Gonzo, Counsell overwhelmed by fans

Gonzo, Counsell overwhelmed by support

PHOENIX -- They came and cheered. And then they did it some more. And when they were done with that, they cheered again.

A regular-season record paid crowd of 48,946 shoehorned their way into Chase Field on Sunday. They filled up every seat and overflowed the ballpark with gratitude.

On a day that had a playoff atmosphere, the fans showed their appreciation for Luis Gonzalez and Craig Counsell, a pair of franchise icons who were playing their final game in Arizona uniforms.

"I couldn't believe how many people were here," Counsell marveled after the game. "They just kept cheering. It was great. Gonzo and I talked and we felt like we were playing in the playoffs again. You got the same feelings that we felt five years ago in October. It was pretty good to feel like that again, to get those same butterflies in your stomach, that great nervousness which is the reason you love playing in October."

The tone for the day was set early as the crowd gave Gonzalez a standing ovation when he started running warmup sprints in the outfield prior to the game. Gonzalez's No. 20 was painted in the left field grass, while a No. 4 in Counsell's honor was painted in the infield dirt behind second base.

Counsell led off the bottom of the first and was greeted with a standing ovation, and two batters later, when Gonzalez was announced to a raucous ovation, he walked over to the stands just to the first-base side of the backstop and leaned over to hug Jerry Colangelo. It was Colangelo who owned the club for much of Gonzalez's time in the Valley. He then walked over to the third-base side of the backstop and hugged former general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. and outgoing team president Rich Dozer.

It was a plan Gonzalez hatched after tossing and turning the past several nights trying to come up with something to pay tribute to the three. Concerned that the Padres might take offense, he phoned Padres starter Woody Williams on Friday to gauge his reaction, and Williams told him to do what he thought he had to do.

"I just figured there was no better way for me to honor those guys that had meant so much to me and believing in my abilities to come here and play and give me an opportunity to play here for the last eight years, to try to pay them a little bit of a tribute," Gonzalez said. "Hopefully, the fans got to see who I was acknowledging and things like that, because those guys mean a lot to me."

Gonzalez wouldn't have had to hope that had he seen the greeting that Colangelo got when he tried to make a low-key entrance just prior to the game. As he walked down to his seats, a murmur ran through the crowd that turned into an ovation that included chants of "Jer-ry, Jer-ry."

Known as the man who brought baseball to Arizona, Colangelo is immensely popular in the state, and Sunday marked his first appearance at the ballpark since his ouster as managing general partner in August 2004.

A six-run fourth inning by the Padres that certainly damaged Arizona starter Brandon Webb's Cy Young Award aspirations quieted the crowd a bit, but Counsell electrified the fans when he led off the bottom of the fourth with a home run to right.

"Those things are so rare for me, so to do it on a day like today, it was pretty special," said Counsell, who took a curtain call after just his fourth homer of the year.

That was Counsell's lone hit of the day, and Gonzalez was 0-for-4, but that couldn't take away from the moment.

In the ninth, manager Bob Melvin sent Miguel Batista, another veteran of the 2001 team who might not be back next year, in to pitch and removed him after one out to allow him to receive a standing ovation.

Just before that, Melvin sent Stephen Drew out to short to replace Counsell, as the veteran exited to yet another standing ovation.

And finally, with one out in the inning, Scott Hairston jogged out to left to replace Gonzalez. It was not only a special moment for Gonzalez, but also for Hairston, who is an Arizona native who rooted for Gonzalez.

That's something that Hairston had kept to himself until Sunday morning, when he approached Gonzalez in the clubhouse to tell him about how he used to watch him on television. As Gonzalez started to leave the field, he and Hairston embraced and shared a few words.

After the game, the D-Backs did their annual "Shirts off our D-Backs," as they selected fans at random to receive jerseys handed to them by each player. Counsell and Gonzalez were the final two to give away their jerseys, and a video tribute to each was played just beforehand.

Then Colangelo, Garagiola and Dozer joined the pair on the field, where they were given one last ovation and told that they would each receive replicas of the 2001 World Series trophy.

"I want to thank everybody for coming out today," Gonzalez said. "I want to thank you, the fans, for not only being the best fans, but for being family to us. Thank you."

The group then excited to one final standing ovation.

"[The plan was to be brief], because I didn't want to cry," said Gonzalez, who plans to continue his career with another team next season. "There's no crying in baseball. I'd already cried a few times. There was a lot of tear jerkers. There were a lot of times I had to get out of camera's view and stuff like that. I love playing this game. But there was times where I was just so overwhelmed by stuff, the way everything was happening."

His final day at Chase Field, which started with the grounds crew jokingly putting a "For Rent" sign on his parking space, was set to last long into the night.

"I'm going to stay here a long time tonight," Gonzalez said. "Just hang out with the guys, the clubhouse guys and the people close to me. Send my family home and just kind of stay in here with those guys as long as I can, before they pull my parking card and everything, and I can't get in here anymore.

"For me, playing the game is great. But it's the people that you meet along the way that means the most."

On Sunday at Chase Field, Diamondbacks fans showed him just how much he meant to them.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.