Here We Go Again

Friday September 5, 2008; I remember that day like it was yesterday. The Arizona Diamondbacks were hanging on to first place in the National League West and were heading to Los Angeles to meet the charging Los Angeles Dodgers. While the baseball season is 162 games long, it was basically going to come down to this series. If the Diamondbacks could win here they were almost assured of winning the division and making their second consecutive trip to the post season. The hype surrounding this series had reached biblical proportions. I literally heard people praying for the snakes. Oh what an ironic twist to see religious people rooting for the serpent. But that is what baseball is all about; finding a team you can follow and walking with them through the long season cheering their accomplishments and feeling the pain when they falter. This series had an even more personal connection for me.

The series with the Los Angeles Dodgers was scheduled for Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. A group of us sat around at Chase Field during a game and commented, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could go to that series?” That innocent sounding question set in motion events that to this day I cannot completely fathom. I naively assumed that conversation was just idle talk by fans during a game; something you do between innings as the season begins to wind down. Instead it became a leaping off point where this small group would find themselves in a place none of us ever expected.

The first inkling of change came when I got a call to my cell phone from one of our group saying that he just received a statement from his Marriott Rewards card saying he was eligible for a free 2-night stay and that one of the places listed was Los Angeles. Dodger Stadium He made a couple of calls and the hotel had rooms available for the weekend of September 5. A couple of days later I heard from another of the group saying that his family was going out of town and he was going to be alone the first weekend in September and he offered to drive to California. All we were really lacking now was tickets to the game to make this road trip a reality. I sent an email to the Diamondbacks asking if they had a contact at Dodger stadium I could talk to about tickets for that weekend. I had never been to Dodger Stadium and wanted to make sure I bought tickets in a good section if we were going to drive from Phoenix to see a game. Instead of a contact; I was notified that tickets would be available for us at will-call for the game. It was an incredible gesture and one I still cannot comprehend. Everything was set for a perfect weekend of baseball; and we were ready.

Unfortunately the Arizona Diamondbacks seemed a little less prepared for this series than we were. In the first game of the series Dan Haren and the D-Backs were shut out 0-7. My friends and I sat there stunned as we watched the game. It didn’t help that we were the only Diamondbacks fans in the stands and faced constant ridicule from those around us. It felt like someone punched us in the gut. Still all was not lost; Brandon Webb was going tomorrow and everything would be ok. Tomorrow came and things didn’t get better; in fact they got worse. Webb was out-pitched by Chad Billingsley and the Dodgers won the second game and the series by a score of 2-7. For the first time since April the Diamondbacks were in second place. Still there was one more game and the team and we could limp out of town clinging to the division lead. Rookie Max Scherzer took to the hill and pitched very well allowing 3 runs on 5 hits and struck out 11 Dodgers. He left with the lead and it looked like we would finally have some revenge. Then the unthinkable happened. Chad Qualls let the tying run score and the next inning Jon Rauch gave up 2 runs the next inning to give the Dodgers the win, the sweep, and sole possession of first place.

I remember sitting in the stands after the game staring at the field trying to comprehend what had just happened. I remember each and every Dodger fan walking past me screaming how our team was finished and how they were the team to beat. I remember the utter frustration and how helpless I felt. The final three weeks of the season were played in a fog as the Dodgers continued to play championship caliber baseball while the Diamondbacks looked lost and confused. In the end the Dodgers won the National League West and defeated the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the play-offs before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS. As I watched each play-off game I could not help but think what might have been if the Diamondbacks had won that series in September.

Now we are in a new season and the Diamondbacks have opened the 2009 campaign much like they closed the 2008 season looking slightly lost and confused at the plate and the pitching staff struggling. The Los Angeles Dodgers come to town with the moniker of being the defending National League West Champion and the team to beat this year. There will no doubt be an abundance of Los Angeles Dodgers fans in attendance and at times will seem like Dodger Stadium. I would like nothing better than to see a reversal of what happened in September and watch the Dodger fans look stunned as the Diamondbacks players walk off the field victorious. Although it is only April and really has no bearing on the overall season these two teams will have; it will at least make us feel like we belong and should be counted as one of the elite teams to be reckoned with.

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