This is the fifth in a series of stories looking at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ World Series run.
PHOENIX – Win a World Series.
Those words weren’t at the top of the informal memo, or even in the middle. They didn’t appear until the very bottom of a to-do list written by Joe Garagiola Jr. and his small senior leadership team during a meeting in the initial years of building the Arizona Diamondbacks franchise.
At the time, that task seemed far-fetched and unachievable, especially within at least the first five years of the team’s existence.
“We (were) just sort of young and dumb enough to think we could actually pull it off,” said Scott Brubaker, the former D-Backs’ vice president of sales and marketing.
Simply, Garagiola wrote it as a joke.
Looking back 20 years later, the idea of winning a World Series was still insane, but it was attained.
On November 4, 2001, the Diamondbacks defeated the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. All these years later, it still stands as the most memorable moment in Arizona sports history.
“It was insane. It was awesome. It was like the perfect crescendo to how they responded to us getting into playoffs, winning the first round (against St. Louis), (and) going through the second round with the Braves,” Jeff Golner, former D-Backs’ senior director of game operations and entertainment, said.
Game 7 was arguably the best game in the series for Diamondbacks fans.
Throughout the series, both teams had only won in their home ballpark. The Diamondbacks were coming off of a striking 15-2 victory in Game 6 and were looking to ride the wave and win it all at home.
“We were all worried that maybe they didn’t save any offense for one last game, and it kinda seemed that way,” said Ray Artigue, the former general manager of SRO Communications, which provided in-house service for the Diamondbacks.
The setting of Game 7 was almost surreal — a cool mist followed by rain, the open roof, and almost 50,000 fans roaring and waving white pom poms in the air.
The game started with the stealth bomber flying over Bank One Ballpark and ended with Arizona’s Luis Gonzalez beating one of the best closers of all time, Mariano Rivera, by lofting a single over the drawn-in Derek Jeter and plating Jay Bell with the winning run.
Ironically, New York, New York by Frank Sinatra played in the background.
“It was just incredible. The place erupted. It’s almost hard to describe. People were hugging each other, jumping up and down, throwing things up in the air onto the field,” Artigue said. “Nobody left their seats. Nobody wanted to leave. You just stay there in those moments to embrace, receive the experience taken in and capture it for your memory.”
It truly was an incredible moment for the history books.
“My son was 4 at the time. I grabbed him and went out on the field after the game. He had his head buried in my shoulder because he was scared of the raucous crowd and the whole bit, and I said, ‘Dude, look around, I want you to remember this, because odds are this will be a once in a lifetime experience,’” Brubaker said.
Indeed, it turned out to be one.
The Diamondbacks became the first team in the history of Major League Baseball to win it all in just their fourth year of existence.
However, it was not easy.
The New York Yankees were coming off one of the most tragic events in United States history — the terrorist attacks on September 11.
When the D-Backs traveled to New York for Games 3, 4 and 5, they were able to observe Ground Zero and the smoldering remains.
“That whole environment was a sad, scary environment even still (in) September. This was almost two months later (and) you can still smell the burning wreckage and the flesh… so it was really weird,” said Rich Dozer, the former D-Backs’ president.
Some administrative members did not travel to New York in fear of terrorist threats that were still looming at the time.
The Yankees, usually hated by all with the exception of their beloved fans, suddenly became the team everybody wanted to win.
“With all the things that were going on in the country and in the world, the World Series, I think, brought some healing to the country,” Brubaker said. “Baseball and America are very synonymous.”
What seemed like a lost cause at the time, wasn’t.
Artigue, Brubaker and Diamondbacks fans shared the same sentiment — beating Rivera, an eventual lock for the Hall of Fame, would be impossible.
“I actually thought we were going to lose when Mariano Rivera went on the mound … I had my young son next to me … and I was already prepping him … for what I thought would be a loss. We had a great year. It was fun. No matter what happens, we had a great team. We will be back next year because you don’t get hits off Rivera … but it didn’t go that way,” Artigue said.
Looking back 20 years later, the 2001 World Series was so unconventional, yet so awe-inspiring.
“It was like a dream. It was a dream year that just every time something bad happened, something great happened to counteract it, and we ended up winning and winning. It was fun,” Dozer said.
The series was beyond memorable for all who attended or watched from afar.
“Winning a World Series anytime is thrilling. (It is) what any professional sports franchise sets out to do as their primary goal. But to do it in that short amount of time, just made it extra special, and then to do it in that incredible and tragic year against the backdrop of the 9/11 tragedy against the team that hails from that city — the storied New York Yankees,” Artigue said. “Those are just layers on top of layers. It was incredibly special, monumental, and even a bit historic.”
Win a World Series. Those four words, written as a lark, still resonate loudly two decades later.