You're going to hear the phase, "A new beginning" a lot this year. You're going to hear about young players, young front office execs, new uniforms, a redesigned stadium and 'fresh starts.' All of that will be true. All of that will signify a changing of the guard, but it won't be official until April 30th. That's when Luis Gonzalez will come back to Phoenix as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. When Gonzo steps on the field, likely to a huge ovation from the D'Backs faithful, that will be the moment when the guard changes. That will be the moment when one era ends and another begins.
Luis Gonzalez was going to go somewhere. He wasn't ready to retire, even if the D'Backs were ready to move on. And he is a competitor, so you knew he wasn't going to Baltimore, he wanted to stay close to home. Will he revert to his 1994 form? Nope, he's not going to suddenly find the power stroke, certainly not in Chavez Ravine.
He's not going to be a Dodger for long. Maybe two or three years. And when he retires, he's going to always and forever be thought of as a Diamondback. No matter what happens in L.A. Even if the Dodgers go to The Series, and even if Gonzo picks up the series winning hit, that bloop single against Mariano Rivera is going to be his defining moment. He knows it, he's happy about it.
But here's on thing you can count on. Luis Gonzalez is going to be a thorn in the D'Backs side. He's might hit .230 for the season, but he'll hit .400 against the Diamondbacks. He might hit 15 homers all year, but three of them will be at Chase Field. More likely is that Gonzo will double us to death. He's a smart player, and showed it last season. The power wasn't there, the ball wasn't traveling off his bat, and so he started going the other way, shooting the gaps and winding up at second. He did it the entire second half, and he did it enough to finish second in the league in doubles.
He's going to do it again and again, and the people who will be under the most pressure April 30th, May 1st and May 2nd, when the Dodgers arrive in Phoenix for the first time of the 2007 season will not be Luis Gonzalez, or the man replacing him in left field, Eric Byrnes. It will be Carlos Quentin, who's success in 2006 made it feasible for the D'Backs to let Gonzo walk, and Josh Byrnes, the General Manager who ultimately made the call (and the correct call I might add) to let the face of the organization go to the division rival Dodgers.
Gonzo will, undoubtedly, be greeted warmly. The fans will remember the years of charity work, the infectious smile, the 54 home runs, the triplets, and of course the bloop single. They will remember the face of the organization, the most recognizable D'Back ever. There will likely be some sort of retrospective on every local channel in the city. FSN will probably devote a full hour to remembering what he did, and it will feature a very different looking player, for as much as those Dodger blues will look strange on Gonzo, remember that all those clips are going to show Luis Gonzalez in the teal pinstripes, while his former team will be in their new 'Sedona Red' unis.
Not that it will somehow look foreign. In fact, just a month into the season, it will probably be refreshing for D'Back fans to see those old uniforms, just as it will be refreshing for D'Back fans to see their old player. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling might have had more of a direct impact on the team that won the World Series, but Randy was surly and ran to New York, taking the hated Steinbrenner's money, and Curt will be remembered more for his other World Series victory, bloody sock and all, in Boston. Mark Grace has had more of an impact as a broadcaster than he had as a player. Who else was there? Counsel was key, but he's headed to Milwaukee, twice now. Matt Williams, Steve Finley, Jay Bell and BK Kim have all come and gone, never reaching the same heights as they did in AZ. Gonzo may not have either, but he stayed. He kept going, playing with a bad elbow in a season that was lost, going out with style and never bashing management, even after Ken Kendrick essentially accused him of using steroids, even after Carlos Quentin replaced him in the lineup just as he was getting hot. He wasn't just what you wanted a D'Backs to be, he was what you wanted a professional to be.
It was always Gonzo. It will be Gonzo for a long time too. Quentin, Chris Young, Conor Jackson and Stephen Drew are the future of the club. But in the same way the Brandon Webb will be working in the shadow of Johnson and Schilling for several years to come, all those youngsters (particularly Quentin and Young because they are in his outfield) are going to be working in Gonzo's shadow for several years. Luis Gonzalez certainly isn't the future of the club, and he's not even the present of the D'Backs, but he isn't quite the past yet.