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Nightengale's Notebook: The Arizona Diamondbacks have baseball's biggest home field disadvantage

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PHOENIX — The guy screamed into the microphone before the start of the Arizona Diamondbacks-Los Angeles Dodgers game last week, trying to get the subdued crowd riled up.

Finally, he stood in front of the crowd, and dramatically tore off his D-backs jersey, revealing the slogan on his chest.


The hometown crowd vigorously booed him.

Welcome to Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who happen to have a distinct home-field disadvantage.

The D-backs may technically be the home team, but virtually every team that comes to town has a much larger fan base. It has become a home-away-from home for virtually every big market team in the National League, from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the San Francisco Giants to the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.

“It’s definitely frustrating,’’ Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen told USA TODAY Sports. “But you kind of understand why, too. We haven’t played well the last few years, so I can see why fans aren’t coming out to support. You got to light the fire and put a little better product out there, and hopefully fans will take notice and start to show up.’’

This is a team that lost 110 games last year, and after a wildly successful start with three playoff berths and a World Series championship in their first five years of the franchise, have reached the playoffs just three times since 2002 and once since 2011.

Chase Field reflected off the glass in the press box during the Arizona Diamondbacks' game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Chase Field reflected off the glass in the press box during the Arizona Diamondbacks' game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In return, they have had baseball’s sharpest attendance decline since 2019, a drop-off of more than one million fans from an average of 26,364 to just 12,877 last year. The Diamondbacks, 9-12, have performed a bit better on the field this year, and are averaging 20,217 fans a game.

Still, the fans showing up are making it quite clear who they’re rooting for. The D-backs have yet to have more fans rooting for them in a series this year than their opponents with the Padres, Astros, Mets and Dodgers making early visits.

“It’s good to have fans out there,’’ Gallen says, “but it’s a little bit annoying when they’re wearing a different color. But it is what it is.’’

Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman was stunned last week when he was greeted with raucous chants of “Freddie! Freddie! Freddie!’’ in his first game at Chase Field with the Dodgers.

“It blew me away,’’ Freeman says. “I’m not expecting that on the road, so it’s a little different. But the Dodgers travel so well. Even when we went to Minnesota, and it’s 20 degrees there, you saw them in the stands.’’

Really, Phoenix has always been a Dodger town. The folks grew up listening to Vin Scully on the radio, too. The D-backs didn’t come to existence until 1998, so it’s understandable that East LA stretches out to Phoenix.

“It’s just how overwhelming it is with maybe a 70-30 split of Dodger fans to Diamondback fans,’’ says former Dodger All-Star outfielder Andre Ethier, born and raised in Phoenix. “It’s a good feeling when you can go to different parks in your division and fans will be in your favor. But they love their Dodgers here. It’s a generational thing.’’

Dodgers reliever Daniel Hudson, who spent six years of his career with the D-backs, says the Dodgers fans always made themselves at home in Phoenix, and no matter where they go, they feel their energy, even in San Francisco.

“Every time the Dodgers came to town when I was here,’’ Hudson says, “there was a lot of blue in the stadium. It can be frustrating for a home team. It kind of gives you another obstacle to overcome.

“And when you’re on this side of it, it definitely helps. It just makes the road a bit easier.’’

Says Gallen: “I understand that people here probably grew up Dodger fans, but when the New York Mets come to town, and you’re dealing with all of these Mets fans, it gets to be a little tough.’’

Maybe in time it will change. Perhaps the D-backs’ first series victory over the Dodgers in three years will bring out more home fans the next time they come to town in May.

This is a bandwagon town filled with transplants. If you win, they’ll come. If not, get used to always being on the road, even when you’re at home.

“It is frustrating,’’ says D-backs manager Torey Lovullo, who’s from LA. “The Dodgers fans take over the stadium every time they’re in town. We know that. We’re conditioned to it. The Mets did the same thing. A lot of teams do that to be honest with you.

“We’re envious of that. We want that to be us. But we’ve got to earn that. We’re just hopeful that when we start to win baseball games, our fans will come out, and things will balance out.’’

For now, well, they’ll simply settle for the sweet sound of silence.

