Baseball fans in Arizona are spoiled. Not only do they have the Arizona Diamondbacks they can watch for 81 regular season home games but they also have baseball during the off-season as well. Each year after Major League Baseball crowns a new World Series champion teams will send their best and brightest prospects to compete in the Arizona Fall League. Every game is like watching a preview of the next generation of baseball superstars. As if the AFL is not enough, baseball fans gather around the Valley of the Sun for the opening of Spring Training in the Cactus League.
While most of the country is digging out from under drifts of snow and ice, in Arizona we are worrying about whether we have packed enough sun screen and whether it might be too warm to sit in your seats for an entire nine-inning game. For six weeks fans find excuses to slip out work for an afternoon at the ballpark to see their favorite players and get a glimpse of who may make the team when the regular season starts. It is pretty much the perfect place to live if you are a baseball fan.
Normally I try to attend all of the Arizona Diamondbacks home games during Spring Training. I have two season tickets two rows above the Dbacks dugout on the third base side of Salt River Fields. I’m surrounded by other diehard fans who like myself live for the gates to open so they can make their way to their seats and watch this amazing game. My family sometimes questions my sanity. How is it possible for someone to be this dedicated to baseball? It’s bad enough that they have to endure 81 days at Chase Field each year but to then add another 18 games at Salt River Fields seems like insanity.
I try to explain the passion I have for the game but rarely do they get it. Today though happened to be a rare exception. Earlier this month I received an email from Marcie Taylor, the Social Media Strategist for the Smile Generation, asking if I would be interested in attending a Diamondbacks Spring Training game as their guest. Normally I would politely decline especially when offered tickets by a dentist. I have a healthy lifelong fear of dentists that stem from my earliest recollection of my first visit to Dr. Payne. No, I’m not making this up. My parents sent me to a dentist who a) was named pain, b) did not believe in Novocain, and c) hated children. If the witch in Hansel and Gretel had a son that went to medical school this would be the guy. To this day the mere sound of a dental drill will put me in the fetal position. I just knew if I accepted baseball tickets from a dentist I would get there and some guy would tie me to a seat with dental floss and scream at me until my gums bleed.
Marcie seemed like a nice person and she assured me that accepting the tickets would not result in half my mouth going numb or me drooling down the side of a ballpark beer. They were looking for someone who would tweet about their experiences at the game and mention them in a blog post. I secretly wondered whether Marcie had actually read any of the blather I put on Twitter. I’m probably not the guy she wanted but it was baseball and tickets to watch the Diamondbacks so I agreed.
The tickets to the game arrived and I started to get excited. We had four seats meaning I could not only attend the game but I could bring my wife, daughter, and my grand daughter Lily who just turned three a week ago. In the days leading up to the game Lily was counting down the time until we would go to the ballpark. Considering what a diehard fan I am, it should come as no surprise that this is not the first game Lily has attended. She is a seasoned pro already around the ballpark and she is quickly becoming a huge baseball fan.
The game was a night game against the Milwaukee Brewers. When I got home Lily was already waiting for me with her Diamondbacks shirt, Diamondbacks rattle, Diamondbacks beads, and Diamondbacks hat. All the way from our house to Salt River Fields I heard her in the back seat telling everyone she was going to see the players who were back in town after an extended off-season. They would be seeing the Diamondbacks play in their Sedona Red jerseys. Lily may be the only three year-old that differentiates red from Sedona Red when shown her colors. I have no idea where she got that.
When we arrived at the stadium we made our way down to Section 113 Row 12, which is right behind home plate. The game looked amazing from that vantage point. To our right was Section 112 where all of the scouts and Diamondbacks player personnel sit. Each pitch was being tracked and as the pitcher began his windup I looked over at a sea of radar guns. I was slightly worried that with that much radar gun radiation I would leave the ballpark bald but with a great tan.
Shortly after first pitch D. Baxter the Diamondbacks mascot came by to the delight of Lily. She was able to get her picture taken with her favorite mascot and after he left the first time she turned to me and said, “Baxter is cool. He is even cooler than Mickey Mouse.” Wow! Lily obviously has a crush on Baxter as she spent half the game looking around to see where he was at and what he was doing. He was great stopping by a couple of times to visit and playing games with the kids.
We spent the evening watching baseball. Three generations of our family sat in the stands soaking in the sights and sounds of baseball. We talked about the trips to Bank One Ballpark/Chase Field where I took my daughter when she was younger and what baseball meant to her now because of it. We talked about how enthusiastic Lily was already becoming and how even now she referred to herself as a Diamondbacks fan.
As the game ended we walked out of Salt River Fields. I had Lily by the hand as we made our way to the parking lot. She never stopped talking about the game. She recounted every detail from the corn dog and peanuts she ate to seeing Baxter to rooting for Relish in the Hot Dog Races to watching Gerardo Parra hit a home run. These memories will stay with her and with me forever and I have a dentist to thank for that. Maybe I’ve been too hard on dentists; maybe Dr. Payne was just a frustrated Cubs fan. All I know for sure is that I smiled all the way to the ballpark and back thanks to the Smile Generation.