Bye, Bye Byrnes

Recently the Arizona Diamondbacks held a relatively unique promotion. Playing off the popularity of outfielder Eric Byrnes the team held an “Eric Byrnes Look-Alike” contest. Fans were asked to dress up as the quirky fan favorite. It was somewhat disconcerting to arrive at the ballpark and see the plaza filled with curious fans looking quite confused at coming face-to-face with hair-care-challenged filthy replicas of Byrnes. And while it was fun seeing the fans attempt to replicate the fun-loving outfielder the promotion struck me as oddly timed. It came shortly after Arizona broke off talks with Byrnes on a long-term contract.

As the team headed into the all-star break rumors began surfacing that Byrnes was looking for a long-term contract with the Diamondbacks. The results he has amassed over the past two seasons warranted these discussions as he has been the most consistent player in the Diamondbacks line-up. With the upward spiral of player salaries it would make sense that the team would try to work out a deal. Eric Byrnes made it known that he appreciated the Diamondbacks taking a chance on him last season and wanted to stay. He went as far as to suggest he would be willing to give the team a “home town discount” signing for less than market value. The fans took this very positively. Many had already imparted the title of “face of the franchise” to Byrnes. His laidback personality coupled with his reckless abandon and love of the game made him an instant fan favorite. His emotional outbursts and kamikaze playing style coupled with the success he has had made it natural that he become the new face of the Diamondbacks. Who could ask for a more perfect example than someone who gives his all and leaves everything out on the field (including several patches of skin as a result of slamming into the outfield walls)? There was only one problem with this scenario; Eric Byrnes may not fit into the long-term plans of the Arizona Diamondbacks. With a farm system still filled with top outfield prospects Byrnes had been viewed as a stop-gap measure giving the team time to prepare one of their youngsters to take over in left field.

Talks broke off between Byrnes representatives and the team. The gap between the two sides felt wider than the distance across the Grand Canyon. And while both sides still claim that the door is not shut to bringing the outfielder back the writing is clearly on the wall. For the second straight season Diamondbacks fans may be asked to say farewell to their favorite player. They’ll be asked to place trust in the franchise that they know what is best. They’ll be told of the potential and upside of minor league players such as Justin Upton and Carlos Gonzalez. This message sounds vaguely familiar as it was just a year ago that very similar words were used to describe what fans could expect in 2007 after Luis Gonzalez had departed. But fast-forwarding to now we find that it has been Eric Byrnes who has led this team for the season and at times carried them on the shoulders of his dirty uniform. His reward for this is a hearty thank-you from the team and the well wishes of an appreciative fan base. Decisions such as this that involve millions of dollars and long-term time commitments become constant reminders that while baseball may be the national pastime it is first and foremost a business. So with the few remaining games of the 2007 season I hope that fans will take this opportunity to come to the ballpark and cheer for Eric Byrnes and let him know how much we appreciate his efforts and how much we want his tenure with the Arizona Diamondbacks to continue.

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