Tuesday, May 10, 2016

How to Be a New York Baseball Fan In Arizona -- 2016 Edition

Next Monday, the Yankees begin an Interleague series in Phoenix against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Mets go out there in August. Arizona in August? Serves them right.

Before You Go. AZcentral.com, the website for Phoenix's largest newspaper, the Arizona Republic, is predicting the low 70s for the evenings next week, but the mid-90s for the afternoons, peaking at 96 on Tuesday. Don't give me any of this "It's a dry heat" crap: That is too damn hot.

The roof will be closed, but you will have to spend some time outdoors. So stay hydrated. That means watch your alcohol consumption. It's the worst thing for you if you're dehydrated. I'm not kidding.

Arizona's infamous Daylight Savings Time issue has been settled: The State is on Mountain Time when New York is on Daylight Savings Time, and on Pacific Time when we're on Standard Time. This is the DST time of year. So you'll be on Pacific Time, 3 hours behind New Jersey and New York City. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Tickets. The Diamondbacks averaged 25,680 fans per home game last season, in a stadium whose listed capacity is 48,633. So you can probably show up on the day of the game and get any ticket you can afford. Still, as always, it's better to have them printed up from your computer before you leave the house.

In the lower level, Infield Boxes will cost $90, Baseline Boxes $80, Baseline Reserves $65, Bullpen Reserves (corners by the foul poles) $42 and Bleachers $38. In the upper level, MVP Boxes are $50, Infield Reserves $30, and Outfield Reserve $20.

Getting There. It’s 2,458 miles from Times Square to Chase Field in downtown Phoenix. In other words, if you're going, you're flying.

You think I'm kidding? Even if you get someone to go with you, and you take turns, one drives while the other one sleeps, and you pack 2 days' worth of food, and you use the side of the Interstate as a toilet, and you don’t get pulled over for speeding, you'll still need nearly 2 full days to get there. One way.

But, if you really, really want to... You'll need to get on the New Jersey Turnpike. Take it to Exit 14, to Interstate 78. Follow I-78 west all the way through New Jersey, to Phillipsburg, and across the Delaware River into Easton, Pennsylvania. Continue west on I-78 until reaching Harrisburg. There, you will merge onto I-81. Take Exit 52 to U.S. Route 11, which will soon take you onto I-76. This is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the nation’s first superhighway, opening in 1940.

The Turnpike will eventually be a joint run between I-76 and Interstate 70. Once that happens, you’ll stay on I-70, all the way past Pittsburgh, across the little northern panhandle of West Virginia, and then across Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, into Missouri.

At St. Louis, take Exit 40C onto Interstate 44 West, which will take you southwest across Missouri into Oklahoma.  Upon reaching Oklahoma City, take Interstate 40 West, through the rest of the State, across the Texas Panhandle and New Mexico, into Arizona.  At Flagstaff, take Interstate 17 South, which will take you into Phoenix.  Take Interstate 10 East to Exit 145, which will lead you to North 7th Street.  Chase Field is at 7th and East Jefferson St.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and 15 minutes in New Jersey, 5 hours and 30 minutes in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in West Virginia, 3 hours and 45 minutes in Ohio, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Indiana, another 2 hours and 45 minutes in Illinois, 5 hours in Missouri, 6 hours in Oklahoma, 3 hours in Texas, 6 hours and 15 minutes in New Mexico, and 5 hours and 15 minutes in Arizona. That’s about 41 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, you're porbably talking about 55 hours.

That’s still faster than Greyhound, averaging around 68 hours, including a 1:45 bus-change in Richmond, a 1:15 stopover in Charlotte, an hour's bus-change in Atlanta, an hour's stopover in Birmingham, a 45-minute stopover in Jackson, Mississippi, an hour's stopover in Shreveport, a 1:30 bus-change in Dallas (that's right, changing buses 3 times each way), and a 1:15 stopover in El Paso.

It's $398 round-trip, maybe as low as $318 if you order on advanced purchase. To get to Phoenix by Monday afternoon, you'll have to leave on Friday night. The station is at 2115 East Buckeye Road, adjacent to Sky Harbor International Airport. Number 13 bus to downtown.

