix Civic Plaza so we were less than a block away. As we arrived at Bank One Ballpark we were greeted by musicians who were wandering around the crowd. On the plaza was a man with a T-shirt screening machine making shirts to commemorate the event. I bought one of his shirts and it is still in my closet as a constant reminder of that night. As we went into the stadium we were given seat cushions with the inaugural game date on them. These seat cushions became my constant companion through 81 games that season finally being retired after Trina made me my own seat cushion. The atmosphere was electric inside leading up to the game. Camera flashes were a constant reminder of the historical importance of the game. We took our seats and watched the festivities unfold. The most memorable moment came when the roof began to open accompanied by the music that was commissioned for this purpose. It brought goose bumps to my arms. The game balls were brought in by paratroopers flying in through the open roof. It was an incredible night. While the Diamondbacks dropped that game 7-2 to the Colorado Rockies, no one left the stadium feeling down. We were now a Major League Baseball city and that meant more than wins and losses.
The game on May 8, 2001 was billed as a typical Randy Johnson start. The 2001 season will always hold a magical place in the hearts of Diamondbacks fans. At this time of the season the Diamondbacks were in the midst of what appeared to be a rather average season. It wasn’t like they were taking the National League West by storm. They were in the midst of a long season as they hosted the Cincinnati Reds. Each year before the season our family huddles around the season tickets to determine who will be going to which game with dad. It is a given that dad is going to every game so that leaves one seat up for grabs. This effort usually begins with the kids scanning the promotional schedule to see what is being given away. Then there is the ritual of mapping out school activities, church activities, and civic responsibilities. Finally the deciding factor is who has homework and who is able to get away for a few hours. For the May 8 game it was Dakota who found himself going to the game with dad. We always have a good time and while he was only 4 years old he had already attended more games than many people had in a lifetime. As the game started it quickly became evident that Randy had his “A” game going that night. Dakota likes nights where Randy pitches as it usually means lots of strikeouts and a short team. Not to mention it usually means the Diamondbacks will win the game. We had been to games where Randy had high strikeout totals but nothing prepared us for that game. With the exception of two innings Randy averaged at least 2 strikeouts. What was even more incredible was that his pitch count per inning hovered at around 13 pitches per inning. That is an amazing fact since it meant that Reds players were seeing nothing but strikes and yet they still could not get a hit. Above the right field bleachers is the Circle K Strikeout Meter which lights up a “K” for each strikeout. Dakota loves that since he has a visual of how well the Diamondbacks are pitching. The problem with the Strikeout Meter is that is was only designed to accommodate 16 strikeouts. Dakota quickly became concerned that we were going to run out of lights. He was of course accurate with his assessment but should not have worried. When Randy struck out the seventeenth batter a Diamondbacks employee draped a “K” over the railing which made the crowd go wild. Even with all the dominance that Randy was displaying, the Diamondbacks could not capitalize on the Cincinnati Reds and going into the ninth inning the game was tied 1-1. Randy went nine strong innings and ended the game with an exclamation point striking out Juan Castro for number 20. The crowd stood and cheered as Randy pumped his fist in the air and walked off the mound. The atmosphere was like a playoff game as the fans tried to fire up the Diamondbacks players to get a run in the bottom of the inning to give Randy the win. Instead the Diamondbacks went down in order forcing extra innings. Johnson had already thrown 124 pitches so we all knew his night was over. The game went 11 innings and the Reds scored twice in the top of the inning taking a 3-1 lead. This though was a special night and one the Diamondbacks would not let slip away. In the bottom of the inning Arizona managed to score 2 runs on a double by Mark Grace to tie the game. In a somehow fitting end to history, the winning run came when reliever Danny Graves walked in the winning run on 3 consecutive walks. And while Randy is not credited with the win or even with the record (the game went extra innings and the record for strikeouts in an extra inning game is 21 one short of Randy’s accomplishment), this game will forever be etched into the minds of those in attendance.