With the sports world on hold, Cronkite News will take a daily look at this day in sports history and reflect on some of the biggest moments in Arizona sports.
PHOENIX – Weeks have passed without sports. Television shows and movies can only be watched so many times. New hobbies don’t always last because shooting a bow with one’s feet isn’t something one gets right on the first try, nor the next 12.
But take a moment – this moment – and transport back in time.
The date is April 5, 1998. Restaurants allow dine-in eating. Toilet paper is easy to find. People can stand as close to each other as they please. Sports are not only in full swing, but they’re everywhere. More specifically, there’s Major League Baseball in Arizona.
The sixth game of the Diamondbacks inaugural season is underway at Bank One Ballpark. Manager Buck Showalter, brought on board a full two years earlier, is already gnawing his fingernails. Andy Benes is on the mound against the San Francisco Giants for his second start of the season. He gives up a home run in the first inning to Bill Mueller.
“I think the mood kind of went like, ‘Oh boy, here we go again,'” then-general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. says recently in an interview with Cronkite News.
The new franchise has lost its first five games, and the fans don’t know it yet but that all changes today.
“Well, don’t you know, we come back and get three runs in the bottom of the first,” Garagiola Jr. says.
The score is now 3-1, Benes is throwing a good game, and it stays that way until the sixth inning, when Mueller hits another home run. But Benes finishes the inning, pitches the next without allowing a run and, in front of 47,593 fans, Arizona clings to a one-run lead as the top of the ninth nears.
In comes Felix Rodriguez to seal the deal.
“First guy he strikes out, second guy he strikes out. The crowd is on their feet. They’re roaring. Here we are. And I think it was Rey Sanchez … he hits a ball, an absolute bomb out toward right centerfield,” Garragiola Jr. recalls. “And off the bat, everybody’s thinking, ‘Oh no. Here, it’s just going to go out and we’re going to be tied and this is not a good feeling.'”
And it’s that split second where all the fans at Bank One Ballpark hold their breaths and watch the ball dropping quickly in the direction of center fielder Devon White. This is it. This is the moment. It either all ends here with a catch and the first Diamondbacks win ever, or it’s on to a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat bottom of the ninth when anything can happen.
White tracks the ball quickly, but so many things can go wrong in those few seconds. He could trip, he could drop it, he could lose it in the sky, he could miss it completely and let it land next to him … or he could make the game-winning catch. And he does.
“I can still see him just galloping after that ball and I’m thinking, ‘Oh please catch it, please catch it,'” Garagiola Jr. says.
The game is over. The Diamondbacks finally have that first win out of the way. The fans finally get the chance to go a bit crazy. The final score is 3-2 and Benes’ name is written in the box score as the winning pitcher. The first winning pitcher for the Diamondbacks.
“To be able to win, it wasn’t ideal that we lost our first five games, but to be able to be the one to throw the first pitch and then to actually win the first game was not anything that’s ever going to be done again there so I’m very thankful and blessed to be a part of it,” Benes says.
Garagiola Jr. looks around at the ballpark full of delirious fans, remembering when it was all just a thought, a hope, an idea, a hole in the ground. Everything he’s been saying has finally come to fruition and can be seen before his very eyes.
“A ballpark full of people is a great unifier in a community and it just brings together people who would otherwise have no occasion to associate with each other and it gives them kind of just common feeling,” he says. “And that was the feeling. That moment when we won that game.”