Updated Feb 13, 2014 - 3:50 pm
Roaming D-backs Fan Fest with owner Ken Kendrick
I'm not looking to write anything scathing about him. I just want to talk to him about his star player's involvement in January's discussions with Masahiro Tanaka.
But at Fan Fest, Ken Kendrick -- managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks -- is too preoccupied with the fans. And there are 35,000 of them.
He poses in pictures with fans, removing his 2001 World Series ring to place upon a finger of some of the younger ones. He shakes hands as he moves through the swarm, saying, "Thank you," and calling a handful by name.
I'm keeping an eye on the bald spot on the back of his head, hoping for a moment with him, as I elbow my way through a mixed sea of Sedona Red and vintage Diamondbacks purple.
He notices me; it's been 20 minutes and I'm approaching stalker status.
Then, a window. Paul Goldschmidt has taken the main stage near the visitor's dugout and he's introduced by Diamondbacks television broadcaster Steve Berthiaume as "America's First Baseman." My competition -- yes, my obstacles -- flock away from the face behind the franchise and toward the face of the franchise.
I begin to make my move when a nice-looking elderly couple boxes me out and swoops in on Kendrick who, too, has turned his attention to Goldschmidt.
What the hell is this about?
They begin to explain something to him, looking a bit frazzled, and he motions for them to follow him. My 75-yard pursuit drags on.
I trail the trio from one Diamondbacks booth to another as Kendrick inquires about something on their behalf. I don't want to get too creepily close, so I'm oblivious as to the matter at hand.
The whole chase is becoming rather uncomfortable as my bloodhounding grows more and more obvious.
Finally, the situation is seemingly resolved, and the couple proceeds to arrest Kendrick in a five-minute conversation.
They eventually part and I don't hesitate to pounce.
I rush our introduction and jump into Goldschmidt-Tanaka. Kendrick gives me everything I need.
Blanking on my follow-up question, my mind wanders into inquiry of the preceding situation with the elderly folks.
Kendrick explains that the woman was trying to meet manager Kirk Gibson for the first time, as she was in the Dodger Stadium bleachers on the night of his iconic walk-off home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series. He didn't waffle in considering the request, but actively sought to fulfill it, arranging for her to take part in a forthcoming reservation-only meet-and-greet at Fan Fest that afternoon.
I'm taking it all in, developing this story in my mind as we begin to make our way through the crowd together, chatting about West Virginia basketball, the upcoming season, and more, being intermittently interrupted by swarming fans, all of whom he graces with his attention.
"He takes care of his own," I think, remembering the infamous incident with a group of Los Angeles Dodgers fans seated behind home plate early last season. That -- the forced costume change in an effort to absolve the home plate cameras of Dodger blue -- could now be interpreted as a very public overflow of Diamondbacks passion and pride, the evidence of a really, really competitive spirit, the kind that loathes the opponent.
And that was before the Diamondbacks-Dodgers rivalry had taken on its current substance -- before the catalyzing June brawl and the ensuing, late-season games, including the demonstrative post-division-clinching pool party at Chase Field had by those in blue.
Earlier in the day, Kendrick and team president Derrick Hall recounted the controversial Dodgers celebration.
"The pool has been emptied," Kendrick announced to a cheering crowd on the infield diamond.
"And thoroughly disinfected," he finished slowly, with a bumptious smile.
"We'll try not to take any more shots at them because it wasn't good for anybody, but they bragged -- a few of them, on the way out -- to our security guards (that they peed in the pool)," Hall recalled.
"And once they admitted to this, Ken (Kendrick) says to us, 'Good, then they peed on themselves.'"
The applause was boisterous from a record-high Fan Fest crowd. This was the stuff they wanted to hear, the stuff they loved -- the aura of a rivalry and the reinforcement of an underdog identity. There was no cockiness among them, just scrappiness -- the very thing they saw displayed atop their beloved organization in the face of Kendrick.
He has made his commitment to compete with the Dodgers readily known. Beyond the stated assertions of contempt for the division rival, he showed as much with a commitment to take on the highest payroll in franchise history in 2014 -- curiously reactionary to the Dodgers' influx of money over the last two seasons. He's not just pocketing the reported $90 million a year in television money that's coming down the pike. He's willing to spend and sell away some of tomorrow because he wants to win today.
"He's a very passionate fan," Hall explained later in the day.
"He loves baseball. He loves the history of baseball. He respects the game."
The Diamondbacks legend who helped get Kendrick that World Series ring that was being used as a picture prop, Luis Gonzalez, was standing nearby.
"There's a reason he's successful in business," Gonzalez, a special assistant to Hall, said of Kendrick.
"We're very fortunate and lucky to have an owner like that here who's very passionate about the team."
There was a time when Kendrick, part-owner since the Diamondbacks were founded, was seen as a grumpy cheapskate who was tasked with the chore of cleaning up Jerry Colangelo's payroll mess. To Diamondbacks fans, he was the frugal Valley dad who decided on Castles N' Coasters over Disneyland.
But Kendrick may be shaking that reputation one fan at a time, and you may just be able to thank Guggenheim Baseball Management -- the Dodgers' ownership group -- for that. He may not be able to afford a $225 million payroll, but he's also not able to suppress the pride he has in his organization.
"Having a rival in L.A. -- proximity-wise within the division, being able to be the underdog -- it gets our fans excited," Hall said.
"And to see that the owner is also right in the midst of it has been fun. Our fans appreciate that. They know that he's got their backs and I think that's very important for the rivalry."
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