D-backs hope fancy new spring home signals new era

Fields of perfectly green grass, an expansive clubhouse next

door to a training room that opens to a view of the nearby desert

hills.

Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers and catchers reported to the

team’s swanky new spring training digs on Sunday with the idea

that, with the paint barely dry, the surroundings will symbolize a

rebirth of a franchise that has tumbled from contention to futility

in two miserable years.

”It’s going to be really easy to have a fresh start,” catcher

Miguel Montero said. ”Everybody’s just excited right now, with the

facility and all that. I don’t think anybody remembers about last

year. I don’t. It’s in the past. That’s the goal, just thinking

about the future.”

Kirk Gibson, beginning his first full season as manager, talked

about instilling ”the Diamondback way,” explained vaguely as an

attitude of unrelenting intense competition.

”I won’t say in six weeks it’s going to be done,” he said.

”But we’re going to keep building and building and building and we

won’t be deterred.”

The roster has been overhauled by new general manager Kevin

Towers, with an emphasis on revamping a bullpen that was among the

game’s worst. J.J. Putz is the new closer, with David Hernandez,

Kam Mickolio and Joe Paterson added as relievers.

Towers brought in veteran position players Xavier Nady, Henry

Blanco, Geoff Blum, Melvin Mora and Willie Bloomquist to add some

character to a bland roster.

”They play the game the right way and are not afraid to go out

and police the clubhouse,” Towers said. ”It shouldn’t be up to a

major league coaching staff all the time to take care of things

when there may be issues or somebody might not be following the

program.

”We’ve got the right character types that are going to

hopefully take a little bit of load off our younger players and

help show them how the game should be played and how you compete on

a daily basis over a 162-game schedule.”

Among the issues to be determined in the next six weeks are the

final two spots in a promising young rotation headed by Joe

Saunders, Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy. Zach Duke, Armando

Gallaraga and Barry Enright are the leading candidates to fill out

the five spots.

”Pitching-wise it’s going to be highly, highly competitive,

particularly probably in the rotation,” Towers said. ”We’ve got

seven or eight guys vying for five spots. You can’t get through a

162-game schedule with just five, so my hope is that we have some

tough decisions to make on seven guys for those five and those that

don’t may end up in the bullpen but we’ve created some depth at

least if somebody goes down or something happens in the

season.”

Gibson said he arrived at the ballpark about 5 a.m., anxious to

begin organizing the workouts that start Monday for pitchers and

catchers. All players are to report on Saturday.

Most will need only take a short drive from their Phoenix-area

homes, as opposed to the two-hour trek down Interstate 10 to

Tucson, where the Diamondbacks had trained in the spring every year

since the franchise’s 1998 inception.

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, shared by the Diamondbacks

and Colorado Rockies, was built for about $130 million by the Salt

River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community on the outskirts of north

Scottsdale, across the freeway from the tribes’ Talking Stick

casino and resort.

Arizona’s 65-97 record last year was third-worst in baseball,

behind only Seattle (61-101) and Pittsburgh (57-105).

Despite that awful recent history, the Diamondbacks can win the

NL West, Towers insists.

”Why not?” he said. ”I wouldn’t be in this business if I

didn’t think you had a chance to win. It will be tough, it will be

difficult. The NL West has probably been the most volatile division

that there’s been and I think we’ve got some good players here.

”It’s really ultimately going to come down to our pitching,”

he said. ”If we pitch well, there’s no reason we can’t win the

division.”