“That’s the best feeling,’’ says D-backs outfielder David Peralta, who hit a game-winning homer in the final game of their series. “I got nothing against the fans. Fans are going to cheer for their own team.

“But when you do something like that, and shut their fans up, it’s really satisfying.’’

The D-backs, at least for now, will settle for silence.

“It kind of throws everyone off when it’s quiet,’’ Gallen says, “but that’s our home-field advantage. We’ll take it.’’

A dream season or the end?

Robinson Cano once was ticketed for the Hall of Fame.

He was an eight-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger, two-time Gold Glove winner and a World Series champion with the New York Yankees.

Then, came the performance-enhancing drug suspension in 2018 with the Seattle Mariners, another causing him to miss the entire 2021 season with the New York Mets, and now he’s back.

But for how long?

Cano, who has 2,632 career hits, and would love to become the next to join the 3,000-hit club, may have run out of time.

The Mets have to make a decision Monday when they cut their roster from 28 players to 26 players, and Cano could be on the chopping block.

Cano, 39, doesn’t want to even think about the possibility, instead wanting to focus his conversation with USA TODAY Sports on the present, saying how much he loves being part of this Mets team.

He cried himself to sleep some nights this past year, missing the game so much that his heart hurt, realizing how many people he let town.

Now, he’s back playing second base and DHing, playing on a team that went 15-6 in the first 21 games, and sits in first place in the NL East with more victories than any team in baseball.

“It’s so great to be back here again, playing the game that I love, I’m so happy,’’ Cano says. “I missed everything about the game last year, the guys, the fans, sunflower seeds, everything. Now, it’s all about just having fun.’’

Robinson Cano is in the ninth year of a 10-year deal he signed with the Seattle Mariners.
Robinson Cano is in the ninth year of a 10-year deal he signed with the Seattle Mariners.

While the Mets finally are into nostalgia, erecting a Tom Seaver statue on their home opener, scheduling their first Old-Timers’ Game in August since 1994, they’re not about to let a checkbook stand in the way of a magical season.

They still owe Cano about $40.5 million through the 2023 season, and although they’d hate to just flush the money down the toilet, they’re watching Cano’s struggles like everyone else. He entered Saturday hitting just .195 with one extra-base hit and a .501 OPS.

They want to be patient, knowing he missed an entire season, but for how long?

“It would mean everything to me to be here and win a World Series,’’ Cano said. “I mean, that’s what this is all about. I’ve been given another chance, and I’m trying to take advantage of it.

“Hopefully, I’m keeping my fingers crossed, I can be part of this. We’ll see what happens.’’

The drug suspensions cost Cano a chance at the Hall of Fame. If Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens weren’t voted into the Hall of Fame without any drug suspensions, a two-time drug offender isn’t going to be given any liberties.

Yet, he has a chance for redemption, to show he can still contribute, riding in a championship parade one more time.

“That’s my dream,’’ Cano says. “That’s why I’m back playing this game, to be part of a championship team. But no matter what happens, I love the game of baseball. That will never change.’’

Dusty Baker nearing 2,000 wins

Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, who won the first game of his managerial career on April 6, 1993, is now on the verge of history nearly three decades later, entering Saturday just two victories shy of 2,000.

It’s a milestone achieved by only 11 managers in history, and all but Bruce Bochy are in the Hall of Fame, with Bochy scheduled to be on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2023 for the first time.

Baker, 72, has been the ideal manager replacing A.J. Hinch after the sign-stealing scandal, leading the Astros to one World Series and within a game of another in his two years.

He’s the only manager in history to lead five teams to postseason berths: the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals and the Astros.

“That’s so awesome,’’ said Mets ace Max Scherzer, who pitched for Baker with the Nationals. “I really enjoyed my time with Dusty, just the amount of knowledge he has about baseball. He played so long ago, has so many different stories, has so much insight on how the game was played back with the dinosaurs until now.’’

OK, maybe it was right after the dinosaurs, Scherzer says laughing, but considers it an honor playing for him.

“He has seen so much baseball, just his knowledge of different situations,’’ Scherzer says, “I really enjoyed his outlook on the game and how it should be played. I loved having him around.’’

