A city, young and brash, suits up to be World Series spoiler

PHOENIX

When Bank One Ballpark's retractable dome rolls back tomorrow before Game 1 of the World Series, cameras inside will pan north over rows of office towers set like chess pieces along the wide central corridor of downtown. They'll pull back to show the tidy outline of historic neighborhoods, contemporary housing developments, parks, shopping malls, and open desert that stretches for miles in every direction, leading to the zigzag silhouette of mountains.

It's a picture of a self-assured, mature Southwestern metropolis that a worldwide television audience might find too good to be true. At least, I hope so.

Phoenix may look fully grown, but it's still a kid. Phoenix has just started shaving. It doesn't yet have its driver's license. Phoenix hasn't decided what it wants to be when it grows up. In comic strip terms, if New York is Mr. Wilson (and it is), Phoenix is Dennis the Menace.

And that's exactly how we like it.

In the 1980s, Charlie Keating led America into the financial black hole of the savings-and-loan disaster from his palatial estate in Phoenix. Two of Arizona's last four governors have been forced from office, one by impeachment and the other by criminal indictment.

Phoenix is the home of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Boston-born son of Italian immigrants who put inmates in pink underwear and managed to convince every major television newsmagazine that he's the "toughest sheriff in America." Just ask Morley Safer.

"We're still very young, historically, and sometimes we act like it," says Arizona's state historian Marshall Trimble. "But that's also one of the things that keeps us interesting."

Arizona's VIPs

A mature state never would have sent mavericks like Barry Goldwater, Mo Udall, and John McCain to Congress. Geronimo lived in Arizona. And Erma Bombeck. It's where Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor grew up. And Steven Spielberg. Alice Cooper lives here. Would a mature city have produced actor/comedian David Spade? If so, would it admit it?

The fact is, if Arizona were a mature state or Phoenix a mature city, we'd never be hosting the World Series. Baseball is in Phoenix because of a brash savvy businessman named Jerry Colangelo. A fixture in Phoenix since the 1960s, first as an executive with the Phoenix Suns, now as the managing general partner of the Diamondbacks, Mr. Colangelo stepped into the fray in the mid-'90s, when the latest effort to bring pro baseball to town failed. Colangelo knew what kind of stadium he wanted. He knew where he wanted to put it. And most important, he was able to persuade the local county board of supervisors to keep stadium funding off the ballot.

It was a wildly unpopular political decision that resulted in a wildly popular baseball franchise. That's what happens in a place that's young and impetuous.

In winning the National League pennant, the Arizona Diamondbacks gave Phoenix a sense of place, something that's tough to develop in a community where so many people come and go.

"I've lived here all my life," says Mr. Trimble. "I don't know what a World Series will do for us, besides providing wonderful exposure. But I believe that within the state, it is bringing people together. We all feel like we're a part of something."

A team of their own

Arizona is a place inhabited by people looking to make a fresh start, people who bring with them packing crates full of distant loyalties.

"Isn't it beautiful, what is happening now?" says Joe Garagiola Sr., the longtime broadcaster who makes his home in Phoenix. Mr. Garagiola's son, Joe Jr., is the Diamondbacks general manager. "A few years back, all you had here were Cubs fans and Dodger fans and Cardinal fans. Now, you've got something to bring the city together, something all of us who were born in other places can share. That's just what a city like this needs. Now the Yankees are coming to town. It's David versus Goliath. We're like the young tough boxer going against the tough old champ."

Given the recent national tragedy and all that New York has been through, a mature opponent of the Yankees might scale back its effort based on what some might call the greater good. A mature town might even join the rest of nation in backing the Yankees as sentimental favorites.

"I'd love to see us beat them in the series," Trimble says.

"This isn't politics," adds Garagiola. "This is baseball, and it would be great to knock the champs off that pedestal."

What can I tell you? Kids these days.

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