Arizona Diamondbacks bring a different kind of swagger to the World Series

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Only two years ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks were the worst team in baseball. Not just bad, but historically bad, losing 110 games out of 162.

As recently as July and August, the Diamondbacks were once again baseball’s doormats and their season seemed all but over.

That was only two months ago.

Today the Diamondbacks are in the World Series.

Having already defied the experts and oddsmakers by winning the National League pennant, this team is scaring people.

Diamondbacks went from worst to first

You will be forgiven if their whiplashing turn from worst to first strikes you as unnatural, even supernatural. You can’t explain it alone by better hitting and pitching.

The ancient Hindus believed there was mystical power in the symbol of the snake. So too, did the Buddhists. Greek and Roman mythology is replete with images of the serpent, as are the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt.

Here in Arizona, the Hopi still perform an age-old snake dance to summon the storm clouds and awaken the desert soil.

So, perhaps it is fate that brings us here — the Arizona Diamondbacks on the cusp of a world championship just as clouds of menace gather on the horizon.

What an eerie similarity to the last time the Diamondbacks got to baseball’s grand finale.

Their last World Series happened in war

In 2001, the war drums were not just some faint echo in the offing, as they are today. They were booming and filling Americans with dread.

Enemies we scarcely understood had just gashed our homeland the month before, turning airliners into missiles and planting them into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a grassy field southeast of Pittsburgh.

If you are old enough to remember, you recall the tension that gripped the country and the fresh sorrow felt for the thousands of New Yorkers who had just lost their lives in the collapse of the World Trade Center.

In a normal year, America would have rooted against the New York Yankees, who had just won the last three World Series. But New York City was bleeding, having lost 2,000 citizens and some 350 first responders in the Sept. 11 attack.

The Yankees were the sentimental favorites, and even the Diamondbacks players and coaches were genuinely grieving for the people of New York.

It was a time of fear ... and cohesion

America had been staggered. Not just by war. But by the psychological blow that people far away hated us enough to kill us.

I remember my wife and I putting our small kids to bed and later whispering our worst fears. What kind of world will they grow up in?

The nation was divided, but nothing like it is today. Republicans and Democrats felt the need to come together to confront our enemies.

In that sense, the 2001 World Series was a pageant for national cohesion.

Before game three, rumors flowed that President George W. Bush was in the house and would be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. When Bush walked out on the field, our partisan differences melted away.

How baseball saved us in 2023: As it did in 2001

A city that would have booed him only two months before roundly cheered the president.

Bush understood the moment and threw a perfect strike. The crowd erupted. America was getting its swagger back.

When the Diamondbacks won the seventh game on a soft looper, there was joy in Mudville — a delirious pandemonium in our baseball backwater. Phoenix had just beat the New York Yankees!

For a week we savored and paraded. Then it was back to worrying about our world.

2023 World Series has a different mood

Today, the mood is much different.

Americans only sense something lurks on the horizon as the Middle East bursts into flames again.

A terrorist attack that caught the Israeli Defense Forces napping on Oct. 7 killed some 1,400 mostly Israeli Jews, including 31 Americans.

A week ago, I was talking informally to a man who has spent a career highly perched in our national defense. I asked him his opinion of the global threat.

He said, “If the Israelis were sleeping, the United States is comatose.”

His comment echoed the recent warning of Robert Gates, the former U.S. secretary of Defense, who wrote on Sept. 29 in Foreign Affairs:

“The United States now confronts graver threats to its security than it has in decades, perhaps ever.

Gates wrote that a week before Hamas attacked Israel.

America is sleepwalking into WWIII

Across the country, Americans are only beginning to stir.

Elon Musk, perhaps the most powerful civilian on the planet, warned on Monday, “I think we are sleepwalking into World War III.”

The defense expert I talked to last week said the United States could quite suddenly find itself in a war fought on our shores, and that Americans would find that shocking — in that it hasn’t happened much in our history.

But it did happen. And only two decades ago on Sept. 11, when radical Islam declared war on us with attacks on New York and Arlington, Va.

Americans then had to gather themselves as they do today.

And there was baseball speaking to us from the past, reminding us that our national game and our people have endured and survived two world wars, a Great Depression, the assassinations of presidents and the social upheaval of the Vietnam War.

What we have that 2001 DBacks didn't

Today, we are a people grown more diverse, and the Arizona Diamondbacks of 2023 are an expression of that change.

Unlike the team that took the title in 2001, the 2023 DBacks are a mostly a collection of young no-names with a certain Latin vibe.

Latin America has become a talent pool for Major League Baseball as it has for the United States in general. And the DBacks have dipped their ladle generously into it.

This is where Arizona is dangerous.

Ketel Marte, Gabriel Moreno, Jose Herrera, Geraldo Perdomo ... and many more. Our roster is loaded with Latin American ballplayers who play baseball the way it is meant to be played — as a game — not as a business.

Our Latino backbone is our strength

We live in a city that is changing like our national pastime. A majority of our public school kids in Phoenix are now Latino.

Latinos are quickly becoming the vital core of our community and bringing a culture that is vibrant and upbeat. Very soon they will be the ballast in our society, ready for the moment when they call the shots and endure the slings and arrows of all the critics.

I’m warmed by that thought, and especially by their love of baseball.

A few months ago, my elderly mother was in the hospital struggling with pneumonia. It was a stressful moment for my sisters and I as we took turns staying by her side.

One day, I carried my worries into an elevator at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital. On that elevator was a young Latino father and son.

The boy looked about 9 or 10 years old, and I instantly spied his Sedona red. He was wearing a Diamondbacks T-shirt and a ballcap lined with DBacks pins.

I had to smile. I knew that kid. He reminded me of me when I was 9 years old.

When the elevator doors opened, I walked out.

And all was well with the world.

Phil Boas is an editorial columnist for the Arizona Republic. He can be reached at phil.boas@arizonarepublic.com.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Diamondbacks bring a different kind of swagger to the World Series