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D’back rookies show potential to festive fans


SCOTTSDALE – Opening night for the Phoenix Diamondbacks, the rookie team affiliate of the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks, brought out big stars, little stars and future stars.

Arizona Diamondbacks general managing partner Jerry Colangelo threw out the first pitch – which was high and outside – to catcher Joshua McAffee.

Six-year-old Brittany Farrar sang the national anthem.

Diamondbacks outfielder Juan Garcia gained instant stardom and became the answer to a trivia question. He’s the first Diamondback to hit home runs in his first two at-bats.

A crowd of 6,124 was on hand as festive ceremonies warmed up the fans at Scottsdale Stadium last night.

The team will not begin play until 1998 – Tucson will be its spring training home – but the excitement and novelty of seeing a new team were evident.

Some fans watched the game from grassy slopes in left and right field.

The Desert City Six band, regulars at Phoenix Suns games, performed before the first pitch and during the seventh-inning stretch.

Children and grown-ups wearing Diamondbacks clothing leaned on top of the Phoenix dugout to get autographs from youthful players signing autographs for the first time.

By the middle of the fifth inning, many fans started to file out of the stadium, the Diamondbacks trailing by six runs.

Still, hundreds stayed to get autographs from players despite the Diamondbacks losing, 15-7, to the Phoenix A’s.

“This is truly a unique situation,’ said Diamondbacks director of field operations Tommy Jones. “This is the highest attendance number in rookie baseball. Maybe never again will there be a crowd that comes close to this.’

One local television station conducted a 30-minute, live broadcast from the stadium, interviewing Arizona Diamondbacks manager-in-waiting Buck Showalter and Phoenix Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons.

Clearly, it was something out of the ordinary for an Arizona Rookie League game, which usually is lucky to attract 100 fans.

“This league was developed to be played at the spring training complex to hide these players until they’re ready for public consumption,’ Jones said. “We threw these guys in there right off the bat, and we’re proud of the way it came out.

“It was a great environment. It was great for these players to get a feel of what Triple A baseball (the Phoenix Firebirds of the Pacific Coast League play at Scottsdale Stadium) is all about.’

Right-fielder Jerry Proctor, the Diamondbacks’ No. 2 draft choice, says the largest crowd he ever played in front of before last night was 300.

“I was a little nervous. Then I got used to it (the crowd),’ said Proctor, who collected two hits in his pro debut.

The Diamondbacks’ roster consisted of 14 players chosen in this month’s draft and 17 non-drafted free agents. The Dominican Republic is well-represented on the squad, with 11 players.

“We have a lot of players going through the motion of their first professional game. We saw a lot of good things,’ Jones said.

The Diamondback rookies play the A’s again today at 10 a.m. at the Papago Park Baseball Complex.

PHOTOS: A grand opening

The Associated Press/Diamondbacks Ryan Kempton (from left) Marc Van Wormer, Nick Bierbrodt and Rod Allen before the game

Diamondback Jose Nunez gets back to first to avoid a pick-off attempt by A’s first baseman Braulio Goris.

Diamondback players sign autographs before the game.

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