Return of a Hero?

On October 1, 2006 the Arizona Diamondbacks said farewell to two of the most charismatic and loyal players: Luis Gonzalez and Craig Counsell. The parting of ways was not the most amicable especially in the case of Gonzalez. Gonzo had played in Arizona for the Diamondbacks since 1999 and had become the face of the franchise for both his on-field performance and his off-field persona. It was an emotional good-bye for both players and fans. The Diamondbacks painted a number 20 in left field and a number 4 behind second base. Fans came in droves to the last game of the season to wish Gonzalez the best and to thank him for everything that he had done for the team and for the community. Gonzalez wanted to remain a Diamondback and was willing to accept a lesser role with the team to stay in Arizona. The team had no interest in picking up Gonzo’s option for 2007 nor were they willing to discuss Luis coming back as a bench or part-time player. The team was opting to give their young prospects an opportunity to make their mark in the major leagues. It was merely an added benefit that the team would save money going young at this juncture. So in the end it became a business decision to part ways with the most recognizable person in Diamondbacks history. Gonzalez was not prepared to retire and wanted to play a couple of more years. Since his team did not want him, Gonzo wanted to sign a free agent contract with a National League team preferably one in the Western Division so that he could play the Diamondbacks regularly and hopefully show them that they made a mistake by passing up on his services. In the off-season Luis Gonzalez signed a contract to play with divisional rival Los Angeles. Tonight’s game marks the first meeting of the 2007 season between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. A mere half game separates these two teams in the standings with the Diamondbacks in first place and the Dodgers right behind them as if this game needed any more drama.


Over this first home stand the Diamondbacks have seen crowds of 49,000 plus for the home opener followed by crowds of 20,000 for all other games in the two series played against the Reds and the Rockies. I was very interested to see what type of crowds would be on hand for Gonzo’s return to the Valley of the Sun. Would he be greeted by a near capacity crowd who would cheer him as they did last fall? Or would he be met with the same lackadaisical attitude that other former Diamondbacks such as Steve Finley and Byung Hyun Kim had received? I did expect a somewhat larger crowd as the Dodgers are always a good draw for the Diamondbacks due to the years of Dodger coverage on radio and television before Major League Baseball came to Arizona. I expected that Gonzalez would get an enthusiastic greeting from the fans and perhaps even a standing ovation when he ran out to his familiar spot in left field. I wondered though how loyal these Gonzo fans would be if he should hit a double or drive in a run to beat the Diamondbacks. Would their allegiance remain to this player or would it change now that he was wearing the hated colors of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Phoenix and Los Angeles always seem to have a strong rivalry no matter what the sport. The Suns and Lakers are constantly at each other as was witnessed with the Kobe Bryant and Raja Bell feud during the NBA play-offs. The ASU football team always looks forward to the USC game as a measuring stick of how they are progressing. Even the lowly Cardinals used to look forward to playing the LA teams when they had one. The chant “Beat LA” rings loud and clear throughout each and every stadium. I think a lot of this is the fact that these two cities always seem to draw comparisons and Phoenix rarely comes out on top. I think there is some resentment of that fact by the citizens of Phoenix and they look forward to perhaps showing up their southern California counterparts wherever possible. If Luis Gonzalez would have signed with any other team he would probably be cheered for the remainder of his career remaining a fan favorite in Phoenix. But the Dodgers? That might just be the one thing that could knock Gonzo off his pedestal in the hearts of the fans at Chase Field. Me, I plan on going early just to watch the fireworks. This might be one game where the back story makes the game an afterthought.


2 Comments

  1. Natalie LaPan

    I think that it is absolutely without any conscience that the club would remove any and all things that relate to our 2001 World Series glory, in the locker room.

    All of the players deserve, and the public deserve, to know that all of the players that were responsible for that win, are shown that this community loves and respects them. I was just starting to trust the new regime, but now, hold them totally accountable for not being a trustworthy entity.

  2. I do not believe that the Arizona Diamondbacks are purposefully trying to eliminate or minimize the importance of past accomplishments. Changing the colors of an organization is more than simply ordering some new merchandise for the team shop and having a fashion show. The number of changes that have to be made are enormous and the time it takes to make the changes is always longer than you would hope. The Diamondbacks chose to focus on the fans and make sure those changes were done first. The artwork, list of player accomplishments, and opening day line-ups are all being replaced and will be returned. The pictures and line-ups that Luis and subsequently the media singled out are among some of the more popular items that people taking the stadium tours like. Why would the team want to reduce the value of their tours? You have to ask yourself, what purpose would it serve for the Diamondbacks to eliminate these things? It would not make any sense at all. I think what has happened was that Luis just happened to visit when not everything was done and he chose to assume this was some kind of conspiracy rather than a matter of not everything being done before guests arrived. If by the beginning of next season those items are still not up then I think we have grounds to question the motives of management. Until then I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

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