At one point or another in our lives we have each experienced a situation where we have built it up so much in our minds anticipating the event that once it finally arrives we are disappointed as it was impossible to ever live up to the expectations we envisioned.
As I was driving down to Chase Field for my Behind-the-Scenes Tour I was worried that perhaps that is what I had done with this event. Since the moment I received the email from Cara Davison confirming me for the tour I had thought of precious little else, a fact my family can attest to when I began creating replicas of Chase Field with mashed potatoes ala Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Our tour was to begin promptly at 6:30 PM. Looking at my watch I was a mere 40 minutes early. I approached the sign-in table to check-in. There seated was my Season Ticket Representative Mandi Howard and next to her was Cara Davison.
Before I could even say anything Mandi had marked me off the list and let me know I was just a little early (as if this was some kind of surprise). Cara introduced herself and I immediately went into thanking her for the emails about this event.
Being early Mandi and Cara suggested I check out the team shop while waiting. That’s kind of like suggesting Willie Wonka should check out the candy store. My daughter Tiffany and I ran into the Team Shop to see what kind of damage I could do to my credit card.
The Diamondbacks have rearranged the Team Shop and the merchandise seems to flow better than it did last time I was in here. They have dedicated more space to jerseys just as you enter the outside gate. I liked that but was disappointed to see they did not have a Los D-Backs black authentic jersey for sale (my quest shall continue until I find a size 44 to add to my collection).
Each time I picked up an item that I just had to have Tiffany reminded me what my wife Trina had said about not going crazy. We minimized the damage only buying two baby outfits for my expectant daughter and a Diamondbacks stocking cap for Tiffany to take to National Track Finals next week in Illinois.
It was a hollow feeling leaving the Team Shop without something for myself. I almost felt guilty and caught myself apologizing to the cashier for not getting more stuff and promising I would be back before Opening Day.
When it came time for the tour, we made our way to the “Wow Lobby” so named by owner Jerry Colangelo when they were designing then Bank One Ballpark. He wanted a lobby that when visitors arrived at the stadium they would look around and say, “Wow!”
From my perspective it lives up to its name. As you enter the lobby, on either side are various baseball awards including a Cy Young Award, Silver Slugger, World Series trophy, All-Star MVP award, and many others.
To the back of the lobby are statues of a pitcher and catcher made of what looks like bronze. Each of them has the number 98 on their jerseys signifying when the Diamondbacks began play. No matter how many times I enter this lobby I am still awestruck by its look.
After a brief introduction we entered the elevators and made our way to the second floor of Chase Field. Here is where the front office staff works their magic building the team and deciding such important things such as who gets a bobble head night.
Behind the reception area on the wall hangs four Diamondbacks jerseys that were unveiled when the team changed its colors after the 2006 season. I made a note to myself to frame my jerseys similarly and hang them in our living room. A decision that I am sure will be met with great enthusiasm by my wife.
As we walked through the office area two things stuck out to me. First was the long wall with photos showing all of the Diamonds Back Fields that the team has built for youth baseball throughout Arizona. This is a great program and one I applaud any chance I get. The team should be commended about how they continuously give back to the community.
The second thing that struck me was the large wall hanging with the Diamondbacks organizational values of Performance, Community, Culture, Financial Efficiency, and Fan Experience. It is placed so that every employee passes this on their way out the door to remind them of what the Diamondbacks want to represent.
As a season ticket holder I am very appreciative of the fact that Fan Experience is one of the team’s core values. The Diamondbacks are by far the most fan-friendly organization not only in baseball but also in all of sports.
The group going on this tour numbered approximately 20, a fact that I am embarrassed to say is just a guess. I got so caught up in the tour that I completely forgot to do an actual count. I was encouraged to see that many of the fans brought their children to experience this tour.
Tiffany and I seemed to always be bringing up the rear and we each had to take turns watching the group to make sure we did not get left behind. The Diamondbacks staff was very good at keeping up together and was very patient as we stopped every foot to take pictures or discuss something.
It is funny how different people view things. Most everyone in the tour group became excited when we passed the office of Luis Gonzalez and they stopped to have their picture taken next to the nameplate that was on the wall beside his door.