Certainly, it will be special this summer when Baker is the manager of the American League All-Star team at Dodger Stadium, where he helped lead the Dodgers to the 1981 World Series title.

“For him to reach that milestone is very cool,’’ said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who will be on Brian Snitker’s NL coaching staff. “You think about how he’s gone about doing it. Being with all of the different teams. Being out of the game and coming back. And leading those teams to the postseason.

“He’s just done it the right way, and for him to reach 2,000 wins should cement him into the Hall of Fame. Come on, consistency has to matter.’’

Cody Bellinger was the 2019 National League MVP.
Cody Bellinger was the 2019 National League MVP.

Cody Bellinger regaining confidence

Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger found himself surrounded by reporters at his locker Monday, fresh off winning the NL Player of the Week award with his .304 batting average, three homers and 1.174 OPS , and being repeatedly asked about vindication.

The man who won the 2019 MVP award, only to have the second-worst batting average in baseball last season, finally was back.

“Hey, it’s just one week,’’ Bellinger kept saying. “I try not to get too caught up in it just because I had a good week. Every day’s a new day. Let’s see what happens.’’

Well, the man knows his baseball, and perhaps was a prophet for what happened next.

He proceeded to go hitless in his next 15 at-bats entering Saturday, with five strikeouts, dropping his batting average to .214.

“It’s a crazy game,’’ Bellinger says. “A lot of ups and downs. It’s all part of it.”

Yet, just like one terrific week doesn’t make a season, one bad week doesn’t ruin one either, and Bellinger certainly looks much more like the player who dominated the league just three years ago. He has already had seven multi-hit games this month, just one fewer than his entire total a year ago.

Bellinger, who stopped altering his swing mechanics with each game, and sometimes each pitch, has settled in and looks much more comfortable. Maybe he’ll never be that player who hit .305 with 47 homers and 115 RBI in 2019 again, but he knows he’ll never be that shell of himself last year either when he hit .165 with 10 homers, 36 RBI and a .542 OPS.

“I don’t think in baseball you ever have it figured out,’’ Bellinger says. “It’s always a game of adjustments. It’s one of the hardest games. At the end of the day, I just want to keep going.’’

If nothing else, Bellinger’s teammates love the fact he has never made excuses. He had a hairline fracture in his leg last season, and was coming off off-season shoulder surgery, but never used it as an alibi.

“I wasn’t trying to make an excuse for anything,” he said. “I truly thought that any day last year I was going to break out of it. I really did.

“I think it’s a really hard game and when things aren’t going your way it’s even harder.’’

Well, after what he endured last year, a lousy week isn’t going to shatter Bellinger’s confidence. He’s just 26, and knows he’s still capable of being one of the game’s elite players.

“There will be ups and downs,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says, “but if you have the foundational thought and approach, it should kind of deter some of the pratfalls he’s had in the past.’’

The biggest change, former Dodgers teammate Andre Ethier says, is Bellinger’s confidence. It’s back. And it’s here to stay.

“I had a couple of conversations with him, and I saw the confidence this spring,’’ Ethier said. “You expect a certain result, and when you’re not getting it, your confidence goes down. It happened to me when I was playing too. You’re just searching and hoping that something clicks.

“Well, I don’t think he has to search for anything. He’s got the talent. He’s a great see-it-and-hit-it guy. He’s just going up there, leaving the mechanical stuff aside, relaxing and competing.

“That’s what we’re seeing now. I couldn’t be happier for him because I know the work he put in this winter, and now you’re seeing the results.’’

The Padres landed Joe Musgrove in a trade with the Pirates before the 2021 season.
The Padres landed Joe Musgrove in a trade with the Pirates before the 2021 season.

Around the basepaths

– The Padres have tried to sign starter Joe Musgrove to an extension before the start of the season, but now that he’s been lights out this year (3-0 with a 2.16 ERA, 25 strikeouts in 25 innings through Saturday), he might as well wait, with a huge payday around the corner on the free-agent market.

Musgrove, 29, will be one of the most prized free agent starters along with Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Noah Syndergard, and Chris Bassitt.

