TBtB: Arizona Diamondbacks

 

Following the lead of the Rangers, the Diamondbacks owners were in negotiations over the conditions of their 20-year-old ballpark, which I like to think of as Miller Park Southwest (I’ve only been to Miller, but they strike me as pretty similar. Their retractable roof set-ups look alike from my screen, and the Bernie-only slide in Milwaukee is countered by the pool built in the desert for inebriated Phoenicians and celebrating Dodgers). That issue appears to be settled. At least for now. You can never say never, since there’s no quit in extortionist.

I do have high hopes the name you guys come up with will be a good one. The Diamondbacks, while a little long, is a great baseball nickname, meeting my two main requirements (uniqueness and local relevance), and as a bonus, it’s got a baseball term tucked in. Along those lines, despite arriving on the scene much later than the rest of the major facilities, Phoenix’s Sky Harbor is the best-named airport in America, or at least the best since the tongue-tickling Idlewild became one of 11,232 things in New York to change its name to JFK in the mid-60s.

Of course, the club also represents one of the true sources of destruction of the American ideal. Our problem isn’t in the ability to name things, but nickname them. Two perfectly suitable diminutives exist for Diamondbacks, either Backs or Snakes, and Diamonds would do in a pinch. Instead, we get the thoroughly artless D-Backs. If the Pittsburgh club was born near the turn of this century, instead of the last one, we’d undoubtedly be eschewing Bucs for P-Rates. Blecch.

Ballpark History

Built: 1998

 

Capacity: 48,686

 

Name:  Chase Field 2006-present. Formerly called Bank One Ballpark (2000-05).

Other ballparks used by club in its current city: None, though the area is rife with spring training stadia given the Cactus League is now entirely a Valley production.

Distinctive Features: The skinny tie of dirt that connects the pitcher’s mound to home; swimming pool beyond right field; first retractable roof stadium paired with natural grass; like everything else in Phoenix, working AC. The Diamondbacks annually rank first in the Fan Cost Index, which estimates the average price for a family of four to attend a game. That’s a nice feature.

Ballpark Highlights:

On Oct 3, 1999, Jay Bell tripled and homered to lead the Diamondbacks to a 10-3 win over visiting San Diego, the 100th victory of the campaign for a team just one season removed from its first year of existence. Of the sport’s other 13 expansion franchises, only five (New York Mets, LA Angels, Seattle, Houston and Kansas City) have ever won 100 in any season.

On May 8, 2001, Randy Johnson fanned 20 Cincinnati Reds before exiting after nine innings of the eventual 4-3, 11-inning Diamondback win. Because the game lasted more than nine, even if the Unit didn’t, the feat isn’t listed in the record book alongside Clemens, Wood and Scherzer.

Luis Gonzalez’s cued a single over the head of a drawn-in Derek Jeter off future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera to cap a two-run ninth-inning rally and one of the best World Series of the last 30 years. The fourth-year Diamondbacks won their only title despite Bob Brenly’s dogged efforts to prevent that from happening.

In 2006, Jake Peavy and six relievers combined to shut out Mexico in the United States’ inaugural game of the World Baseball Classic.

In 2009, Opening Day starter Brandon Webb, who had placed first, second and second in voting for the three previous NL Cy Young awards, was lifted after four innings. He would never throw another pitch in the big leagues, thus retiring as the greatest Diamondbacks-only player in club history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going Green: Carlos Gomez

This ran in the Purdue Alumni Magazine about eight years ago. Carlos since moved on with Jerry DiPoto to Anaheim, and possibly Seattle.

When Carlos Gomez first donned the black and gold uniforms of the Purdue University baseball team, he imagined it was the next step toward his big league dream. Never did he imagine fulfilling that dream would have more to do with his industrial engineering education than his right arm.

In November 2007, Gomez was hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks to serve as one of the team’s professional scouts, culminating a strange, uncharted trip to the big leagues for the 2001 Purdue graduate. Gomez created a name for himself, literally, by carving a small niche on the Internet and riding it to increasing acclaim among baseball fans, sportswriters and ultimately, major league executives.

During his playing days, Gomez was a regular contributor to a web site, Baseball Think Factory, a gathering place for baseball fans with an interest in the statistical side of the game. Gomez, under the alias ChadBradfordWannabe (an actual major league pitcher with a throwing motion similar to Gomez’s), offered the site’s visitors the perspective and insight of a pro baseball hopeful. As a result, he was contacted by the site’s founder, Jim Furtado, about turning his impressions on the mechanics of pitching into his own section on the web site.

His first efforts were in advance of the 2006 amateur draft, when he assessed the collegiate and high school players expected to be taken in the first few rounds. Later, Gomez introduced video to his analysis, which increased his audience considerably.

Using frame-by-frame video, Gomez broke down pitchers’ motions, offering detailed explanations of what worked and what didn’t. Often, videos of the same pitcher from different years were synched side-by-side, allowing Gomez to pinpoint any differences and how those changes were impacting the pitcher’s performance.

He says his education factored into both his interest and proficiency in analyzing the throwing motion of pitchers.

“That’s the industrial engineer in me. I’m obsessed with efficiency,” he says. “I’m always thinking ‘How do you coordinate the body to make it as efficient as possible?’”

 

 

Soon after his work started appearing at Baseball Think Factory, Gomez was contacted by another site, The Hardball Times, about providing his video content there under his given name. And it was as a Hardball Times writer where his breakdowns led to his breakout. His assessment of the early-2007 struggles of Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Carlos Zambrano were not just discussed by baseball fans on the Internet, but made their way into mainstream media coverage in Chicago newspapers, and later, on Fox’s Game of the Week coverage.

