What's the price of getting a major-league baseball franchise? To the fan, it's usually been a generation of ineptitude. The system has been so rigged against expansion teams that most diehards could merely pray that a pennant would come in the lifetime of their grandchildren.
After their '60s debuts, it took both the California Angels and Houston Astros 18 years to reach postseason, and the Montreal Expos 12. The Washington Senators moved to Texas, but that did little to shorten a 35-year postseason drought. To this day, none of them has played in a World Series. The one success story of '60s expansion, the New York Mets, endured seven years of unbridled ridicule before divine intervention--and Tom Seaver--stepped in and took them to the summit.
In lieu of actual baseball success, old expansion teams needed grandiose novelties to entice the fans. When the Astros debuted the Astrodome--"the eighth wonder of the world"--in 1965, people spent so much time gawking at the ceiling of this architectural marvel that they hardly looked down long enough to notice that their team was getting dirt kicked in its face.
The point of this little history lesson is that times have changed. Free agency means that a deep-pocketed expansion team like the Arizona Diamondbacks has the potential to jump in and challenge for titles before the fans start getting too antsy. Say what you want about Jerry Colangelo, but he doesn't hesitate to shell out greenbacks for a winner.
If anything, the Diamondbacks' off-season habits showed an inclination to overpay for prized players. I mean, Jay Bell is a solid shortstop, but a five-year, $34 million deal for a lifetime .268 hitter may be a bit excessive. And a healthy Matt Williams is a power hitter to be feared, but it's still hard to justify his $45 million contract. Still, at least the Diamondbacks have some solid veterans to build a team around, while we wait for exciting youngsters like Travis Lee to get their footing in the show.
Local baseball aficionados should be thankful for even a modicum of talent on the D-Backs' roster, because we certainly won't have one of the world's top eight--or 800--wonders to distract us. Clearly, the fiscal and physical monstrosity that is Bank One Ballpark will not afford this team the longest of honeymoons. Though the park's interior is somewhat more appealing than the nightmarish action murals on its outside would suggest, it's no match for recent beauties like Baltimore's Camden Yards or The Ballpark in Arlington.
Maybe Bank One Ballpark's designers had too many conflicting objectives. For one thing, they wanted to make it fit into its warehouse-district surroundings, which it does, to an alarming degree. For another, they wanted to follow the trend back to traditional ballpark designs. Though the seating places fans amazingly close to the action (Warning: Wear protective headgear if you sit along the foul lines), BOB feels like a cold modern creation, a strip-mall sensibility taken to the nth power. And while a retractable roof was absolutely necessary in this blistering climate, when the roof closes at the ballpark, you truly feel like you're sitting in the world's largest corrugated-tin shack.
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Nonetheless, the first day of BOB's public open-house activities was touching, as a few thousand enthusiasts bought popcorn and made their way to the seats in anticipation of a nonexistent game. While the jumbo video screen above center field provided D-Back player stats, the corresponding video footage inexplicably showed Cleveland Indians game action. I know the D-Backs don't have a backlog of regular-season highlights, but couldn't they at least have shown us some Cactus League footage?
The big moment of the open-house tour was the closing of the famous BOB roof. Stadium employees conferred by phone over the exact timing of the roof retraction, like air-traffic controllers juggling a series of landings. It wasn't much more exciting than watching a garage door shut, but it was accompanied by a THX parade of scary dive-bomber air-raid sounds, and nondescript rock bombast. When the two edges of the roof finally met, the crowd spontaneously burst into joyous applause. Imagine what they'll do when the team actually wins a game.