The way Amtrak has it set up now, it's so convoluted that I can't even recommend looking it up.

Flights to Phoenix' Sky Harbor International Airpot, usually changing in Chicago or Dallas, are actually among the cheapest to any big-league city, and, if ordered ahead of time, can be had for under $600.

Once In the City. While the Diamondbacks have the State name as their geographic identifier -- apparently from a Native American word meaning "small spring" -- they play in Arizona's State capital, Phoenix. Jack Swilling, a Confederate veteran who founded the place in 1867, accepted the suggestion of a fellow settler, an Englishman named Lord Duppa: Since it was on the site of a previous Indian civilization, it should be named Phoenix, for the mythical bird that rose from its own ashes. The city was incorporated in 1881, making it the youngest city in American major league sports.

Home to just 100,000 people in 1950, Phoenix saw huge growth in the 2nd half of the 20th Century: 440,000 by 1960, 580,000 by 1970, 800,000 by 1980, and it surpassed the 1 million mark in the early 1990s. All this made it an expansion target: The NBA's expansion Suns arrived in 1968, the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals in 1988 (after the Philadelphia Eagles had to quash a moving-there rumor earlier in the decade), and the NHL's first Winnipeg Jets in 1997 (after the WHA had the Phoenix Roadrunners in the 1970s). Today, Phoenix is home to 1.5 million people, with 4.4 million in its metropolitan area.

The sales tax in Arizona is 5.6 percent, but it's 8.3 percent within the City of Phoenix. ZIP Codes for Arizona start with the digits 85 and 86, and the Area Codes are 602 (for Phoenix), 480 and 623 (for the suburbs).

Central Avenue is the source street for east-west house numbers; oddly, the north-south streets are numbered Streets to the east, and numbered Avenues to the west. Washington Street divides addresses into north and south.

A single ride on Phoenixbuses and Valley Metro Rail is $2.00, with an All-Day Pass a bargain at $4.00. With the ballpark being downtown and thus probably near your hotel, you probably won't need the light-rail system to get there. But in the heat, you may still want to take a cab. If you do take Metro Rail, it's Washington at 3rd Street station going westbound, and Jefferson at 3rd Street station going eastbound.
Light rail train stopped at the stadium

Going In. The official address of Chase Field is 401 East Jefferson Street, the street bounding center field.  Home plate faces a railroad and East Buchanan Street, South 4th Street is the 3rd base side, and the 1st base side is South 7th Street. With the railroad on the south/home plate side, most of the gates are on Jefferson and 4th. Parking ranges from $10 to $16.
Roof open

As a retractable-roof stadium, Chase Field -- opening in 1998 as Bank One Ballpark, and having that name during what remains the Diamondbacks' only World Series thus far, 2001 -- somewhat resembles Miller Park in Milwaukee, which opened 3 years later. In other words, it looks like a big airplane hangar, without much atmosphere.
Roof closed

True, there is that pool in the right-center-field corner... but what's a pool doing at a ballpark? At any rate, you won't get much of a view of downtown Phoenix from inside the place, which points due north.
The field is natural grass, points due north, and is functionally, but not quite, symmetrical: 330 to left field, 334 to right, 374 to both power alleys, 407 to center, and 413 to corners on each side of center. The longest home run hit at Chase is 504 feet, by Adam Dunn in 2008. The field is natural grass, and has a dirt path from the pitcher's mound to home plate, known as a "keyhole" for its shape, a phenomenon once common in baseball, one of the few old-time features in this monstrosity meant for the 21st Century.
In addition to the Diamondbacks, Chase Field has also hosted concerts, rodeos, and the Cactus Bowl, formerly known as the Insight.com Bowl.

Food. As a Southwestern city, you might expect Phoenix to have a Mexican/Spanish/Southwest food theme. Which is the case: Their "A-Zona Grill" includes burritos, churros, and all kinds of tacos ranging from steak to chicken to shrimp.  They also have popcorn named "Catcus Corn."

But they also have Philadelphia-style cheesesteaks, San Francisco's trademark garlic fries, and an outlet of Los Angeles' famed Fatburger. They have chain outlets Subway, Panda Express, Mrs. Fields, TCBY and Cold Stone Creamery. And, knowing they have lots of ex-New Yorkers in their Sun Belt city and its surrounding metro area, they have stands called "Streets of New York" at Sections 104, 113, 125, 138, 306, 326 and 328.

