D’backs a hit on Hometown Tour
January 14, 2006
By Ed Odeven
(Arizona Daily Sun feature)
The baseball season’s just around the corner. Before you know it, pitchers and catchers will be reporting for spring training.
That’s great news for baseball aficionados. What’s more, fans around the state — in Flagstaff and Payson, Safford and Sedona and elsewhere (13 cities all told) — were treated to visits by Arizona Diamondbacks players, broadcasters and coaches Friday and Saturday as part of the team’s second annual APS Hometown Tour.
These visits included autograph sessions, APS Power Training Centers clinics and celebrity wiffle ball games.
Popular ex-Diamondback Mark Grace, now an announcer; new pitching coach Bryan Price; pitcher Mike Gosling; and manager Bob Melvin, the team’s bench coach during its 2001 World Series championship season, signed autographs and greeted fans for around 90 minutes Friday evening at the JC Penney store at the Flagstaff Mall.
“We want to make (the fans) feel like they are part of our team because they are,” said Karen Conway, the Diamondbacks’ community affairs director. “Without the fans we couldn’t do what we do.”
Conway was reminded of this during the Hometown Tour’s stop in Kingman.
“(First baseman) Tony Clark was at a Cracker Barrel restaurant this afternoon having lunch in Kingman,” she said Friday during the autograph session at the Flagstaff Mall, “and there was an older gentleman who came in and said, ‘I just want to give you a hug.’ And Tony said, ‘OK,’ and he gave him a hug. Then he said, ‘I want to let you know that I have terminal cancer and I won’t make it to see another game, but I want you to know that I’ll always root for you. …’
“It’s pretty moving when you hear that and someone in his condition got out of bed and drove all the way there because that’s how important seeing his Diamondbacks was to him.”
After he finished signing autographs, I spoke with Melvin for several minutes and asked about a number of things, including the team’s revamped roster, which features new center fielder Eric Byrnes, new second baseman Orlando Hudson and a pair of veteran hurlers, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and ex-D’back Miguel Batista.
Question: How are events like this APS Hometown Tour important for a ballclub’s visibility?
Answer: “Obviously, it’s very important. We do this every year as do most clubs. You want to try to incorporate the whole state, and we have three other vans or RVs going around the state as well. It’s something we look forward to. We like to see our fans all over the state.”
Q: What do you think you learned about the Diamondbacks in 2005, your first year as the team’s skipper?
A: “Well, what I learned is, we came in second (in the NL West) and we want to come in first. That’s the objective every year: to win.”
Q: Will you manage differently this year?
A: “You have to manage the club that you have. Last year, we were a little more of a power club. This year, we’ll probably have a little more speed and some guys that can put the ball in play, maybe some more hit-and-runs … and try to manufacture some runs a little differently.”
Q: Do you prefer managing a team dominated by power hitters or one that typically plays small ball?
A: “No. It’s my job to manage the team that I have to the best that I can. My favorite style is the one that wins games.”
Q: How important was it to give Brandon Webb a contract extension (he signed a four-year extension, including an option for a fifth year, on Friday)?
A: “It’s big. It shows that he’s a home-grown guy. He’s a guy that’s been in our organization, and he’s a guy that’s incrementally pitched his way up to being our No. 1 guy now. He’ll be our Opening Day pitcher.”
Q: What do El Duque and Batista add to the mix as far as how they can help the other Arizona pitchers?
A: “It really does. Their experience in big games that we can really count (is a big deal). … El Duque has pitched many big games. Batista has pitched in a World Series (in 2001 for Arizona) and pitched terrifically in New York that time and a guy that we have some history with. We’re glad to have him back, a guy that’s very versatile, has a resilient arm. … He’s a guy that gives us a lot of flexibility, and … a guy we’ll go in as a starter with (in 2006).”
Q: What do you expect the Diamondbacks to do in 2006?
A: “We expect to get better. Like I said, we were in second place last year and the goal is always to win and end up in first place. We’ve made these moves with that in mind, and we take a look at the long term as well. We think we’re in a good position.”
Q: What question marks do you hope to address by Opening Day?
A: “Well, I think we’ve addressed a lot of the needs. Obviously our bullpen is going to be one more year (older) experience-wise and we had some young guys down there that are talented guys that in the early parts of last year struggled some in the bullpen. We think we’ll be that much better. We want to get deeper in our rotation, and we think we’re doing that as well.”
Q: How did you spend your offseason?
A: “I live in Cave Creek, so I’m a local. I’ve been here 13 years. … We’ve been quite active, so with a new general manager (Josh Byrnes) coming in, I’ve been kind of filling him in on what type of talent we have, getting to know him some and developing that relationship. So it’s been a buys offseason for me, but being at home it’s not a problem at all.”
Q: What’s your relationship like with Byrnes (the former assistant GM for the Red Sox)?
A: “There’s give-and-take, and he’s got some ideas, I have some ideas. He’s been very receptive to my ideas, and I’ve been impressed about how prepared he is with our club coming in. The relationship has gone fine. You see a lot of the activity that we’ve made this year has a lot to do with his forward thinking (this included trading talented right-hander Javier Vazquez), not only addressing the current situation but down the road as well.”
Q: In a typical week how many hours are you meeting with him, talking to him, discussing things?
A: “The phone works just as well. I’m probably at the ballpark a couple times a week, and more so here before spring training. I talk to him almost on a daily basis.”
Q: Who’s your favorite all-time baseball player and why?
A: “Johnny Bench. I was a catcher growing up because he was the guy and anybody who was a catcher knows a little something about Johnny Bench (a Hall of Famer). I was fortunate enough to be at an age to watch him play and try to emulate him.”
Q: What’s your favorite game ever?
A: Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, of course.”
Q: What’s your favorite baseball book?
A: “Ted Williams’ ‘The Art of Hitting.’ I used that quite often as a kid, and my dad gave me that book at a very young age. So that was one that was not to far away from me at any one time.”