Tiffany and I on the other hand were all fired up when we walked past Shaun Rachau’s door. Everyone looked sideways at us when I took Tiffany’s picture next to his door and the door of D-Backs Insider editor Greg Salvatore.
When we caught back up to the group my mouth nearly fell to the floor. We were in the control room for dbTV! My excitement was overwhelming as this was number nine on my Bucket List.
The walls were lined with technology. Monitors showed multiple camera angles throughout the ballpark and on several monitors were non-linear editing software to splice shots for replay. I was in geek heaven with all this technology.
I stood hanging on every word of the presenter as he explained the technology they used to produce the video and graphics that appear on dbTV. From there we went next door where they gave us an example of editing where they were creating music videos to appear this upcoming season.
After editing we went in to see how the graphics are combined and how they manage the pitch counts and game graphics on the ribbon boards. We also spoke to Eric Hanson who is the manager of audio engineering.
He described the audio at the ballpark. Most of the fans on the tour wanted to know how the players choose their music. Eric gave a great overview of that and even told a few stories from past years that were entertaining.
Eric ended his presentation with an overview of Pitch FX, which the MLB web site uses in their Gameday application. It was very impressive to see the technology that is used behind the scenes.
We left the technology and workings of dbTV, and made our way to the Joe Garagiola broadcast wing that was dedicated last year. The display of the life of Joe Garagiola was awesome and so fitting to someone such as Joe.
The tour took us into the booth where Daron Sutton and Mark Grace call the games. On one wall are autographs of people who have been in the booth. It was an impressive wall of fame with Hall of Fame ballplayers, legendary broadcasters, and other dignitaries. I could only dream of being that famous some day to be asked to sign that wall.
Next door was the press box where the working press report each game. I sat in one of the seats looking out over the quiet field wondering what it must be like on game day with laptops clicking and reporters discussing the game as it unfolds.
They then took us to the press cafeteria, which is a far cry from the concessionaires in the main concourse. The walls were lined with photos of Diamondbacks players and events. Tiffany looked at each one trying to figure out whether Diamondbacks photographer Jon Willey took any of these pictures.
We took an elevator down to the field level into the tunnels beneath Chase Field. There we saw the interview room the Diamondbacks use for post-game and other press conferences. It took me back to last May when the Diamondbacks announced the hiring of AJ Hinch as their new manager.
I couldn’t help myself; after everyone left the room I sat behind the desk and had Tiffany take my picture. That’s about as close as I will ever come to an actual press conference.
The walls in the tunnel had several interesting features. The Diamondbacks have a display that shows the Opening Day line-up for every year of their existence. For those line-ups prior to 2007 they are in purple while 2007-2009 were in Sedona Red.
Farther down the tunnel is a display of every Arizona Diamondbacks player who has ever been in an All-Star game and whether the player was elected to be a starter.
We then entered the Diamondbacks Clubhouse where all the players’ lockers are. At the door was Ryan Ginsberg who helped me ”steal second base” last season.
I had to ask Ryan how Adam LaRoche was able to score the big corner cubicle usually reserved for clubhouse leaders. He wasn’t sure but the guess is the locker names are likely to change after Spring Training. It would be interesting to hear who ends up with this locker.
From the clubhouse we walked down to the underground batting cages where the players warm up prior to entering the game as a pinch hitter. The kids on the tour really enjoyed this part pretending they were hitting against the pitching machine.
A short walk from the batting cages took us to the Diamondbacks dugout. It is always special sitting on the bench looking out onto the field trying to imagine what it must be like to sit there during a game.
Behind the bench is a phone that rings the bullpen. Lifting the receiver causes the phone in the bullpen to ring. That is still the most chilling sound a pitcher ever hears. The ring seems to resonate down to your very core.
As we left the dugout we made our way back to the concourse where the tour ended. I couldn’t bring myself to leave and asked the security guard if I could just walk down to Section 132 Row 9 Seat 9 for a second. He smiled and said, “of course you can go down to your seats.”
In the still quiet of the evening of a nearly empty stadium I sat there looking out from my seats. I thought back to my concern that this tour would never be able to live up to the expectations I had set in my mind.
Oh how wrong I had been. It was an amazing experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. It is nights like this that make me grateful to be an Arizona Diamondbacks season ticket holder.