They have 3 bars overlooking the outfield: The Arizona Baseball Club is above right field, the Sedona Club in center field, and Friday's Front Row (part of the T.G.I. Friday's chain) overlooks left field.

According to a recent Thrillist article on the best food at each MLB ballpark, the best snack at Chase Field is the Churro dog, available at 114 and 123. What's a churro dog? It's a chocolate long john, churro, ice cream, whip cream and chocolate and carmel drizzle. In other words, it's what happens 9 months after the Taco Bell Chihuahua and a Dairy Queen get drunk together. In other words, it's disgusting, a disgrace to both ice cream and Mexican food. So, unlike the churro dog itself, maybe you should take that Thrillist article with a grain of salt.

Team History Displays. As 1 of the 2 newest teams (unless you count the Washington Nationals separately from the Montreal Expos, and I usually do), the Diamondbacks don't have a lot of history, but they have some. They've won one Pennant, in 2001, and beat the Yankees in the World Series. They've won the National League Western Division 5 times: 1999, 2001, 2002, 2007 and 2011.
They've retired the Number 20 of Luis Gonzalez, outfielder, 1999-2006; and the Number 51 of Randy Johnson, 1999-2004 and 2007-08. The title banners are to the left of the big center field scoreboard, and the retired numbers, along with Jackie Robinson's universally-retired Number 42, are above the right field stands.
The retired number display, before Johnson's 51 was added

The D-backs have handed out Curt Schilling's Number 38, currently worn by pitcher Robbie Ray. They do not yet have a team Hall of Fame. Perhaps they're waiting for their 20th Anniversary (2018) or their 25th (2023)?

There is no mention of the 1959 and 1977 Pacific Coast League Pennants won by the Phoenix Giants, or of the Division titles won by their replacements, the Phoenix Firebirds, including in 1996 and 1997, the last 2 seasons before the majors finally arrived in Phoenix.

Obviously, no Diamondbacks were chosen by The Sporting News for their 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999. If they were to do it again, Johnson would be selected. He was chosen by Diamondback fans for the DHL Hometown Heroes contest in 2006.

Stuff. The Diamondbacks have Team Stores all over Chase Field, oddly having more in the upper level than in the lower level. I don't know if they tie into the city's Western heritage by selling cowboy hats with team logos on them.

The 2001 World Series highlight film and a DVD package of that Series are available, although there is, as yet, no Essential Games of the Arizona Diamondbacks DVD collection.

As one of the newest teams, the D-backs don't have many books written about them, but there are 2 you should know about: Len Sherman wrote Big League, Big Time: The Birth of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and Sara Gilbert (not the actress of that name) wrote The Story of the Arizona Diamondbacks, published last year. Buster Olney's The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, as you would expect, mentions the Yanks' loss in the 2001 World Series, but is about them, not the Diamondbacks.

During the Game. A recent Thrillist article on "Baseball's Most Intolerable Fans" put Diamondback fans at 17th, right in the middle of the pack, although they did invoke the joke, "D-Backs, more like D-Bags, amirite?"

Really, how big of a douchebag is the average Arizona baseball fan? Not especially douchey. On the other hand, this is still the home State of racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio. As the Thrillist article says, "You definitely have your segment of the fanbase that sees no cognitive dissonance whatsoever between saying horribly racist things about Latinos and cheering for Yasmany Tomas."

Neverthless, wearing Met (or Yankee) gear in Phoenix will not endanger your safety. As a franchise only in their 19th season, the Diamondbacks don't really have a rivalry yet; and if they did, it probably wouldn't be with the Mets, although the Mets did beat them in the 1999 NL Division Series.

For the most part, Arizona fans are okay, not making trouble for fans of teams playing the NFL Cardinals, NBA Suns or NHL Coyotes, either. In fact, their biggest rivalry is intrastate: The University of Arizona vs. Arizona State University. It's a heated rivalry... but it's a dry heat.

