There is no tailwind in Arizona. There is no hype preceding our baseball team. It feels like the yawn of a new era.
But the Diamondbacks are always most dangerous when doubted. And you’ll find no bigger underdog than Mike Hazen.
The D-backs’ general manager and his family are dealing with a horrible, unexpected ordeal entering the 2021 season. Hazen’s wife, Nicole, was diagnosed last July with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that is very difficult to treat.
She’s only 44, and has already endured surgery followed by six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“It’s actually been a long nine months, grinding through last year, starting in about May, unfortunately, when she had her first seizure,” Hazen told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Tuesday. “It came as a complete shock and surprise what was in there. And, you know, it’s been a long road for her.”
Under normal circumstances, Hazen would be under significant pressure in 2021. The Diamondbacks are losing ground in the National League West. While Arizona’s farm system is highly regarded, the Padres are the team with the transcendent young superstar and the captive audience.
Hazen still ranks among baseball’s brightest young minds. But unlike the Tampa Bay Rays, which developed a unique, low-budget methodology to cope with the big-spending juggernauts in Boston and New York, Hazen has not been able to crack the code in Arizona.
He is coming off his first losing record as GM, a year when the Diamondbacks finished 18 games out of first place in a 60-game season. He did little to fortify a lukewarm, low-ceiling roster that rarely crossed home plate and bored the Valley to tears.
“We’re not blind to what two of the bigger teams in our division have gone out and done this offseason,” Hazen said. “We respect that. But they still have to go through 162 games, as well.”
Clearly, Hazen is also operating under strict payroll constraints after the Diamondbacks claimed to lose in the vicinity of $100 million during the 2020 season, with further losses looming in 2021.
But chances are, Hazen is looking at job pressure a lot differently these days. His wife is battling for her life. Hazen said his family is researching experimental treatments, scouring every community for signs of hope, desperate for anything that resembles a winning path. The story is positively gutting.
It puts last season in a different light, a year when Hazen was forced to juggle a flailing team with a family crisis, working on trades from hospitals and doctor’s offices. It makes the heart weep for a simpler time, like when Hazen and his wife first went house shopping in the Valley (He wanted a fixer-upper; she preferred the bells and whistles). Or when their four boys were astounded at how you could play baseball all year long in Arizona, and not have to wait for fields to melt like back home in Massachusetts.
“Unlike a lot of people in the community, I don’t really golf,” Hazen said. “I don’t really have a lot of hobbies. I have two things: my family and baseball …
“You have to adjust. There’s been a lot more Zoom calls with doctors across the country, oncologists, surgeons and clinical trial experimentation consults. But then there’s baseball and then there’s the kids and, thankfully, as screwy as this is, COVID was a little bit of a blessing in disguise.”
In short, the pandemic allowed Hazen to work from home for the first time in his baseball life, and the job constraints came at a perfect time, allowing an upended family to spend lots of time together when they needed it most.
So, please, hope for the best when it comes to the Diamondbacks in 2021. But save your prayers for Hazen and his family.
“Unfortunately, the nature of this thing is very tricky,” Hazen said.
And solutions are much easier to find in baseball. Even when you’re chasing the Dodgers.