The Last Day of Spring

Today was historical for a couple of reasons. First it is the final day of 2007 Spring Training for the Arizona Diamondbacks. They would face the San Diego Padres for third time in three days. This game would be played in the friendly confines of Chase Field in an afternoon contest. The second and perhaps more important reason is that today marks the tenth anniversary of the first regular season game against the Colorado Rockies on March 31, 1998. There has been so much baseball played since that first game that sometimes it seems as though the Diamondbacks have been around forever (at least according to my wife Trina). Of course I am more of a glass half full type of guy so I think it feels like the top of the first in a hopefully extra inning game. I can never get enough of this team. With all the special significance of today I definitely wanted to get to the stadium early. Well honestly I always want to get to the stadium early but that’s just me. So with seat cushions packed, Tiffany and I made the trek to Chase Field to see the Arizona Diamondbacks finish out their six weeks of Spring Training as both team and fans prepared for the season to start on Monday April 2.

The weather is gorgeous and perfect for an afternoon game with the roof open. The Diamondbacks have said that they are planning to play as many games with the roof open this season as they can. That is perfectly fine with me; it just feels more like baseball when you are playing it under blue skies. But then I am sitting on the third base side which moves into the shade during the first inning. Those sitting on the first base side have to deal with the sun all game long. In late March that is not too much of an issue but that probably won’t be the case in May or June when temperatures are nearing the century mark.

Most of the Diamondbacks starters begin the game giving us a glimpse of what the team will look like when the season starts. The lone exception is that Carlos Quentin is still not in the line-up. His diagnosis of a partially torn labrum has set him behind as he works with the training staff to strengthen the muscles around the injury. Having been through a couple of labrum operations and knowing the pain I felt before surgery I am very sympathetic to Carlos and what he is going through. The positive side of this is it will give the Diamondbacks an opportunity to assess Scott Hairston as an everyday player to determine whether he will fit with the Diamondbacks long term plans or if he will become a future bargaining chip to acquire the pieces they need to make a title run. I love Hairston’s bat in the line-up as evidenced today with his home run high off the left field foul pole. His defense leaves me reminiscent of the years Luis Gonzalez patrolled left field. The arm and range seem to be more limited than when Eric Byrnes is playing that position.

The Diamondbacks appeared to cruise through much of the first half of the game building a 7-1 lead. Newly acquired Yusmeiro Petit looked very sharp in his Diamondbacks debut. He appears to be a good candidate for a rotation position should the Diamondbacks find themselves with injuries to their top 5 starters. Following Petit were Jose Valverde and Tony Pena. Both looked ready for the season with neither allowing a run in the 1.2 innings of combined work. The game became much more interesting when Diamondbacks reliever Bill Murphy allowed 5 runs during his 1/3 inning outing. The Padres came back to take a 8-7 lead in the ninth inning and it looked as though the Diamondbacks may end their spring on a losing note. The snakes showed their resiliency though coming back in the ninth tying the game before the Padres pitchers loaded the bases with no outs. After retiring Chris Carter it looked as though the game may go into extra innings. Walking from the on-deck circle was 19 year-old Diamondbacks prospect Justin Upton. Upton who was the first overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft is scheduled to start the year for advanced Class-A Versalia Oaks in the California League. After missing badly in his first two swings against Aaron Rakers, Upton was able to foul off the next two pitches. With the game on the line, Upton launched the next pitch into the left field stands in his first career walk-off grand slam at Chase Field. If coaches, players, and fans were not impressed with Upton before they definitely came away with a much better understanding of what made Justin the best player in the draft and why the minor league staff at the Diamondbacks are so high on his potential. It’s funny, in a year where we are anticipating great things from the strong core of young players the Diamondbacks have on their team; it is the class behind this first wave that may actually hold the future of the Diamondbacks.

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