Next week, I will return to one of my favorite places on earth, a place which has undergone a name change and other significant changes in the people who work there. What used to be Bank One Ballpark is now Chase Field. Some of my favorite people who worked at the ball park have either been promoted to different positions within the Arizona Diamondbacks organization or have retired. They will be missed.
The team will be different, too. Gone is slick fielding shortstop Royce Clayton, probably the best defensive infielder the team has ever had. Back is versatile pitcher Miguel Batista, a player one wonders why he was ever allowed to leave. There will be questions about fan favorite Luis Gonzalez, a player who is the perfect example of how a player should relate to his fan base. Hopefully, Gonzalez will have a solid season and set the stage for a much longer career as a Diamondback.
The team has improved in some areas, but probably not as much as some of the other teams in the division. Arizona finished behind the San Diego Padres in the relatively weak National League Western Division last season. Those two teams should both be in the hunt this season, but the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants have also improved enough to possibly win the division. The Colorado Rockies got off to a horrible start last year and were never in the pennant race though they played as well as or better than their division rivals for the rest of the season. Don't count on Colorado taking themselves out of the race early again.
The Diamondbacks opened their season against Colorado in Denver on Monday. The Rockies will be Arizona's first home opponent on Tuesday. Chances are that one of these division rivals will get a jump start on the other with a hot start. If either falters the way the Rockies did last season against their early season rivals, the hole dug could prove too much to overcome again.
My first game of the 2006 season will be the home opener with the Rockies on April 11. The Rockies will likely start Cory Sullivan in center field. Sullivan is the son of former Winslow resident Sean Sullivan who just happens to have been one of my favorite students. His mother and both sets of grandparents were prominent Winslow citizens. While Cory has never lived in Winslow, he has very real and distinctive Winslow connections.
Cory Sullivan had a solid rookie season for the Rockies, hitting .294 and displaying both exceptional defensive skills and savvy on the base paths. His ability to duplicate or improve on his rookie numbers could be key to the Rockies hopes for post season play.
That makes for an interesting three days of somewhat divided loyalties. I will be rooting for Cory to do well, but for the Diamondbacks to win. The chances are fairly good that if one happens, the other is not likely.