It’s Saturday afternoon, and a multitude of fans — 25,000 total throughout a day defined by a peek-a-boo sun — meander underneath Chase Field’s retractable roof for the annual D-Backs FanFest.
The day is a prelude to the upcoming season — an opportunity for the Diamondback faithful to snag a few autographs, take a few cuts against a Wiffle Ball-lobbing Wade Miley and, most importantly, bask in the glow of the lovely optimism that comes before the realities of a 162-game season commence.
Late in the day of festivities is a question and answer session in centerfield with five of the Diamondbacks’ newest acquisitions. While three of them — pitcher Brandon McCarthy and outfielders Cody Ross and Martin Prado — will make their mark on the team on the field, the other two are tasked with guiding many of the team’s fans through a season guaranteed to have its fair share of ups and downs.
Those two men are returning color analyst Bob Brenly and play-by-play announcer Steve Berthiaume, and their goal is to provide viewers with a thorough, cerebral and spontaneous experience every game.
Hired to replace the departed Mark Grace and Daron Sutton — the former pleaded guilty to a DUI charge earlier this month; the latter not retained for what CEO Derrick Hall reportedly called “philosophical differences” — the new faces of the on-air broadcasts come to the team from very different backgrounds.
The avuncular Brenly is a former major league catcher, turned broadcaster, turned manager, turned broadcaster again, whose third career turn is the most appreciated among Diamondback fans.
That arc started in 2001 — the year he led the team to a seven-game World Series victory over the New York Yankees — and ran through into midseason 2004. Brenly compiled a 303-262 regular-season and a modicum of fondness among the Diamondbacks faithful.
He’s still pretty popular among the fans — “Welcome Home, Bob,” was a common refrain during the Q & A session — as well as players like Prado and Miguel Montero and coach Steve Sax, who all stopped to greet him before he stepped on stage.
After the Diamondbacks fired him 79 games into the 2004 season, Brenly became the Chicago Cubs’ color analyst and worked alongside play-by-play announcer Len Kasper on WGN for eight years, during which the two developed an entertaining and informative rapport.
The decision to come back to Arizona once his contract with the Cubs ended came as a result of a couple years worth of discussions with his wife, Joan, about returning to the place they consider home. As he put it, there were “too many positives” against a return to the Valley.
“Not to take any shots at the Cubbies, but we had some tough years over the last eight; there were days when you pulled into that parking lot at the ballpark and you knew you were going to have to work to fill three hours of airtime,” he said. “I’m sure there’ll be many days like that here, but I like the look of this team. I’m excited about the young talent and the direction they’re going and the guys I’ve had a chance to sit and really talk to are just as excited as I am. And that enthusiasm will carry you a long way in what becomes a very long season.”
Berthiaume lacks the local cachet of his new partner among Diamondback fans, but he brings a little more national renown from his decade-plus run as an ESPN anchor on “SportsCenter” and “Baseball Tonight.”
He also has a reputation for having a sizable posse on Twitter — one Diamondbacks’ noting him a “Twitter fiend” on Saturday — with 79,600 followers as of Saturday afternoon (Berthiaume pushed the title to McCarthy, who’s abutting 106,000 followers thanks to his self-deprecating sense of humor and self-professed snark).
He won’t have the fan base he did at ESPN, but the trade-off for the move to the desert with his wife — fellow former “SportsCenter” anchor Cindy Brunson — is the chance to transition to play-by-play work, which he’s done on occasion during the College World Series for ESPN, full time.
“Being in the ballpark for me, it’s a dream come true,” he said. “I feel like I won the lottery.”