If you're looking for the events that brought people to Arizona,
you have to focus on the invention of air conditioning, which
made summers bearable here, and on the military's decision to
build bases throughout the state during World War II to train
hundreds of thousands of men and women, introducing many of them
to our great state for the first time. ¬∂ But if you're in search
of the event that brought the people of Arizona together, that's
pretty simple: the 2001 World Series, when our Diamondbacks beat
the New York Yankees in Game 7 before the home crowd on a perfect
November night. Luis Gonzalez's bloop single to leftfield scored
Jay Bell, completing a two-run, ninth-inning comeback for a 3-2
win that gave the Diamondbacks a championship in just their fourth season, a record for a baseball expansion team.
That was the most unifying event in Arizona since statehood was
granted to us in 1912. I'll never forget the night of the seventh
game, leaving the stadium, which is in south Phoenix, and seeing
tens of thousands of our Hispanic citizens in the streets
celebrating. Later, there was a parade that 400,000 people
attended. Everyone was joyous that our state was home to the
world champions--and they felt that way even though they might
have arrived only a week earlier. It was a pride in the state of
Arizona that I think was without precedent.
Maybe the reason the Diamondbacks' victory was such a big deal
has to do with the makeup of our state. You have to understand
how quickly Arizona's population has grown. At the end of WWII,
Phoenix had a population of barely 100,000. Now it has more than
three million people. That means people in Arizona are usually
from someplace else.
Many times they bring their loyalties with them. In the
springtime the toughest ticket to get in Arizona is to the
Chicago Cubs' Cactus League games. That's because so many folks
down here are originally from Illinois. Unfortunately, that
sometimes means that the crowd isn't entirely behind the home
team--like at the Arizona Cardinals game against the Green Bay
Packers in September, where there were more Cheeseheads than
Cardinals hats in the stands.
While we've certainly had great collegiate success in basketball
and baseball, we don't have much of a pro sports history in
Arizona. We've had the Suns for a long time, but the Coyotes, the
Cardinals and the Diamondbacks are, like many of our citizens,
relatively new to the state. Before the '01 World Series the
biggest pro sports moment in Arizona came when Charles Barkley
and the Suns lost to the Chicago Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals.
Charles is probably still the most popular athlete in the state,
and he hasn't played here in years. He may want to run for
governor in his home state of Alabama, but I think he'd be a lock
to win if he ran in Arizona.
I was a mediocre athlete growing up, and that is what makes me
stand in awe of the incredible individuals on our pro teams. In
high school I played football and wrestled and boxed. At the
Naval Academy I boxed and wrestled. All, as I say, at a very
mediocre level. But I enjoyed the competition, loved the exercise
and grew to hate losing.
I remain a huge sports fan, and most of the folks in Arizona know
it. A lot of them come up to me just to discuss sports. I go on
the sports talk-radio shows. I go to whatever pro or college game
I can. My wife says I would watch the thumb-suckers play the bed
When I'm at a game, I get to hear a lot of the concerns of other
folks in the stands. On the sports front two issues continue to
come up: The first is the Olympic scandals and what we in
government might be able to do to fix them; the second is the use
of steroids. A hell of a lot of people talk to me about that,
wondering whether any of today's athletic feats are performed
without the help of drugs.
But no matter the issues that may bring sports down, the '01
World Series will remain a remarkable, unifying event that I'll
never forget. All over Arizona you saw people wearing
Diamondbacks paraphernalia. And you saw a dramatic dropoff in
Cubs hats for the first time!
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY JOE CIARDIELLO
John McCain (R., Ariz.) is serving his third term in the U.S.
Senate and resides in Phoenix with his wife, Cindy.