We Believe: The 2011 DBacks
Arizona Diamondbacks Dominate The NL West Despite Being Tabbed As One Of The League’s Worst
By Bob Goodwood
Special for Modern Times Magazine
Sept. 7, 2011 — In the spring, it seemed like no one believed in the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Every beat reporter in the game, every commentator and every infotainment sportswriter had their turn beating on how bad the Diamondbacks looked in the Cactus League. Many of them just couldn’t understand what Kirk Gibson was doing.
But all along, those handfuls of people who truly know major league baseball — like Don Baylor, Bruce Bochy, Kevin Towers, Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell and Roland Hemond — knew that the Diamondbacks could be good. With a healthy dose of guidance and confidence, they even could be really good.
Much of the improvement would have to be accomplished by two young pitchers — Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson — replicating what they did in the latter half of 2010 over a full 2011 season. It also was dependent on David Hernandez fitting in as well as he has out of the bullpen and J.J. Putz being able to stay effective and healthy.
With that belief secure, and in what might be a core mythology for the 2011 season, the owners, executives and field staff all got up in front of the team during spring training and asked, “Why not the Arizona Diamondbacks?”
Nearly five months later, that question has been nearly answered completely by a resounding answer, “no reason at all.”
Sure, it didn’t come easy, but how often does a division title come easy? They had to learn to beat the San Francisco Giants in California and they were able to grow into a team that was capable of doing that.
And it all started in the Cactus League. They might have lost a lot of games, but they were probably working harder than any other team when not playing games. The first order of business was for the staff to tell the players that they believe in them. But the second ingredient for winning was being handled on the field. Gibson promised players would go “full speed” in practice and they did. He made notes of weaknesses in 2010 and they worked on them in the spring — hard. They worked on the hitting the curveball A LOT. They also practiced keeping runners honest on the base paths. This, too, they did A LOT.
Gibson is a baseball legend, but in Michigan, he is also a football legend. He learned how to practice as much from his football career through high school and college at Michigan State. Football players know that practice is the best way for a team to come together.
“The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital,” according to a famous quote from Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.
Spring was used as it is supposed to be: to get ready for the season. That means working on things, not just getting swing timing down or working on hitting spots. Spring is for getting better: hearts and minds.
They got their feet wet and built on the hard work from the spring. After playing .500 ball through April, the great run in May brought that the hard-nosed philosophy of their manager and his coaching staff together. That is when this team believed and became what it is today, six games up on the Giants.
This second run at the end of August has firmly planted them as a team with no limit over the next decade.
As always, first things first, or, “It ain’t over until it’s over,” as Yogi Berra said in 1973 when managing the New York Mets to a mythical comeback.
But with the work they’ve done to get them to six games ahead with 20 to go, they are damn close. This is when all of the hard works starts to get fun. Kirk Gibson knows that as much as anyone. Winning is fun and right now, the Diamondbacks are having a lot of fun.
Bob Goodwood is a freelance writer currently living in Scottsdale, Ariz.