07 March 2012

Welcome to Baseball: 2012 Style

Ladies and gentlemen, the most wonderful day of the year is here (no offense to Christmas, of course): the first day of Spring Training baseball games for the Arizona Diamondbacks! There were actually a pair of games for the team Saturday thanks to a schedule that started us out with a split squad game at the Giants and at the Rockies at Salt River Fields. Of course, I hate to miss an Opening Day, so I was there first in line at Salt River Fields that morning from 9:30am.

Game time was 1:10pm, and the gates opened at 11:00am. Last year, I had to settle for being number 2 in line behind a big Colorado Rockies fan (D, the Rockpile Ranter), and I'd gotten there earlier than 9:30am, so I was expecting a line when I showed up, but fortunately, there was none. I brought a book to read (Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura), and though I got through a couple chapters, some good friends showed up - Anya and April, two of the biggest Diamondbacks (and Rockies) fans I know. I also met Cindy, the Dbacks' self-proclaimed "flag lady" and a very nice woman who loves the team and the game. Anya gave me prints of some photos she'd taken of me and Ian Kennedy, Joe Saunders, and Daniel Hudson:

The group of us ended up chatting until the gates opened, then I parted ways and rushed around to the left-field berm to try to catch some baseballs. I was there no longer than a minute when I caught my first ball on the fly from an unknown Rockies player. Then, Michael Cuddyer hit a bomb which I grabbed on a bounce. Another Rockies guy smashed one right at the wall, and though I reached for it, I was in an awkward angle and booted it off the heel of my glove, and the ball dropped back onto the field. The very next time Cuddyer was up, he smashed another one at me, and I caught it uncontested on the fly. I had a chance at one more ball, but I backed off at the very last moment to let someone else catch it (if I hadn't I'd have surely smashed into him). There were no other homers hit near me after those initial 15-20 minutes, but I stayed out there until the end of BP anyway.

It was a sunny, cloudless day with a light blue sky, and I, of course, got sunburned while snagging balls and then in my seat, despite it only being about 64 degrees outside (with a high of 72). I grabbed a delicious Salt River Burger (with green chiles and Swiss cheese) and fries with a Pepsi to drink, and had lunch in the sun. However, while I set up my scorecard in my AWESOME seat 11 rows directly behind home plate, the shade slowly crept over me from the aptly-placed roof overhangs, and by the time of first pitch, I was cool and comfortable.

Trevor Bauer started the game by pitching a pair of perfect innings, with a pair of strikeouts to Dexter Fowler and Tyler Colvin. His slider/sinker was really on target during the 21-pitch outing, and he looked really comfortable on the mound. The Diamondbacks made a little noise in the first inning with a single by Aaron Hill and a Paul Goldschmidt walk, but a Geoff Blum groundout killed any rally.

In fact, neither team scored until the fourth, when Goldschmidt drew a second walk and advanced to third on Blum's double down the left-field line. Gerardo Parra grounded out, scoring Goldy, but a groundout by Matt Davidson and a Henry Blanco strikeout prevented any further scoring. Sadly, the Rockies answered right back, with a walk to Michael Cuddyer by reliever Patrick Corbin. A balk call moved Cuddy to second, but since Colvin drew a walk, it didn't matter. Corbin was then lifted for Chris Jakubauskas (you're impressed I spelled that right, I know) who promptly gave up a game-tying single.

For Diamondbacks pitchers, though, the combination of Jakubauskas, Bryan Shaw, Mike Zagurski, Jonathan Albaladejo, and Evan Marshall saw a nearly perfect 5th-9th innings with only one single in the ninth being erased by a caught stealing. It was STELLAR pitching, and hopefully a harbinger of many great things to come this season. Even in the 10th and final inning, Mike DeMark faced just four batters, a single to Wil Nieves being erased on a fielder's choice later.

Offensively, the Diamondbacks ended up with eight hits in the ball game, but could never seem to string them together to effect a rally. After the run scored in the 4th, singles by Jason Kubel and Parra were erased on caught stealings, a pair of walks to Matt Davidson and Chris Owings were stranded, and singles by David Winfree, Davidson, and Adam Eaton all failed to produce runs, two of them with runners on base. Thanks to their pitching, they were able to silence the Rockies, but they never roared the way they did down the September stretch and produced offensively.

The game ended a 1-1 tie in the tenth (spring training rules do not allow for additional innings). I could not have asked for a nicer start to the season - a gorgeous, 72-degree, sunny day with a light breeze from the south, the smell of freshly-cut green grass and oh-so-delicious-looking ballpark treats (I really will have to try the fry bread next time I go) linger yet in my nose. If that day had been the one for me to depart this world, I would have done so with a smile on my face.

Here's hoping for a great Diamondbacks season!

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