Getting Dirty

Shortly after Derrick Hall took over as President and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks he instituted a program he referred to as FAWTSY, which stands for Find A Way To Say Yes. It was more than a catch phrase; it became a philosophical mantra that he tried to instill into each and every person associated with the organization. In essence the premise reminds employees of the importance of the customer. Rather than doing things the way they have always been done or according to some arbitrary rule Hall challenged his team to try and find a way to say yes to the customer. This is not a new concept; world-class customer service is a key to many successful businesses. The key is not the concept itself but how well it becomes woven into the culture of the organization.

Over the course of the years I have had a lot of opportunities to test how engrained this mantra has become. It’s not that I look for ways to challenge the Diamondbacks, it probably just seems that way. In each instance my request is met with stunned silence followed by a hesitant “ok” and a promise they will do what they can. In every case so far the team and its employees have come through impressing me along the way. Let me give you an example.

Chase Field DirtEarly in July I had an opportunity to go to New York City and visit the MLB Fan Cave. Of all the interesting aspects of this active production studio, the one that perhaps stood out the most to me was the “Dirt Bar”. On this wall were 30 containers of authenticated dirt from each Major League Baseball stadium. In one place you could see dirt gathered from every park. Until now I had always thought dirt was dirt. I mean really, how different could dirt be?

At the end of our tour we were allowed to select a test tube of dirt from one of the stadiums and take home with us as a constant reminder of our visit to the Fan Cave. All day long I pondered which stadium I would take dirt from. Should I select dirt from the first stadium I had ever visited (Wrigley Field) or should I take dirt from the stadium where my team’s greatest moment occurred (Yankee Stadium) or should I take dirt from my home away from home (Chase Field)?

I struggled all day with that decision texting and calling family and friends and posting to social media asking for help in making this difficult choice. In the end I chose Yankee Stadium representing the point where the Arizona Diamondbacks met the storied Yankees in the “House that Ruth Built”. And while they were beaten in all three games, they were perhaps the greatest games in World Series history and set the stage for the greatest comeback ever in the fall classic.

After making that decision I felt content that I had made the right choice. When I got home I sat the test tube of dirt on my desk. It is a daily reminder of 2001; not only the baseball games but also a time in the history of this country when people gathered together to heal. That test tube of dirt had another affect on me. It reminded me daily that I had selected the Yankees over the Diamondbacks. That’s the kind of thing that will eat at a guy from the inside out. How could I have been so disloyal? Why didn’t I have Chase Field dirt on my desk?

For weeks now I have stared at that dirt. When I went to Chase Field to watch the Diamondbacks play I would stare at the dirt and be reminded that was not the dirt I had chosen. How could I have been so stupid? I needed to find a way to rectify the situation; I needed to find a way to get Chase Field dirt.

At first thought, that seemed like an easy thing. I mean I go to nearly every game and I’m always there for batting practice. I could just reach over the ledge of our section and scoop up a handful of dirt. But that’s not really field dirt. That is warning track dirt. What I needed with actual playing field dirt. You know, the dirt from home plate, around the base paths, and the pitching mound. The dirt needed to be between the foul lines in order for it to be classified as Chase Field dirt.

Getting dirt from the actual playing field is a little more difficult. It’s not like fans have an opportunity to be out on the playing field where they could reach down and take some dirt and put in their pocket. Briefly I considered jumping the wall and running out on the field grabbing dirt then running back to the stands.

I’ve seen what happens when fans go onto the field and quickly discounted that idea. Besides, the security guards would likely pummel me into the infield dirt while I was gathering my sample. On the other hand having a test tube of Chase Field dirt mixed with my blood and skin would be kind of interesting. My luck the guards would confiscate my dirt during my arrest and then I would still not have dirt and a police record. There had to be another way.

Then it hit me, I would just ask someone within the Diamondbacks for dirt. Given my requests over the years, this one actually sounded almost normal. Armed with my empty test tube I went to Chase Field during the Tampa Bay series.

I was out by the Chase Field swimming pool during batting practice talking to the lifeguards and explaining what I needed. They both looked at each other and said, “Audra can help.” Audra Tiffany’s official title is Administrative Assistant, Security & Building Services. She came out and I explained my story and how I was looking for a test tube of Chase Field dirt. The look on her face was priceless.

I can say with a fairly high degree of confidence that this was probably the first time in her life that a strange guy with a test tube had approached her for a sample of dirt. She could have easily discounted the request but she didn’t. She took the test tube and asked just one question, “What are you going to do with the dirt?”

This time it was me that just kind of stared not exactly sure what to say. In this whole process I never thought about how I would explain my request. I guess the idea of asking for dirt seemed so natural that I never thought about how weird the request would sound when I actually described it out loud. After an unnecessarily long explanation Audra said, “oh so you want to display it.” Yeah, that answer might have saved us 12 minutes and not made me look quite as crazy as my explanation. Audra took the test tube and said she would see what she could do.

This weekend during the New York Mets series I was handed a test tube filled with dirt from Chase Field. Not just any Chase Field dirt, this was dirt from home plate. I stood looking at the dirt turning the test tube in my hands admiring each nugget.

Audra explained that she had given the test tube to head groundskeeper Grant Trenbeath. She had expected there to be a little bit of pushback from such an odd request but instead Grant totally understood and was happy to assist. He and his staff gathered the dirt from around the plate from each of the batters boxes. In my mind I was envisioning a crew of people on their hands and knees filtering dirt in their hands to fill a test tube for a crazed fan.

During the story I noticed a sliver of wood among the dirt particles. Looking closer I realized it was a piece of bat! I actually had game used dirt! I took the dirt home and set it next to the vile of Yankee Stadium dirt. The Yankee Stadium dirt seems pedestrian compared to the Chase Field dirt.

I’m mesmerized by the Chase Field dirt. I look at the test tube and think about players scratching out a place for their feet, tapping their bat against the dirt waiting for a pitch. Maybe there was a breaking ball that bounced against this dirt before being blocked by the catcher. Then there’s that piece of bat. Was that the remnant of a game winning hit or a broken bat that ended the game in a victory?

I’m content now knowing I have hometown dirt. It’s funny how a test tube of dirt can become so important. But it’s not just the dirt that makes this story special. What makes it a story is the fact that Derrick Hall has impressed his employees to look for ways to make baseball special. A few employees acknowledging the whims of a crazy fan made this story work and that is why the Arizona Diamondbacks can proudly proclaim themselves as one of the most fan-friendly teams in sports.

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