- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. It's 11:45 a.m. on a gorgeous late winter day in the desert, and Luis Gonzalez is sitting by his locker in the Arizona Diamondbacks clubhouse, observing his teammates as they prepare for the day's Cactus League game against the San Francisco Giants.
To his left, Gonzalez sees a group of five or six players assembled in a circle, eating lunch and laughing. To his right, he spots Matt Williams, out indefinitely with a broken foot but still at the ballpark every day, chatting up Tony Womack. And at the far corner of the clubhouse, Byung-Hyun Kim sits on the floor with legs crossed reading a book as manager Bob Brenly comes walking by and gently pats the 23-year-old Korean closer on the head.
Gonzalez, a 12-year veteran who has played with four franchises, is asked if he's ever been a part of a clubhouse like this one, full of camaraderie and genuine friendship.
"Never," says the man whose Game 7, ninth-inning single off Mariano Rivera last year capped one of the greatest World Series ever played. "I mean, I've played on some good teams with some good guys, but not with a bunch of guys like this."
You can dislike them for being so good so fast, for spending millions of dollars on veteran free agents and winning the World Series in their fourth year of existence. You can despise their owner, Jerry Colangelo, for building a winner with little regard for money and for asking his minority partners and Major League Baseball to pump in extra cash to keep the franchise afloat. You can make fun of the purple uniforms, the pool in right field and a novice fan base that still has trouble judging a routine fly ball from a home run off the bat.
But you can't honestly say that you hate the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Oh sure, the defending champs have their detractors, particularly those in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, where ballclubs rich in tradition have been surpassed in the NL West by this infant franchise.
"[Arizona pitcher] Miguel Batista probably said it best," Brenly noted this spring. "He said, 'Last year nobody liked us. This year everybody is going to hate us.'"
Those who claim such things, however, do so out of jealousy, pure and simple. They certainly can't base their opinion on the character of the players inside the Arizona clubhouse.
"Blacks hang with whites, Latins hang with blacks, whites hang with Latins," said first baseman Mark Grace, who toiled 12 years with the Chicago Cubs before joining the Diamondbacks a year ago. "It's pretty cool. There's not a whole lot of cliques as far as this team is concerned. It's a lot of fun.
"You know, it's easy for me to say because in my first year here we win the World Series. But this is by far the best team I've ever been on and the best group of guys I've ever been with."
The Arizona clubhouse is littered with some of the most-respected players in the game today. Grace, the man with a one-liner for every question he hears. Curt Schilling, last year's winner of the Roberto Clemente Award for his efforts to raise money to fight Lou Gehrig's disease. Gonzalez, the most unassuming superstar (he hit 57 home runs last season) you'll ever meet.
Even Randy Johnson, the once-surly left-hander who kept to himself in a corner of the locker room, has opened up and learned how to enjoy the game again.
"It's fun coming to work every day," Gonzalez said. "You don't have guys who bicker. You have guys who care about each other. We don't care who the big guy is for the day. We just want somebody to grab the keys to the car and drive us that day."
The man passing out the keys every day is Brenly, a seemingly perfect match for this team. A former catcher with the Giants, Brenly was a television analyst during the Diamondbacks' first three seasons, but was hired by Colangelo last year to bring some ease to a clubhouse that had been controlled by the rules-obsessed Buck Showalter.
Brenly and the D'backs were a perfect match. On the first day of spring training last year, he assembled his players, dropped a copy of Showalter's massive rule book on the ground and pulled out a cocktail napkin with the only two rules he demands scribbled in pen: "Be on time" and "Get it done."
Though he had never managed a game in his life, Brenly knew the best way to run this team: Trust the veterans and let them play.
The plan obviously worked. Arizona won the NL West, survived a tense, five-game division series against the St. Louis Cardinals, cruised past the Atlanta Braves in five games in the NLCS and then staged a World Series for the ages against the Yankees.
Considering how long most of the Diamondbacks had waited to win their first championship nine prominent roster members had played at least 10 seasons without owning a World Series ring it's no surprise that these guys are still savoring the moment more than four months later.
"The only time I'm not enjoying it is when I'm out there in between the white lines," Womack said. "Other than that, I'm still enjoying it. It's a hard thing to do, and once you accomplish it, you can't wait to come back and do it again."

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