Wow it seems like only yesterday that I was taking a vacation day and leaving work early to go down to the Phoenix Civic Plaza. It was a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky. It was one of those days that made you forget about the triple-digit brutal heat of the summer and reminds you of why you chose to live in Arizona. This was not an average November day though. This was a date that I had been anticipating to for 986 days. And while I would only be a spectator that day, I still found myself extremely nervous about what was going to transpire over the next several hours.
The plaza at the Phoenix Civic Plaza had been cordoned off and underneath the large canopy tent were set up probably a couple of hundred chairs. This was not an event where you came unprepared. I had with me several notebooks, pads of papers with various notes written, and several pens. I was more prepared for this event than I was to take the college entrance exams which may explain a lot about my priority system come to think about it. I arrived at the Civic Plaza early thinking I would try to get a seat close to the front. Unfortunately there were about 75 people who thought the same thing meaning I would be standing in line and would end up sitting towards the back when the event began. That in itself was kind of a blessing. My seats ended up right next to the press corps or specifically right next to the corral of reports sent to cover the activities of the day. My particular seats were right next to the Japanese newspapers that were there in case someone they knew was called out. I don’t speak Japanese; in fact there are several people that would argue that I barely speak English. So having me next to the Japanese press was just a little strange. The crowd gathered and the anticipation had an electric buzz to it. Soon a hush fell over those in attendance as the event began.
It started with a coin flip which would decide the order of who would speak first. Some would say it had the aurora of a Presidential debate but the outcome of this gathering was much greater than that. I remember in grade school we studied American History and in particular the Revolutionary War times. The teacher described the meetings of the colonists where they drafted the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution of the United States. She eloquently described the spirited debates that occurred and how important these documents were to the birth of a nation. In a very real sense today I felt I was witnessing something just as monumental. From the closed caption monitors we could watch the proceedings and you could see the discussions and debates that were happening. After a few moments a spokesperson would come to the podium and make an announcement. The room grew extremely silent as the speaker stated in a monotone voice, “The Tampa Bay Devil Rays select Tony Saunders from the Florida Marlins.” That statement was followed by “The Arizona Diamondbacks select left-handed pitcher Brian Anderson from the Cleveland Indians.” As the last syllable echoed through the speakers a new era was born and two new Major League Baseball teams were officially born.
Tampa Bay and Arizona were awarded franchises on March 9, 1995 but they were not a team until November 18, 1997. On that day the two new franchises selected players from the other 28 teams to fill out their rosters. There were procedures and rules about who could be drafted and who could be protected. I sat with my pad of paper and my notebooks looking up each player as they were drafted. Many of the players were relatively unknown so I quickly became the center of attention in the crowd as I pulled out reference materials from each team and player. This was especially confusing to the Japanese press who weren’t exactly sure what was going on. I would point at pictures or statistics then give a thumbs up or thumbs down of what I thought about the pick. The Japanese writers would smile and bow then talk amongst themselves. I have no idea what they were reporting and for all I know I permanently damaged baseball relationships between our two countries but for that one day the language barriers disappeared and we spoke the international language of baseball.
Besides the draft I also had an opportunity to meet some great fans and some childhood heroes. Sometime during the proceedings I came face-to-face with Joe Garagiola Senior who I grew up idolizing from his broadcasting of the NBC game of the week. His personality is amazing and he is the most down-to-earth person I have ever met. He was cracking jokes and working the crowd. It was something I’ll never forget. Now here we are ten years later and the Diamondbacks have played a decade in the National League West. We’ve seen the pinnacle of the sport unfold with a World Championship and we’ve experienced heartbreak with 111 losses over a tragic season. But it all started on a beautiful November day when baseball finally bloomed in the desert.