“2001 World Championship Reunion Weekend” was how it was listed on the promotions schedule the Arizona Diamondbacks sent out before the season began. It was being described as an opportunity for the team to celebrate the events from a decade ago when the then upstart Diamondbacks defeated the New York Yankees in what is arguably the best World Series in the history of baseball.
Fans had long been looking forward to this. Perhaps it was the fact that for the past two seasons the Diamondbacks had floundered in the basement of the National League Western Division. After two seasons of not just being beaten but humiliated in the standings the fans were looking for something positive to cheer for.
For some the events of the 2001 Diamondbacks are merely a legend. They were too young or not around during that magical season where an upstart team took the World Championship from a Yankees team that felt winning that year was their destiny.
Anyone who has ever attended a Diamondbacks game or seen one on television has likely seen that bloop single in the bottom of the ninth inning by Luis Gonzalez that scored Jay Bell and brought Phoenix its first major sports championship.
So many things have changed since that fateful day. The team’s Championship run lasted just that one year. While 2002 was a better year statistically; key injuries cut short any chances of a repeat. Shortly thereafter the team began to be disbanded.
World Series Co-MVP Curt Schilling was sent east to Boston and soon thereafter Randy Johnson would join his ex-teammate in the AL East going to the New York Yankees. Before long those glory years were just a faint memory.
The bad times were not entirely an on-field problem. There were front office miscues as well that included shunning World Series hero Luis Gonzalez and declining to bring back Randy Johnson to get his 300th win as a Diamondbacks instead forcing the fans to watch this milestone occur with the “Big Unit” wearing the orange and black of San Francisco.
Now seemed like the perfect time for this reunion to occur. The 2011 Diamondbacks team has exceeded everyone’s expectations but their own. These players and coaches fully expected to be competing for the NL West crown. They just needed to prove to everyone else what they were capable of doing.
The pre-game ceremony was a touching tribute to the 2001 team. It included video footage from that season and each of the players paraded onto the field in front of a sold-out crowd who cheered as they did on November 4, 2001 for game 7.
After the festivities the 2011 version of the team ran out onto the field wearing the throwback uniforms that their predecessors wore. I have to admit it was odd seeing the purple and teal running out to the playing field.
Every ball hit to left field I had to remind myself that it would be Gerardo Parra catching that fly ball rather than Luis Gonzalez. It was especially surreal seeing Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams standing just six feet away from where he played in 2001.
The ceremonial first pitch was especially humbling. Former Managing General Partner Jerry Colangelo threw a pitch to former manager Bob Brenly to a standing ovation. It was good to see the fans appreciation for all Colangelo had done. As Brenly walked out to give the ball to Colangelo he shook his hand and stated, “Thank you sir, I owe you a debt of gratitude for the opportunity.”
World Series Co-MVPs Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling both threw a first pitch. Johnson’s looked smooth while Schillings flew to the backstop leading to some good natured ribbing by the former teammates.
The energy within Chase Field was electric. The fans were loud and vocal and reminded everyone of what this place is like when the fans are into the game. The current Diamondbacks took advantage of the rare home field advantage.
And just like ten years ago the team would find itself behind facing one of baseball’s best closers. In the bottom of the ninth they would touch up San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell for two home runs and win on a walk-off walk in the bottom of the tenth.
Hopefully the experience on Saturday would remind the fans how much fun baseball can be when experienced in person. The Diamondbacks look to almost be a lock on a playoff berth and deserve to have the same fan support that their 2001 counterparts experienced. Who knows, ten years from now there will be a similar reunion where this team will come together and reminisce about that magical 2011 season.