PHOENIX -- For Derrick Hall, the miracle isn't going to be the fact that his Arizona Diamondbacks will finally host the All-Star Game at Chase Field on July 12. The miracle will be that his father, Larry, is expected to be there. Larry, 67, has been battling pancreatic cancer for almost three years and is one of the rare survivors. "He's incredible," said Hall, the D-backs president and chief executive who serves on the National Advisory Council for Pancreatic Cancer, one of 27 boards he sits on. "Most pancreatic cancer patients are gone within three months."
The Hall family's fighting spirit exemplifies the D-backs' ethos. Ken Kendrick, the team's managing general partner, is a seven-year survivor of prostate cancer and suffers from Type 2 diabetes. When Kendrick took over the franchise in 2004 from Jerry Colangelo, the ballclub was in a precarious financial state and the purpose with which he faced righting that ship mirrored the toughness he's exhibited in his own life. Kendrick is dogmatic about doing the necessary periodic tests to make sure that his blood sugar and PSA are in check. "You have to be vigilant," he said. Aside from hosting the All-Star Game, this has been a banner year for the D-backs. Along with the Rockies, they opened their wildly successful Salt River Fields at Talking Stick complex in nearby Scottsdale, Ariz., where a record 359,308 attended Spring Training games. Later this summer, the D-backs will commemorate the 10-year anniversary of winning their only World Series, a seven-game thriller over the Yankees. The team on the field has rebounded after a pair of down seasons and is vying for first-place with the defending World Series champion Giants in the National League West. The organization has turned over. In their short 14-year existence, the D-backs have had three general managers. Since 2004, the club has been led by five different skippers. But Kendrick has been the constant. Kendrick is an original limited and general partner in the franchise that was born and joined the NL as an expansion team in 1998. He made his fortune in banking and software. Hall has a public relations background with the Dodgers and was hired as vice president of communications in 2005, shortly after Kendrick took over the club and brought in Jeff Moorad, a former player agent, as a general partner. Taking over running the team wasn't what Kendrick envisioned. But at the time he assumed that role, the club had $250 million in unfunded deferred salary payments to a group of players who helped the D-backs win the 2001 title. "He came in when he was needed," said Hall, who was hired by Moorad. "If he didn't, we may not have a franchise today." That debt and a repayment plan had to be restructured. Kendrick said those payments of about $15 million a year will largely be finished at the end of the 2012 season, freeing up much-needed cash to spend on what will be the current team. "When I joined the franchise as a limited partner, I certainly didn't aspire to the role I now have," Kendrick said. "It came about because previous leadership reached out to me at a time of financial stress to put a new group together to re-energize the team financially. It became obvious that we needed someone with a sense of fiduciary duty, and I chose to do it." Under the new structure, it didn't take long for Hall to ascend to the club's presidency. And when Moorad left in 2009 to pursue what is now a minority stake and a leadership role with the Padres, Hall became chief executive, too. It was a quick leap in a very short period of time. Hall revealed that at the time of Moorad's departure, he was vying for the commissionership of the Pac-10. Yet Moorad's leaving came as a complete surprise to Hall, and that day, Kendrick asked him to add CEO to his title. "I originally came over in communications and then I ran business operations," Hall said. "I had all budgetary responsibilities and I was in charge of all sales. It was a quick study. I think because of my relationships in baseball, with the media and fans it made it an easier transition. My mentors in baseball have always been Commissioner Bud Selig and [former Dodgers owner] Peter O'Malley -- two different personalities and two different philosophies." There were some fits and starts for both men. Kendrick hired Wally Backman to manage the team on the field in 2005 without a complete vetting of Backman's personal issues. Hall had a problematic relationship with general manager Josh Byrnes, who was dismissed last July 1 along with manager A.J. Hinch. Moorad handpicked Byrnes. "I inherited a lot," Hall said. "There have been a lot of changes, but now I feel that this is my organization. The business side is working well with the baseball side. We're all on the same page. Working for Ken is really good. He's an owner who lets you make decisions. He challenges you a little bit. But he cares. He wants to win. Ken has so much passion and such a good heart." Hall has his heart in the right place as well. He's an active participant in every D-backs home game, interacting with fans, returning e-mails, fielding complaints and putting out brush fires. He's visible to all in a seat near the D-backs dugout. The smiles are back all the way around and Hall is beaming. On July 12, he'll have the ultimate. The D-backs will host the All-Star Game and his dad is expected to be there with him, continuing to fight the good fight.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.