– The Washington Nationals have until the All-Star break to exercise the $3.5 million option on manager Davey Martinez’s contract or he’ll be a free agent after the season.

– Justin Upton, who was released by the Los Angeles Angels at the end of spring training, has received offers from five teams, but none that interest him.

He wants to go to a contender who will offer him significant playing time and not be a platoon player. He continues to wait.

– Well, maybe Trevor Story wasn’t so thrilled to be joining the Boston Red Sox on that five-year, $140 million contract after all?

He fired his sports agency, perhaps upset that he first watched Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million) and then Marcus Semien (7 years, $175 million) sign with his hometown Texas Rangers, where he wanted to be all along.

– The New York Yankees may have got caught cheating too, stealing and relaying signs from their video room to the dugout phone, which cost them a $100,000 fine, but pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. doesn’t believe the public sentiment to change towards the Astros.

“I think people are going to feel how they want to feel,” McCullers told the Houston Chronicle. “I think they've made up their minds about us and about that period of time. No matter what, I think people are always going to point to us and they're going to enjoy booing us and things like that.’’

– Players can rip the baseballs all they want, but pardon Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon for being the outlier.

“I know the hitters aren’t going to agree with me, but I like a real game of baseball, not the video-game version,” Maddon told reporters. “If you want to get more people interested in our game, play baseball. Do it all. Play all the components, all facets of the game, and I think that’s we’re doing right now. I didn’t know in spring training that the ball was going to react the way it is, but I hope it stays that way.”

The Angels, of course, are excelling with the new baseball, showing that small ball can work, ranking first in the major leagues in runs (104), slugging percentage (.441) and OPS (.776).

“We have a lot of guys on this team who can do a lot of things,” Angels star Mike Trout said. “We find different ways to beat teams besides the long ball. It’s fun to be a part of.”

– Mets starter Chris Bassitt on the Oakland A’s firesale: “It’s definitely been tough to watch. I feel for those guys. I’m afraid it’s not over, either.’’


The A’s remain open for business with starter Frankie Montas, catcher Sean Murphy, reliever Lou Trivino and center fielder Ramon Laureano on the block. They make a combined $10.7 million, and the A’s don’t want to assume any major-league contract in return.

– It still is widely assumed that Carlos Correa will be opting out of his three-year, $105.3 million contract with the Twins this winter, but Correa has informed the Twins front office that he has fallen in love with the organization, and is open to sticking around.

“I want to be part of a winning culture,’’ Correa told reporters, “and I think with this team we can do that.”

The Twins, after being the most disappointing team in the American League last season, finishing last with a 73-89 record after back-to-back division titles, are in first place in the AL Central.

In Correa’s talk with the front office, he said: “‘I love the people here. I love the way I’m treated here. If you guys see the value I bring to this organization and what I do for other people around me and the game that I bring, I would love to have a long-term relationship here if that’s what you guys would like.’’

The free-agent shortstop market should be a doozy again this winter with Trea Turner of the Dodgers, Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox, Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson, and Correa.

– It was in 2016 when Cleveland Browns owner made the stunning announcement that he was hiring former MLB GM Paul DePodesta to become their chief strategy officer to help revive the franchise.

Well, here we are six years later, and the Chicago Blackhawks just hired Chicago Cubs assistant GM Jeff Greenberg to become their associate GM. Greenberg, 36, had been with the Cubs for the past 11 years.

“Jeff is simply one of the best teammates I have worked with in baseball,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said in a statement. “He has done so much to make the Cubs a better organization over the last 10 seasons with his powerful combination of intelligence, work ethic, leadership and integrity. He was critically involved in forward-looking decisions as we built the core of a world champion.’’

– It took longer than expected, but right fielder Taylor Ward, the Angels’ first-round pick in 2015, is living up to expectations this season, and a whole lot more. He is hitting .404 with five homers and a 1.347 OPS, including four homers alone this week.

– Great book by Howard Bryant on Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, but most touching was the blank page with three words before the contents:

“For Pedro Gomez.’’

The two became close friends 30 years ago when they covered the Oakland A’s together, and worked together at ESPN until Gomez’s death 15 months ago.

