Where the Diamondbacks do show their age, though, is in the clubhouse before games. Upton and Young bump along to YouTube hip-hop videos they watch on a Mac laptop; ace Brandon Webb and reliever Brandon Medders strum acoustic guitar duets as their teammates engage in a game they've christened Frisbee baseball, in which one player flings an Aerobie at another, who tries to hit it with a bat. Players rush in from batting practice to resume heated games of Connect Four. Byrnes vies with Jackson and Reynolds in a daily Jeopardy! contest in the adjacent TV room.
The players are so irreverent that last season they huddled around a TV cackling at Jackass: The Movie minutes before the majority of them were to play for the first time at Yankee Stadium. Starting pitcher Micah Owings was spotted flying a kite in the Dodgers Stadium outfield hours before a game two weeks ago. The 32-year-old Byrnes, who admits, "I'm more immature than most of them," wouldn't have it any other way. "People talk about chemistry in baseball, and people can say it doesn't matter, but when you're with the same guys for 162 games, it does matter," he says. "I saw it when I was with Oakland [from 2000 to '05, when the young A's made four playoff appearances], and it's very similar here. A bunch of young guys that enjoy themselves on and off the field."
THE MAN charged with harnessing this team's hyperactive energy is the 46-year-old Melvin, a tall, lean skipper who speaks in measured, professorial tones. Most of the time he goes along with the loose vibe. He initiated a team-wide contest in which everyone competes to most quickly identify the artist on each song played over the ballpark's P.A. system during pregame warmups. "Being a classic rock guy, I'm pretty much getting my butt kicked nowadays," he says, although his players delight in hearing Melvin bellow, correctly, "Young Jeezy!" on occasion.
But Melvin, last season's NL manager of the year, resorts to more traditional motivational tactics when circumstances call for them. Last Sept. 5, for instance, with the Diamondbacks tied with the Padres for the NL West lead, San Diego ace Jake Peavy, the eventual Cy Young winner, lobbied to start the third game of a three-game set against Arizona on three days' rest. Melvin called a pregame meeting and showed his players video clips of recent hits the Diamondbacks had gotten against Peavy, and said, essentially, "Peavy thinks he has your number. Show him what you've got." The Diamondbacks torched Peavy for eight earned runs—his worst performance of the season—and Arizona didn't spend a day in second place thereafter.
Opponents say that the Diamondbacks' formula—take several parts youthful vigor and mix with a handful of savvy veterans and a manager who knows how to push all the right buttons—has produced a formidably cohesive result. "They're fearless and they refuse to get beat," says Dodgers G.M. Ned Colletti. The on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of their seventh, eighth and ninth hitters (most often Drew, catcher Chris Snyder and the pitcher) all rank in the top nine in the majors for those spots in the order, remarkable for a National League team. "You have to think of it from [an opposing] pitcher's perspective," says Colletti. "Most teams, 7-8-9, you can take a breath, take it easy, gear up for 1 to 6. With their lineup, you don't have the luxury of having an easy inning."
That the Diamondbacks have gotten a higher batting average out of the ninth spot than all but three AL teams, which use position players there, is a credit mostly to Owings (who bears some resemblance to the actor Seth Rogen, if Rogen were to get a haircut, slip into a pair of platform shoes and spend a few thousand hours in the gym). The 6'5" righthander, who set a Georgia high school record with 69 career home runs and who is 4--1 on the mound this season, has a career OPS of 1.057, which is fourth-best alltime among players with more than 75 career plate appearances. (Owings has 88.) Only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig own higher career marks; Barry Bonds ranks just behind Owings.
It's a small sample size, to be sure, but Owings does have rare pop. Last week a as a pinch hitter, he crushed a game-tying shot to the opposite field in an 8--7 win over the Astros. "He and Reynolds probably have the most power on our team," says Melvin. "If there was a home-run-hitting contest, it could be pretty close." Then Melvin, perhaps envisioning Reynolds and Owings interrupting a game of Frisbee baseball to sprint out to the field with bats in hand, adds, "No, we're not going to do that."
Owings made his big league debut at 24. He's just another player to excel after the Diamondbacks put their trust in him at a young age; Max Scherzer should soon add his name to the growing list. And don't expect the suddenly mature Baby 'Backs to regress any time soon, says Mets third baseman David Wright. "This kind of start, with that kind of talent?" he asks. "They're only going to get better."