With the death of Joe Garagiola, whose last broadcasting job was with them, and whose son Joe Jr. was the team's 1st general manager, the D-backs are wearing memorial patches for Joe Sr. for the rest of this season. Monday night's game will feature a tribute to Joe Sr.

The Diamondbacks hold auditions for National Anthem singers, instead of having a regular. They don’t have a lot to hold your attention during a game, unless you want to count that pool. There’s no special "Get Loud" device, and no famous fans known for getting people going. No special song during the 7th Inning Stretch or after a win. There is a song titled "Arizona," a 1970 hit for Mark Lindsay, who was the lead singer for the rock band Paul Revere & the Raiders, but it's clear that the title refers to the name of the narrator's girlfriend, and has nothing to do with the State or the ballclub, which, of course, would not exist even on paper for another quarter of a century.

The team has 2 mascots. The first was D. Baxter the Bobcat, named for the team's abbreviation, "D-backs," and for the facts that bobcats are common in Arizona and the stadium was originally known as Bank One Ballpark or "The Bob."
The newer one is "The D-Backs Luchador," a character based on Mexican "professional wrestling," introduced last year to appeal to Hispanic fans. He wears a black cape, red pants, and a mask patterned after the team's logo. Clearly, making the mascot a snake, which is what a diamondback actually is, was out of the question.
Don't tell Sheriff Joe Arpaio about this guy.
For at least 2 reasons.

They have a variation on a mascot race, with kids chosen to wear hot dogs suits, with different condiments (ketchup, mustard, relish).

If the home team wins, they will play a song written for them, "D-backs Swing," by Rogers Clyne & the Peacemakers. Clyne is from Tucson and wrote the theme song for the Fox cartoon King of the Hill.

After the Game. Phoenix does have crime issues, but you should be safe as long as you stay downtown. It's incredibly unlikely that Diamondback fans will try to provoke you. As I said, the newness of the team, the lack of nearby rivalries, and the fact that the Mets (or the Yankees) wouldn't be such a rivalry anyway all help.

There are, as yet, no bars around Chase Field that have become famous as postgame hangouts. As for anything New York-friendly, the closest I can come at this time is a place called Tim Finnegan's, the local Jets fan hangout, but that's 11 miles north of downtown, at 9201 North 29th Avenue. It appears that the local football Giants fan club meets at Blue Moose, at 7373 E. Scottsdale Mall, but that's 12 miles northeast.

I've read that a Yankee Fan hangout is at LagerFields Sports Grill, at 12601 N. Paradise Village Pkwy. W., 14 miles northeast. Alas, I can find nothing Mets-specific in the area.

If you visit Phoenix during the European soccer season, as we are now in, the best "football pub" in Arizona is the George & Dragon Pub, which opens at 7:00 AM on matchdays. 4240 N. Central Avenue, about 3 miles north of downtown. Bus 13 to Buckeye Road & Central Avenue, then transfer to Bus ZERO to Farrington Lane.

 The US Airways Center, previously known as the AmericaWest Arena for a previous airline, is 2 blocks west of Chase Field, at 2nd & Jefferson. The Suns have played here since 1992, and the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury since 1997. The Coyotes played here from 1996 to 2003.

* Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Grand Canyon State's 1st home to big-league sports, opening in 1965, was home to the Suns from their 1968 arrival until 1992, and to the World Hockey Association's Phoenix Roadrunners from 1974 to 1977.

Elvis Presley sang at the Coliseum on September 9, 1970, and again on April 22, 1973. Early in his career, on June 9, 1956, he sang at a grandstand at the adjoining Arizona State Fairgrounds. The next day, he sang at the Rodeo Grounds in Tucson. He also sang at the Tucson Community Center on November 9, 1972 and June 1, 1976. (While individual ex-Beatles have performed in Arizona, the band as a whole did not do so on any of their 3 North American tours.)

The Coliseum still stands, and is part of the State Fairgrounds. 1826 W. McDowell Road. Northwest of downtown. Number 15 bus to 15th & McDowell, then 3 blocks west.

