PHOENIX (AP) - From the ashes of two miserable years has risen the most surprising team of this baseball season.
Just how the Arizona Diamondbacks became the runaway leaders in the NL West is a worst-to-first jigsaw story where the pieces somehow fit far better than anyone could have predicted. That begins with manager Kirk Gibson.
The Diamondbacks have acquired his team-first, grind-it-out, no-baloney mentality. Anyone venturing to ask Gibson about individual honors for his team does so at his own risk, especially any suggestion that he’s a shoo-in for NL manager of the year.
“He doesn’t like to talk about that kind of stuff,” general manager Kevin Towers said in an understatement.
Gibson has surrounded himself with an All-Star coaching staff of sorts, with his old Detroit teammate Alan Trammell as bench coach, Don Baylor, hitting coach, Charles Nagy, pitching coach, Matt Williams, third base coach, and Eric Young, first base coach.
Gibson said he learned most from Sparky Anderson, his Tigers’ manager. He will not tell players whether they are in the next day’s lineup, telling them to check when they arrive at the clubhouse. That way, he says, everybody is ready to play.
“There’s no question it shows I have confidence in everybody on my roster. They all play,” he said. “I told you guys a long time ago, I love my roster. You’ve got to keep everybody healthy. You’ve got to keep everybody engaged.”
Gibson, as any serious baseball fan knows, is responsible for one of the most iconic moments in the game’s history, his 1988 pinch-hit World Series home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers when he could barely walk, leading broadcaster Jack Buck to famously exclaim “I don’t believe what I just saw!”
The quote could well describe these Diamondbacks.
At the core of their lineup are a handful of holdovers from 2007, when Arizona’s young team advanced to the NLCS _ catcher Miguel Montero, shortstop Stephen Drew, center fielder Chris Young and right fielder Justin Upton. The rest of the roster is an assortment of players acquired in trades, youngsters brought up through the Diamondbacks minor league system and free agent signees.
Montero has blossomed into a leader, working hard to improve his defense while developing into one of the best hitters at his position.
“This is a team job, man,” he said. “When you work as a team, you always expect the best. We are so connected together. Everybody cheers for everybody. That makes it special.”
Upton, still just 24, is having the breakout year that always was expected of him.
“I feel comfortable with where I am, just realizing it’s a process becoming your own player,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is just enjoying the game every day, enjoying just going out there and relaxing.”
Arizona has come from behind in 44 of its 87 victories.