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March 13, 2001

Derek in the Desert

Having an Off Day

by Derek Zumsteg

Part One
Part Two

The sky in Tucson was filled with choppy clouds with dark grey undersides, an appropriate a reflection of my mood, when I walked outside to gauge what we'd need to pack for the day's Diamondbacks-Cubs game. It was the only game in town today, the best advance tickets I could get for this weekend's game were still not good, and I was not excited to see the oldest team in baseball play last year's worst team in baseball.

Zorro was back at Tucson Electric Park, along with the Spanish Captain, distributing T-shirts from the dugout roofs. Diamond Lil, Zorro's love interest who had sung the national anthem (badly) on Friday and later botched a T-shirt throw by winding up a couple times and tossing it backwards nearly all the way to the pitcher's mound, had apparently been designated for assignment. Here's an actual exchange between baffled fans:

Fan 1: "Why is the Hamburgler on the dugout throwing stuff?"
Fan 2: "I think that's Zorro."
Fan 1: "Hamburgler, Zorro--whatever."

Other merchandise-distribution channels included Diamond Baxter, what appeared to be a giant costumed spark plug, and some weird D'backs mascot toting a T-shirt cannon with which he displayed remarkable accuracy. I wonder if they practice with those things with clearance T-shirts and empty seats to ensure they don't fire right into someone's head on a concourse when the pressure is on.

I learned more about obscure Arizona liquor laws when I tried to take back two large beers for my brother and I, only to find I wasn't allowed to carry more than 32 ounces of beer at any one time. Last night, at a nasty Fry's Food and Drug, I was not only carded buying beer (and, well, Everclear, which is illegal in my home state), but forced to wait as the cashier wrote down my license number, my brother's license number, and then made to sign the "suspicious ID log," just the same as the guys ahead of us had. On the other hand, I was able to buy 190-proof alcohol at a grocery store for $20.

Erubiel Durazo is one of the reasons I don't like the Diamondbacks. I think he got a raw deal from them, though his injuries last year didn't help. He certainly didn't deserve to have the team sign Mark Grace, and I'm amazed that a team that needs a good-hitting, decent-fielding first baseman hasn't swapped some shiny things for Durazo. The Angels, for example, though that's not an organization known for its problem-solving skills.

Durazo hit really well, belting a home run to right field and two solid singles into center field in his four trips to the plate.

Diamondback Jason Conti has the worst arm of any outfielder I've ever seen. His delivery is much like that of Mitch Williams--he manages to fall down on nearly every throw--and his control worse than the Wild Thing's ever was. When he fell down on a throw, he'd dribble a ground ball into the infield, and when he managed to stay up the ball went anywhere. It was so bad that the Cubs waved Julio Zuleta, a slow, 6'6", 230-pound first baseman, in to home from second base on a hard-hit single directly to Conti, knowing that Conti's throw, if it got to home at all, would be at least six feet off the plate. It was, allowing Zuleta to score easily.

This was the kind of split-squad game in which Gary Matthews Jr. spent the whole day in right field. That was okay with me, though. Matthews has grown on me in the last couple of days, as I've seen him make some nice runs to snag balls, especially into the corners, and he seemed to always take the best paths to the ball. He hasn't hit well, but having to watch Conti out there will turn me into a defense aficionado yet.

Damon Buford had a terrible outing at the plate against some unknown pitcher. It didn't look like Buford cared at all. He wore this expression on his way to his strikeout that read, all the way from the stands, "oh well, if you're not going to throw strikes... huh, that was a strike." He'd then shrug and wait for the next pitch.

I have trouble discerning between the marginally-talented non-roster invitees and the marginally-talented guys on the 40 man roster. I couldn't tell the difference in pitches among any of the of the Diamondbacks pitchers, from Robert Ellis to Greg Swindell to Troy Brohawn, a problem made worse without being able to find them (or even look them up) in my reference material. It's hard to get motivated to really pay attention to figuring out if the mystery player is Jason Bere or Jon Lieber.

Something else I've learned is that it's impossible to track down some of these players, and there's not a lot of help to be found. The announced starter for the Cubs never appeared in the game, and not only are some players not on the rosters, but they don't even have names on their jerseys if their numbers are high enough. Some guy--number 93--came in as a defensive replacement for Conti, but doesn't appear in any box score I can find, and I have no idea who he was. The scoreboard featured a phantom run on the scoreboard for the Diamondbacks for an entire inning.

When I left I had a scorecard with a lot of question marks and notes to look up players when I got to an Internet connection on which I could do research. In the end, I feel like I spent a couple hours in a sea of swarming children who kept standing up in front of me, bumping into my arms, drinking terrible "premium beer" (despite what anyone down here may tell you, Nimbus beers are crap), trying to keep up with the game and pay attention and getting little for my time.

Tomorrow, I'm going to try and catch Ichiro Suzuki play against the Angels on my way out of town. If there's any justice, I'll get to see Matt Wise and Ichiro and all kinds of cool prospects play in Tempe, instead of Al Martin and Tim Belcher.

Derek Zumsteg is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

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