Bailing on the Bandwagon

Sometimes it is hard to be a baseball fan in Phoenix Arizona and sometimes it is even harder to be a Diamondbacks fan. There are many factors that contribute to this statement many of which probably would be a good thesis for an advanced sociology or psychology degree. I don’t have a degree in either of those so having a goal to get an ADVANCED degree in one of them is probably not a realistic educational goal. So instead of basing my hypothesis with a lot of facts and research, I’ll do what probably the majority of society does. I’ll generalize and express opinion and represent it as fact. Hey I’ve read Wikipedia so I know how this works. Once I hit the publish button and this text appears on the Internet, it is irrevocable and fact. Ah the power of the Internet, you just gotta love it. So before I stray too far from my initial sentence let me get back on track. It is hard to be a baseball fan in Phoenix. There are days that it is even harder to be a Diamondbacks fan (like when Sedona Red enters the picture).

I had an opportunity to travel to St. Louis during baseball season a few years ago (back in the old Busch Stadium era). That city is filled with incredible barbeque joints that you just have to try. Whether you are a wet sauce kind of barbeque guy or a dry rub sort, you will find some of the best that this country has to offer in St. Louis. As I toured each barbeque joint I noticed a common theme. There were baseball artifacts or memorabilia everywhere. You could not go into one of these establishments without first smelling the sweet aroma of slow roasted meat and second seeing or hearing someone talk about baseball. It was not your average bandwagon style of baseball talk; these fans knew the players, the team, and the game. They would gladly talk about the Cardinals but they were equally as adept at speaking to whatever team you rooted for (unless you were a Cubs fan then they gave you a leftover bone and sat you in the corner just outside the men’s room but that is probably to be expected). When I went to the game I was amazed to see how many fans there were and this was a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates who are not normally a big draw. The fans were completely into the game and we had a blast for 9 innings. I learned more about being a baseball fan from that three game series than I did in all the rest of my life to that point.

Here in Phoenix there doesn’t seem to be that kind of passion. That might be partly due to the fact that only a minority of the people in Phoenix is native to the area. This city is a melting pot for all of the country. There are pockets of people from the north east, Midwest, south, and of course those who have emigrated from California. Going to a sporting event in Phoenix is like attending a meeting at the United Nations. All teams are represented and in many cases there are heated debates by the delegates in the stands. The only real difference is there probably are not a lot of hot dogs and empty beer glasses thrown between delegates. I can’t say that for sure, maybe the UN Security Council is more gregarious than I had imagined. I would be totally cool going to a baseball game even with this cornucopia of team representations. The problem is that baseball does not seem to be as high a priority in Arizona as it is elsewhere (especially St. Louis). No from October through May this town seems to revolve around its basketball team.

Before the Diamondbacks arrived, the Phoenix Suns owned this town. It was the first professional sports team to capture the national spotlight and the perpetual winning has made the fan base quite loyal. I remember moving to Arizona in 1994 and you could not get a ticket to a Suns game. There were waiting lines for season tickets and scalpers were charging vast premiums on day of game tickets. Even after the NBA labor troubles when other cities struggled to get fans to attend games, the Suns drew very well and as fans began to forget that the players and owners were greedy, the crowds came back in droves. The Diamondbacks achieved similar status in 1998 when they arrived on the scene. Many of their games were sold out as the curious came to the ballpark to see what it was like. Still it was the ballpark with the retractable roof that was the draw and not the team. Fans seemed lost at the game. They were not quite sure when to cheer or what to do. They only made noise when the scoreboard told them to. I once mentioned to Trina that I should have T-shirts made that said, “I only do what the JumboTron tells me to do”. I could probably make enough money to pay for my tickets selling those. Interest in the Diamondbacks waned slightly and it took a trip to the World Series before anyone paid attention to them again. Even after winning a world championship did not build a ravenous fan base for the Diamondbacks. Since 2001 they have seen a steady decrease in attendance. This year has been no exception. Opening Day has been the only sell out so far and probably will be except for perhaps the Boston Series and those crowds will probably be 80 percent Red Sox Nation.

Before the season baseball writers and the media made the young Diamondbacks a popular pick to be an up and coming franchise whose time was starting to bloom. With any young team it has been an up and down season and success is not a given. The fans are a lot like the team this year. From a historical baseball perspective they are young and do not have a lot of major league experience. There will be growing pains as the fans try to learn when it is appropriate to cheer and when it is not. Even after 25 of the games have been played people still do not understand that it is ok to stand up and cheer for a pitcher when they are about to throw a crucial pitch. Instead I hear all to often to sit down because the fan behind them cannot see. No we still seem to be stuck in the rut of a one sport town. Even though we have teams in all 4 major sports (I am being generous when I include hockey as a major sport in this context), we still do not have the passion and enthusiasm that is necessary to make Chase Field be a true home town advantage. It’s time to jump off the basketball bandwagon and take up the banner of baseball. It is the American pastime and I don’t think we realize how good this young Diamondbacks team is going to be.

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