PHOENIX – The view from Section 307, Row 40, Seat 13 – the one that not a single person of the four million living in the Phoenix metropolitan area cared to inhabit Thursday night during the biggest baseball game of the Arizona Diamondbacks' season – was quite nice. Take in a few innings from that seat down the right-field line, the field unfolding in an expansive portrait, and the game feels so much more real than TV's microwave-popcorn version of it.
Hector Tapia and Eddie Reyes, sitting three seats down from lucky No. 13, didn't know until 8 a.m. Thursday that they would come to Game 1 of the National League championship series. During homeroom at Summit High, the 18-year-old seniors' teacher told them that because of their perfect attendance this year, each would receive a ticket – face value: $60 – gratis.
"And even then we weren't going to come," Hector said, "but we figured we had free tickets."
The announced attendance for Thursday night's game, a 5-1 victory by the surging Colorado Rockies over the Diamondbacks, was 48,142. A sellout, the Diamondbacks said. Maybe, even with Seat 13 surrounded by thousands of cousins in emptiness during the first pitch, it was. Perhaps every person in Section 307 got caught in the same traffic jam because they had to scramble after the dog ate their tickets. Or it could be that someone bought up all the remaining tickets and gave them away – some, say, to local schools.
A Diamondbacks spokesman said he did not believe the franchise had bought tickets, though if majority owner Ken Kendrick and his partners did, who could blame them? So much talk leading up to Game 1 focused on the flaccid ticket sales, taking away from the fact that Arizona has built itself up from the 111-loss mess of 2004 to the winningest team in the National League.
Now, on the biggest stage since the Diamondbacks' 2001 World Series championship, the great fans of Phoenix – which is creeping up on Atlanta for most pathetic sports city in America – couldn't bother to watch their team host a division rival hotter than any team since Oakland won 20 straight in 2002.
The Diamondbacks deserve better than this city.
They deserve better fans, too, than some of those who showed up, drank too much and decided to throw bottles on the field after umpire Larry Vanover called interference in the seventh inning on Justin Upton's hard slide into second base, forcing an automatic double play. Plastic bottles – some still heavy with liquid inside – rained onto the outfield grass and warning track, and umpires delayed the game and pulled the Rockies off the field to restore order.
"I'm not scared of plastic bottles," Rockies left fielder Matt Holliday said. "I lift weights for a reason. In case mayhem breaks out at the field and they start throwing stuff, I've got muscles."
Holliday, spared from a direct hit, could kid. The Diamondbacks couldn't. Now they had to apologize for two sets of fans: the handful of idiots who showed up and the thousands of apathetic ones who didn't.
To the right of Seat 13 sat Nick Johnson, Jordan Kaye and Brian Aden, all 9, who had moved up to the $60 seats from their $25 ones. Kaye's father, Sean, came up to check on the kids, and, bless the man, tried to defend the dozens of empties that surrounded him.
"This stadium is huge," Kaye began.
"Give the sense it's a hard ticket to get and people will want it more," he continued.
"Look at everything going on here: Cardinals, Coyotes, preseason Suns, 6-0 (Arizona State football)," he explained.
"We have really good TV numbers," he elucidated.
"We got spoiled going to the playoffs after the second season and winning the World Series after the fourth," he rationalized.
So, he was all right with this.
"Um. OK. I wish there were more fans," Kaye said. "We are the biggest bandwagon fans here."
The biggest shame is that a series dying for exposure – Game 2's East Coast start time: around 10:20 p.m. – can't even sell one of the cities participating. What kind of impression does it give those who might stay up past midnight to watch a game with two unfamiliar teams when the host city pretends like that game barely exists?
On StubHub, the ticket resale site, the lowest price for Game 1 of the ALCS in Boston was $200, the highest $1,730. For Game 3 in Cleveland, the prices were $75 and $1,990. Even for Game 3 in Colorado, which sold out almost immediately, the cheapest went for $85 and the priciest $1,200.
Anyone interested in Game 2 here can get in for $15.90.
And in case a big group wants to go, as of midnight here, blocks of up to 18 tickets were available for Game 2 on MLB.com.
"You'd think the National League championship series would sell out," Holliday said.
Certainly you would, though the Atlanta Braves made a habit of not selling out the NLCS – as recently as 2001, when they faced the Diamondbacks, who, too, couldn't even pack in 40,000 for Game 1 with Randy Johnson starting.
This isn't the Diamondbacks' fault, and it's not Major League Baseball's, either. Sometimes, it's incumbent upon a city to adopt a franchise, and even if the fans chuckle at the public address announcer's imploring fans to chant along to the "Anybody, anytime" catchphrase and roll their eyes at the team's theme song with the chorus "It's a fact, Jack, I back, you back, we back the D'backs," they should support the team by, at very least, showing up.
On the walk back down to the main concourse from Section 307, Row 40, Seat 13, a sign greets those about to leave the stadium.
THE D-BACKS THANK THE BEST FANS IN BASEBALL
Too bad those fans refuse to thank the Diamondbacks in kind.