A real problem with the Diamondbacks
Posted: Thursday October 07, 1999 12:10 PM
By Jeff Pearlman, Sports Illustrated
PHOENIX -- While flying from New York to Phoenix Tuesday morning, I was all but forced to watch the worst flick this side of Batman Forever . It's called Notting Hill , the idiotic story of a young British man with a lot of books who, despite dating the hottest supermodel/actress on the planet, hooks up with a down-on-her-luck prostitute who, in an odd twist, meets up with Richard Gere , who ... Uhh, something like that.
Anyhow, through two-plus hours of lovey-dovey mush and eyebrow-plucking hell, I was tugged by one line. It came from the lips of poor Anna Scott ( Julia Roberts ), a superstar actress burdened by the glitz and glamour of her Hollywood lifestyle.
"You know," she says to Biff Barker ( Hugh Grant ), "the fame thing -- it's not real."
It's not real.
It's not real.
It's not real.
The line will not leave my head. It cannot leave my head. That's because as I sit here, in the sterile retractable bubble that is Bank One Ballpark, a sole thought rings true: It's not real.
The Diamondbacks -- Arizona baseball as a whole -- is not real. It's not even half real. It is the first six ingredients in a Twinkie. The blood that runs through Barney Rubble 's veins. Carmen Electra 's IQ.
Matt Mantei , the Diamondbacks' heat-hurling closer, puts it best. In one of Mantei's first games with the club, manager Buck Showalter went for the hit and run. The runner at first took off. The batter fouled the ball to the screen. "It was strange," recalls Mantei. "All the fans here started cheering because our guy made it to second. They didn't know he had to return to first.
"We'll be down 5-0 in the eighth and they'll start doing the wave," he adds. "It's not that they don't like baseball, but ..."
But it's not real.
Bank One is a palace, not a baseball stadium. There are more ads than a math class. More distractions than brunch at the Phoenix Hooters (If you're asking, 'Which one?' -- find a life). Do you like fireworks? Then the Bob's for you. Like Barney? The Bob's for you. Like wacky T-shirt tosses? Bob again. Like music videos? Ditto. Like dorks dancing on dugouts, 1,006 different flavors of chicken, nonstop organ and swimming in a two-piece (while being scouted from the press box by binocular-wearing scribes)? Bob, Bob, Bob and Bob.
Say what you will about the team Arizona is hosting -- the Mets play in a dump. Shea Stadium was probably something of a hole when it opened in 1964, and the peeling orange paint and fat plastic apple and crusty food makes it all the more of a hole 35 years later. But character is character. "New York fans and Arizona fans -- they're different," skipper Showalter was saying. On his head was a cute purple cap. "They reflect the communities."
Phoenix: Old white people who love golf and die in their sleep.
New York: Angry battery-throwers who smoke.
Baseball has become what it's become, and traditionalists need to shut up and accept the fact. Loyalty is dead. "Powerful manager" is an oxymoron. Bubble gum doesn't come with the cards. That said, there is something wrong in a world where a very, very rich man ( Jerry Colangelo ) can purchase the rights to a franchise, pay top dollar for the right people, buy some T-shirts and -- whamo-bamo -- World Series. It's the sort of thing that happens at Disney World -- If you can dream it, you can do it -- but in the Magic Kingdom it lasts only as long as the $45 daily pass.
In Arizona, a playoff team has been sewn of the emperor's purple thread. It is here. I am watching it. I can see it. I can feel it.
But it is not real.
Sports Illustrated staff writer Jeff Pearlman is covering the Division Series for the magazine.
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