* Phoenix Municipal Stadium. This ballpark was home to the Phoenix Giants/Firebirds from its opening in 1964 until 1991, and is the current spring training home of the Oakland Athletics, the Diamondbacks' Rookie League team, and Arizona's State high school baseball championship. 5999 E. Van Buren Street. East of downtown, take the Light Rail to Priest Drive/Washington station, then a short walk up Priest.
* Scottsdale Stadium. This stadium was home to the Firebirds in their last years, 1992 to 1997. Its seating capacity of 12,000, 4,000 more than Phoenix Municipal, was meant to showcase the Phoenix area as a potential major league market. It's the San Francisco Giants' spring training site, and replaced a previous stadium on the site that dated to 1956, used as a spring training home for the Giants, A's, Red Sox, Orioles and Cubs -- sometimes all at the same time.
Because it was the Cubs' spring training home, thus leading to Phoenix becoming "Chicago's Miami," where retirees from the city tend to go (paging Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post & ESPN's Pardon the Interruption & NBA coverage), it was where former Cub catcher Randy Hundley hosted the very first baseball fantasy camp. As Met fans, you might remember Randy's furious reaction to Tommie Agee scoring on a controversial umpiring call at home plate at Shea in September 1969. You might also remember Randy's son, former Met catcher Todd Hundley.

7408 E. Osborn Road, at Drinkwater Boulevard. Northeast of downtown. Light Rail to Veterans Way/College station, then transfer to Number 72 bus to Osborn, then walk 2 blocks east.

* Glendale Sports & Entertainment District. The University of Phoenix Stadium, home to the Arizona Cardinals since 2006, is in Glendale, and New York sports fans know it as the place where the Giants derailed the New England Patriots' bid for the NFL's first 19-0 season. The Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles there in January 2009 to advance to Super Bowl XLIII. The stadium is also home to the Fiesta Bowl. (There is an actual University of Phoenix, on the ground, not just on the Internet. But that's not here.) It's hosted 3 matches of the U.S. soccer team.

The neighboring Jobing.com Arena has been home to the Coyotes since 2003. In 2012, for the first time since the Jets/Coyotes franchise entered the NHL in 1979, they reached the League's last 4 (now the Western Conference Finals). Nevertheless, the team is still having financial troubles, which could yet lead to it being moved.

The official address of the stadium is 1 Cardinals Drive, and that of the arena is 9400 W. Maryland Avenue. Number 8 bus from downtown to 7th & Glendale Avenues, then transfer to Number 70 bus, to Glendale and 95th Avenue, then walk down 95th.

* Arizona State University. The University of Arizona is 114 miles away in Tuscon, but ASU is just a 24-minute Light Rail ride from downtown. The station is at 5th Street & Veterans Way, and is 2 blocks away from Sun Devil Stadium and the Wells Fargo Arena, home to their football and basketball teams, respectively.

Sun Devil Stadium was built in 1958, and ASU still plays there rather than move to the larger, more modern (but well off-campus) University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals played there from 1988 to 2005, and the Fiesta Bowl was held there from 1971 to 2006. The Dallas Cowboys treated it as a second home field when they played the Cardinals (always seemed to be more Cowboy fans there), and won Super Bowl XXX there, when the world learned A) it was possible for the Pittsburgh Steelers to lose a Super Bowl, and B) Terry Bradshaw was smart compared to Neil O'Donnell. It also hosted 2 U.S. soccer team matches in the 1990s.

The Wells Fargo Arena was previously known as the ASU Activity Center. Elvis sang there on March 23, 1977.

Packard Stadium, opened in 1974, is home to the ASU baseball program, one of the most successful college baseball teams, east of the stadium and arena, at Rural Road and Rio Salado Parkway. The Sun Devils have won 5 National Championships, most recently in 1981. Their legends include Reggie Jackson, Barry Bonds, and current stars Dustin Pedroia and Andre Ethier. Notable ASU and Met alumni include Gary Gentry, Duffy Dyer, Lenny Randle, Craig Swan, Hubie Brooks, Paul Lo Duca and Ike Davis.

ASU's Gammage Auditorium, at the other end of the campus, hosted one of the 2004 Presidential Debates between George W. Bush and John Kerry. 1200 S. Forest Avenue.

