Last week in this space, we noted Arizona Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall's assertion that Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is a "Disneyland of baseball," seemingly discrediting the notion from the Pima and Maricopa tribes that the addition of an entertainment venue to a mixed-use complex was somehow a matter of tradition.
The Happiest Place on Dirt idea extends beyond the new spring training home. The team half-inhabiting Salt River Fields at Talking Stick this spring is more about the cast member experience than any kind of actual success.
While we advocated for taking the low-rent approach to the offseason, Derrick Hall and GM Kevin Towers' character parade of name-in-name-only acquisitions are a crass play on the aging sensibilities of the Diamondbacks fan base with little focus on winning in 2011 or even 2012.
Watching Kevin Towers work this winter has been akin to mounting a staging of "Love Letters", the two-person play that requires zero memorization because all the lines are on the letters noted previously. This allows theater owners to slap together two vaguely-known names for an elderly ticket subscription base in the worst kind of pandering since PBS invented the pledge drive.
Shirley Jones and Robert Wagner! William Katt and Connie Sellecca! Peter Falk and Kate Mulgrew! (You see, because they were Mr. and Mrs. Columbo... the old folks would love it. This one should actually happen.)
So went the offseason for the Diamondbacks. Playing the role of Clubhouse Leader is Geoff Blum with Willie Bloomquist as understudy! Formerly famous pitchers you might believe were once talented enough for stardom will be playing at Center Stage with Micah Owings (hits a little!), Zach Duke (used to have been almost good!), and Armando Galarraga (almost got a no-hitter!).
Melvin Mora is The Infielder, looking for all the world like Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones in his 60s, which would just be ridiculous if it actually happened. (And it never happened. You hear me? Never. Happened.)
Did we mention Xavier Nady? Do we have to? Can we pass?
Again: this 2011 edition of your Arizona Diamondbacks was going to be lousy. We all came to terms with that when the 2010 edition finished out the contractual string lousy with little hope from the minors until 2013. However, they didn't have to be lousy without purpose.
The biggest gambles are being taken on pitchers like Ian Kennedy, who might aspire to fourth starter-dom. This isn't a bad step, but there's not enough of them. No youth movement is underway except for perhaps Brandon Allen, who has to hope the Phoenix Suns don't loan the Diamondbacks their hot tubs with the Cocoon pods in them and therefore might squeeze into the lineup more often than not.
Instead, Hall and Towers (and really, we couldn't talk Derrick Hall into hiring Johnny Oates as his GM?) assembled a cast of easily-sold characters with one-phrase taglines to get you out to the park early in the year. Get your picture taken with the Clubhouse Leader! Get his autograph and collect the whole set! Mikey will eat anything as long as it has a Proven Veteran sauce ladled over it! (Mikey, you see, is... well, Derrick Hall thinks you'll think it's funny.)
The Diamondbacks should be treating this year as an off-Broadway tryout for the 2012 (and, more likely, 2013) team. Put in young guys and try them out. Shuffle in new positions and configurations. Let their own farm system sink or swim without bringing up anyone key to the 2013 squad before his time. See what they really have. It worked with Barry Enright, even if he doesn't project much further than a fourth starter. Before 2010, he projected as Barry Enright, insurance agent.
Instead, in what appears to be a desperate attempt to prop up ticket sales, they roll out Knott's Berry Farm and call it Disneyland. Remember when Knott's Berry Farm was the coolest place in the world? No? Then the 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks aren't for you.
Heck, at least Knott's Berry Farm is shoehorning in thrill rides and seeing if the young people stick. The Diamondbacks want you to believe slapping a new coat of Proven Veteran paint on the old Ghost Town of talent is somehow entertainment, much less progress.
This isn't on any of those players mentioned above. If someone wants to sign them to a guaranteed deal and play them often late in their career, who's to deny them the opportunity? Stephanie Zimbalist has bills, too. Who's to deny them? The Diamondbacks, for one.
You can make a difference in the Diamondbacks' future by telling the team where they can stick their E-ticket. Stay home until they determine they can't afford to pay Proven Veterans not to be seen and trade them away or let them go after the season.
Show them you want to see the kids play, even if they'll be more of a community theater production most nights. Otherwise, it'll be less likely you'll get to see a high-quality show in Phoenix this decade unless "Damn Yankees" tours through town again.