Persistence critical to getting ASG in Arizona
After 14 years, D-backs grateful to host Midsummer Classic
PHOENIX -- The Arizona Diamondbacks began pursuing the All-Star Game and its accompanying festivities nearly seven years ago, when Ken Kendrick took over as managing general partner of the team.Only through constant cajoling did Kendrick and team president Derrick Hall win over the heart and mind of Commissioner Bud Selig, who ultimately awarded the D-backs this year's game, which is scheduled to be played at Chase Field for the first time on July 12. "Every opportunity to beg the Commissioner, I did," Hall said recently. "At every owners meeting, every time I saw him here in the Valley, I told him, 'We really could use this All-Star Game. It will help our fans, help out our economy.' It was to the point, as even he said, we were a bit of a pest." Kendrick chose instead to use the word "persistence." "It was a continued reminder, when appropriate, that we really wanted it and felt we deserved the game, that it would be a great setting to have the game in," Kendrick said. "And over the course of years, our ownership became established and they became comfortable with the way we are running the franchise." Selig laughed when told that the D-backs had pestered him into making a decision. "They were very persistent, and I mean that as a great compliment," he said. "They deserved an All-Star Game. They worked very hard for it, and that's to their credit. That's what pushed it over the top." It couldn't have happened at a better time, considering the floundering local economy, which has been hit hard by the downturn in the housing market. The Phoenix Conventions and Tourist Bureau is estimating that the three days of festivities at the ballpark and the five-day FanFest will have $67 million in direct economic impact on Phoenix, the country's sixth-largest city with 1.4 million in total population. Ticket prices for the three days of events -- the Sunday Futures Game, the Monday Home Run Derby and the Tuesday Midsummer Classic itself -- have been scaled accordingly to make them more affordable. Hall said that the All-Star Game is sold out in the 48,000-seat retractable-roofed facility. FanFest was nearing a pre-sale of 100,000 tickets, as compared to a total attendance of 125,000 last year in Anaheim. "I think this whole event is going to show very well," Hall said. The D-backs are a 14-year-old franchise that joined the National League as an expansion team in 1998. The ballpark was built and opened in time for the first game of that season. Thus, it is the last of that wave of new ballparks constructed in the 1990s to host a Midsummer Classic. The unceasing 100-degree heat that plagues the area during the summer months was part of the reason for keeping the game out of Phoenix until now. That will be minimized, because most of the events will be indoors downtown at the ballpark and convention center, which are within a quarter-mile of each other. The other, Hall and Kendrick surmise, is that the team was plagued by financial problems. When Kendrick, an original general and limited partner, took over for Jerry Colangelo as managing general partner in 2004, the club had $250 million in unfunded deferred salary payments to a group of players who helped the D-backs win the '01 World Series. That early success -- winning in their fourth season -- proved to be costly, and the repayment plan had to be restructured. "I think it had something to do with our financial situation," Hall said. "We were so upside-down it was like, 'Get your financial house in order, and we'll reward you.' Come to think of it, when I first started five or six years ago, we may not have been ready for it, where now, it's perfect timing." Selig said that the D-backs' once precarious financial situation had little to do with their ability to land the All-Star Game. "No, I don't believe that at all, I really don't," said Selig, who has a home in nearby Scottsdale, Ariz., and spends much of the winter in the area. "There are a lot of other teams that thought they should get it before them. It's impossible to keep everybody happy. It just took a little longer for them to get it than I liked." Selig added that there are 22 new ballparks in Major League Baseball, and unlike the Phoenix situation, some communities were promised the All-Star Game as an incentive to fund and build those new projects. Since Chase Field was opened, among NL cities, new ballparks have come along in San Diego, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and New York that have yet to host the event. Miami is scheduled to open its new stadium next year. Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium, which has undergone major renovations, will host the game in 2012, and Citi Field is a top candidate to be the site of the game in 2013. "I have people standing in line right now trying to get it with teams that have been in new ballparks for a long time," Selig said. "The intensity to get a game today is unbelievable." Under those circumstances, Kendrick agreed that the wait for Phoenix finally procuring the All-Star Game wasn't that daunting. "We came here as a brand new franchise," Kendrick said. "That's different than building a ballpark in an existing Major League city. Tampa, who expanded into the American League the same year we were born, they've been successful on the field in recent years, but they've yet to get a game. We're honored to get the game, and I think the timeline from then to now is not an unreasonable one at all."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.