Fan Observations

When you go to as many games as I do each year and sit in a section made up primarily of group tickets or season tickets that have been split a million different ways you get to meet a lot of interesting people; some more interesting than others. Over the course of the first 10 home games I have begun to see a disturbing trend in the stands. With the slow start by the Arizona Diamondbacks, the fans have become much more restless and critical that I have seen in the past. I am not sure whether the expectations are higher this year or if the fans are taking out their frustrations about their jobs, financial issues, or the economy on the team. It should be important to remember that the season is only 13 games old and with 149 games remaining there is still time to make up any ground the DBacks might have lost in these early games. If history has taught us anything it is that the baseball season is a marathon and how you start is not necessarily how you finish. The 2008 season is a prime example. The Arizona Diamondbacks began last year going a blistering 20-8 in April and finished 2 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the stadium. After the first 13 games last year the Dodgers were 5-8 and won the National League Western Division. In 2001 after 13 games the Diamondbacks were 5-8 and that year they won their only World Championship. Of course it should also be noted that the Diamondbacks were 5-8 in 2004 and went on to lose 111 games so anything is possible.

Usually I sit at the game and quietly observe the fans around me. I am not one to typically start up a conversation or insert myself into the middle of someone else’s banter regardless of how erroneous the information is being thrown around. So recently when two “super fans” began arguing that the Diamondbacks had moved the center field scoreboard when they upgraded dbTV and how the swimming pool used to be in left field; I just let it go. I likewise held my tongue when a group of fans debated Luis Gonzalez’s sure first ballot induction into the Hall of Fame. These kinds of comments tend to be more comical and cannot be taken seriously. What has been alarming is the number of boos emanating from the stands towards the home team and the calls for club management to dismantle the core players and start over.

I wish I had a dime for every time I have heard someone ask for hitting coach Rick Schu’s dismissal; I would never pay for season tickets again. I guess it is only human nature that in times of adversity that people would look for immediate resolution to a problem. Without necessarily understanding what is happening we tend to make dangerous leaps in logical thinking that could ultimately make things worse.

When a team is struggling at the plate as the Diamondbacks have it is easy to begin pointing fingers at the coaching staff. After all coaches are paid to get the most out of their players and if they can’t then they should be held accountable and fired if we do not see results. It’s easy to look at a stat such as .211 batting average with runners in scoring position and say that obviously the hitting coach is not doing his job. The problem is, in looking over the box scores of the season I don’t see Rick Schu’s name listed as coming to the plate once. Schu’s job is to work with these young hitters and help them to develop a strategy to be successful. Each player has their own swing nuances and their own approaches so Rick not only has to look at each person individually but also must develop plans and strategies for them. That is the easy part. He then has to work with each player and get them to buy in on the plan and once that happens then he must work with the player to ingrain the strategies into their muscle memory to be able to repeat the strategy at each at bat. On paper that might seem easy (after reading what I wrote it doesn’t seem easy at all, it sounds painfully difficult) but then you must factor in the mental approach each player uses both to learn new strategies and for implementing them. It is one thing for a player to buy into an approach but once he enters the game the player will most likely revert to past habits with the thoughts that those habits were successful in the past they should be successful now. This is of course a fallacy since things never stay the same. Baseball and especially hitting is a game of adjustments. If you get a hit a pitcher will make an adjustment. It is up to the batter to likewise make an adjustment if he wants to continue to succeed. It is this constant change where the young Diamondbacks hitters are struggling.

It is my hypothesis that that the slow start the Diamondbacks hitters are experiencing are a mental issue due to lack of experience. In 2007 when many of these players made their debut they were relatively unknown to the pitchers in the league. As such they were fed a solid stream of pitches that they were comfortable hitting. This led to some success which bred confidence in the clubhouse. They were successful because they didn’t know any better. When 2008 came along the hitters picked up where they left off as seen by the hot start in April last year. Soon the pitchers began to make adjustments which put the Diamondbacks hitters in a position where they began to struggle. This led to many of the hitters cooling off and struggling at the plate. As the season wore on the games meant more and more and the players began tinkering with their swing mechanics and their mental approach to the game. When the Dodgers caught and overtook the Diamondbacks in early September a subconscious panic set in. The result was that Arizona hitters looked less and less confident at the plate. When the season ended the DBacks were on the outside looking in at the play-offs and everyone blamed the offense for this. This added additional pressure on the hitters and they have come into this season feeling all the pressure of taking this team back into the post season. To be successful, they need to mentally take a step back and remember what it was like to feel success at the Major League level. They need to develop a mental approach to trust the things that Bob Melvin, Rick Schu, and the other coaches have taught them and then get their head out of the way and let the muscle memory go to work.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have all the talent necessary to win not just the NL West but the World Series. It is going to take some time and some adapting for them to be successful. I have no doubt they will begin to make these adjustments and see some success at the plate and in the standings. It’s not going to happen every night and it might not even happen this season but if even if the lights turn on for 2 or 3 of these players it will pay huge dividends for years to come. I appreciate the fact that fans are frustrated and want the team to do well but screaming to send Justin Upton to the minors or demote Mark Reynolds to the bench isn’t going to work. And just because Ricardo Sosa is having a good April for the Mobile BayBears doesn’t mean we should immediately call him up to start tonight against the Colorado Rockies. At times like this it is important to remember the first rule of scuba diving, “don’t forget to breathe”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *