2011 spring training for the Diamondbacks kicked off today with manager Kirk Gibson and GM Kevin Towers sharing their goals for the team. As we've heard all offseason, the focus is on changing the attitude and culture of the team. The details of who plays which position or what the starting rotation will be is secondary to building the culture of competition.
When the Arizona Diamondbacks decided to hire Towers, who in turn gave the manager job to Gibson, they were making a break with their recent past. They went from "organizational advocacy" and "geek ball," back to the roots of the sport with two guys who've been around for a long time and understand that at the end of the day the difference between winning and losing is as much about what goes on between a player's ears as what the crunched numbers say.
"Who are the Diamondbacks? We are trying to redevelop that identity. I'm not saying in six weeks it's going to be done but we're going to keep building and building and we won't be deterred," Gibson said.
The 'Diamondbacks Way' was summed up by Gibson and Towers in a simple statement: Compete.
"Even though the outcome may not be a positive on every day, clubs are going to know when they come into town and see the Diamondbacks on their schedule that (we're) going to fight, and compete and give it everything that (we) have," Towers said.
Learning to compete starts at the top and certainly Gibby and his coaching staff of hard-nosed former players like Eric Young, Matt Williams, Alan Trammell and Don Baylor will demonstrate that. If Moneyball was the D-backs identity before, Dirtball is what they want to be known for now.
Ultimately, it's up to the players to get with the program and find their own inner Gibby. As catcher Miguel Montero points out, you can only teach so much competitiveness.
"You can try and teach that but I think you have to be born with it too. It's something you have to have natural in your blood," Montero said on the first official day of Spring Training for the pitchers and catchers.
"I mean we can work on it, try and change their mind. But you got to be tough. That's what Gibby (brings) here, he's pretty tough and I know a lot of guys are going to adjust into it and learn a little bit about it and that's the goal."
Towers job is to fill the roster with players that have it. Gibson's job is to bring it out of them and put them in a position to use it to help the team win. The players job is to compete for each pitch, inning and game.
If they can deliver on that promise, the 2011 D-backs will at least be a fun team to watch.
Towers: Diamondbacks Can Win NL West
While most outside observers understandably don't consider the Diamondbacks a threat to make any noise in the National League West this summer, Towers wasn't ready to concede this season as merely a transition year.
"It will be tough, it will be difficult...I think we've got some good players here. Ultimately, it's going to come down to our pitching. If we pitch well, there's no reason why we can't win a division," Towers said.
"We need our players to believe that we can achieve that. I don't want our players saying, 'We just have to get to .500 or have a winning record or win more games than 65.' No, we want to go out and win the NL West. Can we do it? I think we can."
The former Padres GM pointed out that no one thought San Diego would win last year after losing almost 100 games the season before, but they came within one game of beating out the eventual World Series Champion Giants.
"If they can do it, why can't we," Towers added.