– Mets owner Steve Cohen discovered later that the three-year, $130 million he gave Max Scherzer was $60 million more than anyone else offered, but with the way he’s pitching this year with his 1.80 ERA, it’s looking like a bargain.

Certainly, there’s no one that Scherzer torments more than his hometown St. Louis Cardinals, reminding them every time he pitches what they could have had.

They had a chance to sign him as a free agent when he went to the Washington Nationals, and again this past winter before he signed with the Mets.

And he continues to make them pay, letting them know what they’re missing, with a career 1.74 ERA in seven starts at Busch Stadium. He has now gone 21 consecutive innings without permitting an earned run against the Cardinals, with seven starts against them with at least 10 strikeouts, only one behind Sandy Koufax.

“It’s fun to come there and pitch,’’ Scherzer said.

– Arizona D-backs starter Zac Gallen on the two different baseballs being used this year: “You can definitely notice the balls aren’t similar. There’s just a different consistency to the baseballs. It’s the only sport in the world that doesn’t use the same regulated ball.’’

– The best trade the San Diego Padres made this year was the one they didn’t make.

They desperately tried to trade first baseman Eric Hosmer all winter and spring, and here he is, leading all of MLB with a .397 batting average through Friday.

– Mets manager Buck Showalter was giddy watching his five pitchers throw 159 pitches for a combined no-hitter on Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The last time one of his teams threw a no-hitter?

Nearly three decades ago, on Sept. 4, 1993, when Yankee starter Jim Abbott no-hit Cleveland.

– The Miami Marlins have a sneaky good pitching staff, and Pablo Lopez is drawing rave reviews with his 0.39 ERA in his first four starts, the lowest by a Marlins’ pitcher in franchise history.

The Marlins posted their first winning month of April since 2016.

Too bad Derek Jeter isn’t around to bask in the early success.

– The Cincinnati Reds, off to their worst start in 91 years at 3-17, are taking All-Star first baseman Joey Votto right down the drain with them.

Votto has never had a start this bad, either, hitting .136 with a .463 OPS and no home runs.

“For me, it’s an awful and embarrassing experience,” Votto told reporters. “You have to keep going. But when you’re in the middle of it, it’s definitely embarrassing.”

– Remember when Adalberto Mondesi, 26, was considered one of baseball’s greatest prospects and projected to be a star?

Well, 11 years after being signed out of the Dominican, seven years since becoming the first player in MLB history to make his debut during the World Series, his career has been hampered by injuries

Mondesi is hurt once again and will be out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Mondesi, who has never played more than 115 combined games in a minor-league/major league season, had a left hamstring strain and played just 35 games last season. Now, his year is over after 15 games.

“Your heart sinks,’’ Royals president GM Dayton Moore said. “He continues to have these types of setbacks.”

– New D-backs pitching coach Brent Strom became the first person to reveal that he broke MLB policy by inadvertently telephoning catcher Carson Kelly during the lockout to pick his brain on the pitching staff.

It dawned on him halfway through the call that it was a violation.

“I said, ‘I don’t think I’m supposed to be talking to you, Carson, don’t tell anybody,’” Strom said. “I kind of went braindead there for a short while.”

– The Astros threw away $12.5 million on the two-year deal with reliever Pedro Baez before the 2021 season.

The man wound up throwing just 6 ⅔ innings and posted an 11.57 ERA in three appearances this year before being released this week.

It wouldn’t surprise anyone, one Dodgers official said, if they gave him a look to see if they can turn him around. Baez spent the first seven years of his career with the Dodgers, with an average velocity of 97.1 mph in 2017, which plummeted to 89.7 mph this year.

_The greatest feat of the week was performed by Mike Jasperson, the Colorado Rockies physical performance coach, during the four-game series in Philadelphia.

The dude polished off 25 cheesesteaks, setting the visiting clubhouse record, according to Phillies’ officials, with an estimated 37,500 calories being consumed.

Jasperson, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette, slept with a pillow on his left side on his to help with indigestion, and walked at least 20,000 steps a day to prepare for the mission.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Diamondbacks have MLB's biggest home field disadvantage