The US Airways Center, Wells Fargo Arena, University of Phoenix Stadium, and the University of Arizona's McKale Center have all hosted NCAA basketball tournament games, but, as yet, the State of Arizona has never hosted a Final Four -- although the University of Phoenix Stadium certainly could. UA has been in the Final Four in 1988, 1994, 1997 and 2001, winning it all in 1997; but ASU has never gotten any closer than the Sweet 16, in 1995.

There are no Baseball Hall-of-Famers buried in Arizona. Ted Williams is (sort of) preserved at Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a cryonics lab in Scottsdale. It's a private facility, and they do not offer tours. It would be creepy if they did. So if you want to pay tribute to the Splendid Splinter, better to do so at his statue at Fenway Park in Boston, or at the Ted Williams Hitters' Hall of Fame at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

* Arizona Science Center. Phoenix is not a big museum center. And while there have been Native Americans living in Phoenix for thousands of years, and Spaniards/Mexicans for hundreds, its Anglo history is rather short. No Arizonan has ever become President, although Senators Barry Goldwater and John McCain got nominated, so there's no Presidential Library or Museum. And it doesn't help history buffs that the city only goes back to 1867, and Statehood was gained only in 1912. But the Science Center is at 4th & Washington, just a block from the ballpark. And Arizona State has a renowned Art Museum.

The tallest building in Phoenix, and in all of Arizona, is the Chase Tower, bounded by Central Avenue and Van Buren, 1st and Monroe Streets. That it's only 483 feet, and that no taller building has been built in the city since it opened in 1972, says something about this city, but I'm not sure what. But the city seems to be intent on growing outward, not upward.

Television shows set in Phoenix, or anywhere in Arizona, are few and far between. The High Chaparral, another Western created by Bonanza creator David Dortort, ran on NBC from 1967 to 1971, and is fondly remembered by some.

But the best-remembered show is Alice, starring Linda Lavin as one of several waitresses at fictional Mel's Diner, running on CBS from 1976 to 1985. Although the show was taped in Hollywood (Burbank, actually), that once-famous "14-ounce coffee cup" sign is still used outside a real working diner in Phoenix.

It was Lester's, until the owner agreed to change the name to "Mel's Diner" for the publicity. Today, it's Pat's Family Diner, at 1747 NW Grand Avenue, 2 miles northwest of downtown. Number 15 bus to 15th Avenue & Pierce Street, and then walk one block east to Grand, Pierce, and 12th. There are also still-in-business diners in Ohio and Florida that use the same sign design. "Pickup!"

Movies set in modern-day Arizona usually show the Grand Canyon or the Hoover Dam. Notable on this list is Thelma & Louise, in which Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon drive a 1966 Ford Thunderbird into the Canyon rather than be captured by the FBI, enacting a distaff version Paul Newman and Robert Redford at of the ending of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance KidNational Lampoon's Vacation and Natural Born Killers also used Arizona as a backdrop.

The vast majority of movies set in Arizona have been Westerns, including the 1957 and 2007 versions of 3:10 to Yuma, the 1950 film Broken Arrow (not the later John Travolta film of the same title), Fort Apache (not the later Newman film set in The Bronx), Newman's Hombre, Johnny Guitar, A Million Ways to Die In the West, No Name On the Bullet, and all the films based on the 1881 Earps vs. Clantons gunfight, including My Darling Clementine in 1946, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in 1957, Tombstone in 1993 and Wyatt Earp in 1994.

If you're a Western buff, and you want to see the site of the legendary gunfight, the official address is 326 East Allen Street, Tombstone, AZ 85638. Re-enactments are held daily. Be advised, though, that it's 184 miles southeast of downtown Phoenix, a 3-hour drive, and ain't no Greyhound or Amtrak service, stranger: You'll have to drive. It's also just 50 miles from the Mexican border.


If you go to Phoenix to see the Mets (or, this season, the Yankees) play the Diamondbacks, be careful of the heat: Inside the ballpark, you should be fine; outside it, it will be as close to hell on Earth as you are ever likely to get. But you should still be able to have a good time in Phoenix.

And, if you're a Met fan, and worse comes to worst, you can always reminisce about the 2001 World Series -- even if your own club had nothing to do with it, and also lost to the Yankees the year before.

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