“When did the Arizona Diamondbacks become a team?”. That is perhaps the number one question I am asked when someone visits Chase Field for the first time. I always hesitate when I have to answer that.
It is not that I don’t know the answer, it is just that I’m not sure which answer is appropriate given the context of the question. By that I mean, how do you define “team”?
The most correct answer is March 9, 1995. That is the date Major League Baseball awarded a franchise to the Phoenix ownership group led by Jerry Colangelo. Before that time there was no MLB team in Arizona.
Another answer to the question would be March 31, 1998. That is the date the Arizona Diamondbacks played their first game against the Colorado Rockies at Bank One Ballpark. The first pitch signified the birth of the major league team.
One date that is often overlooked is November 18, 1997. That is a significant date in franchise history. On that day the eyes of baseball was on Phoenix Arizona. This was the date of the Major League Baseball Expansion Draft.
Team officials for the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays met at the Phoenix Civic Center where they selected players from the other 28 team’s rosters. It was the first day the Diamondbacks had players on their Major League roster.
The Arizona Diamondbacks hosted an Expansion Draft part on the plaza next to the Phoenix Symphony Hall. Fans were given draft cards to note each new player chosen. There were local personalities who analyzed each draft pick and tried to help everyone understand who each of these players were.
I was one of the fortunate fans to be in attendance that day and still have my draft card that shows Brian Anderson as the first player chosen by Arizona with the second overall pick. A lot has changed since that fateful morning some thirteen years ago.
None of the players chosen are still with the club and most of them have retired from the game. With the exception of perhaps Anderson and catcher Damian Miller, few of these players had much of an impact after the first couple of years.
Today I found myself once again in downtown Phoenix and I walked over to the Phoenix Symphony Hall to hopefully relive some of the memories. The courtyard where the draft party was held is long gone replaced with a new structure.
The Phoenix Civic Plaza where the war rooms and actual draft were conducted have likewise been replaced with a new and improved structure. There is very little if anything left that would mark that historic event.
All that remains are a few stories from diehard fans and an occasional old photo that shows the event. But for one brief day it was the place to be as the Diamondbacks took their first steps to becoming the franchise we know today.