“That was the one that really got me attention,” Gomez says of the Zambrano piece.

Soon, he was not only fielding calls from beat writers, but from front office people interested in his talents. The San Francisco Giants contacted him about doing some work for them for the 2007 amateur draft, though Gomez had to decline due to an impending trip to Spain. It wasn’t an easy decision.

“I thought for sure I’d be working for the Giants,” he says, noting that it was his effusive praise of the Giants’ 2006 first-round draft pick Tim Lincecum, and that pitcher’s rapid rise to stardom, that attracted San Francisco’s attention.

Other teams also inquired about his work, though Gomez realized he wasn’t pursuing a position as aggressively as necessary. “If I wanted a job, I had to go get it.”

By the end of the summer, Gomez put together a package of materials for major league teams to evaluate. He searched team web sites for the most likely front office inroad, and began cold-calling to sell his services. Many of these perspective employers were already familiar with his work, including his eventual employer.

“Carlos was a guy who stood out in the crowd,” says Jerry Dipoto, the director of player personnel for the Arizona Diamondbacks. “You receive literally thousands of resumes a year, and there was a red beacon attached to his. Here was a guy with some playing background, who had gone through and gotten a degree from Purdue, was bilingual and was already astute in how he talked about a player. Part of the battle is the ability to describe a player, Carlos already had that skill.”

 

 

After an initial interview, Dipoto gave Gomez a project during the 2007 World Series. Dipoto asked him to evaluate several pitchers on the Colorado Rockies and file a report. When the report jibed with the Diamondbacks’ existing evaluations of those ballplayers, Dipoto was ready to bring the Purdue graduate on board.

While some clubs were discussing the possibility of using Gomez as an area scout evaluating amateur talent, Dipoto offered him the opportunity to bypass that typical starting ground and start as a professional scout. As a pro scout, he’s charged with assessing existing professional players at the minor and major league level.

“I feel very fortunate,” Gomez says. “I’m not supposed to be a pro scout.”

But Dipoto felt that Gomez had already cut his teeth, even if it wasn’t in the employ of a Major League Baseball franchise.

“It was probably unique in that most guys who enter the professional baseball fray, it’s not as a pro scout. It’s at the grassroots level, and you sow your oats in the scouting world and learn how to do it,” Dipoto says. “Carlos already knew how, and it was just a matter of bringing him on and giving him the blank canvas to paint on. And I think he’s been fabulous for us.”

And despite the departure from the traditional hiring process, the Diamondbacks’ move was well received within the game “I’ve had numerous people tell me through baseball lines that this was a good hire for the Diamondbacks,” Dipoto says.

Gomez has no complaints about the job, which didn’t require relocation from Atlanta, where he lives with his wife Amy.

“It’s phenomenal. You just sit and watch games,” he says, amazed at his good fortune.

 

 

Watching games, sadly, was also a big part of Gomez’s career at Purdue. Recruited out of his native Puerto Rico by former coach Steve Green, Gomez never found the kind of success in West Lafayette he imagined.

He redshirted his freshman year, and then pitched sparingly as a sophomore.

“The first couple of years weren’t very good,” Gomez says, serving as his own scout. “And the next three were even worse.”

Gomez lost velocity, dipping below 80 miles per hour, and his control. Yet he never lost his scholarship, for which he is eternally grateful.

“Coach (Doug) Schreiber never took me off scholarship, and I didn’t really deserve it,” Gomez says. “I never got consistent innings at Purdue, but they gave me more opportunities than they probably should have.”

Schreiber is more kind toward Gomez’s contributions to the Boilermakers. “He was a competitive kid who worked hard. He was good for your program.”

And Gomez’s ascension in the game is hardly shocking to the coach. “He had a strong passion for the game. He was always interested in learning more about the nuances and small details of the game,” Schreiber says. “It does not surprise me what he’s put together.”

One benefit of Gomez’s struggles was it rekindled his interest in mechanics, though he was never able to apply that information to his own efforts as a Boilermaker. Nonetheless, upon graduation, Gomez was not ready to abandon his dream, even if his fastball had long since abandoned him. While waiting to take a position in Syracuse, N.Y., with the Carrier Corp., he became the first subject of his video analysis.

He set up cameras and filmed himself throwing from different arm angles, trying to discover what release resulted in the best results. To his surprise, he found he could throw more effectively, and harder, as a sidearm hurler rather than with a traditional over-the-top delivery.

His confidence restored, he began attending tryout camps, setting aside his Carrier career in the process. In 2002, he signed with the Gateway Grizzlies of Belleville, Ill., an independent minor league team. He pitched professionally for two seasons, bouncing around the independent leagues while continually adjusting his delivery. Ultimately, he moved from a sidearmer to a “knuckle scraper,” nearly touching the ground with his hand during his pitching motion. “I was always tinkering, remaking myself,” he says.

 

But it was his second reinvention that got him his long-dreamed shot at the big leagues. And it wasn’t entirely an accident.

When he began doing his analysis for the baseball web sites, Gomez wasn’t just writing for his regular readers, but any potential front office executives lurking. “I had a job in my sights. I wanted to showcase what I knew, or what I thought I knew,” he says.

Gomez has previously expressed interest in moving up through the front office ranks, though for now he’s focused on mastering his new craft.

“I would like to be the guy who makes the decisions. That’s why we play fantasy baseball,” he says. “But I couldn’t handle what Jerry does. I don’t have that wealth of knowledge.

”I’m pretty fortunate to have the job I have without any real experience,” he admits.