PHOENIX -- They are always Derrick Hall's favorite phone calls of the year.
Just prior to the holidays, the D-backs team president/CEO phones recipients of the team's Michael Wogan D-backs Season Ticket Scholarship program, which provides tickets for fans experiencing financial hardships.
This year the D-backs awarded 48 lower-level full season tickets to 17 families, and since the program began in 2008 they've awarded more than 300 full season tickets, worth more than $600,000.
Hall gathers the group of front-office staffers who help make the decision in his office for the calls.
"It's a big-time reward for all of us," Hall said. "You hear the tears on the phone and the thanks."
This year they also heard something else.
A couple of recipients had a change in circumstances and they told the D-backs that this year they would be buying the tickets on their own.
"This is the first year that's happened and we were truly blown away," Hall said. "To call someone and say we're going to give them a full season and they say, 'Thanks for the last couple of years but we're buying our tickets now because we can,' ... not only does it show that, hopefully, this economy is turning around, but it shows the honesty and decency of our great fans. That's really what the program is all about."
The D-backs started the program during the tough economic times of 2008, when Arizona was among the states hit hardest by the country's recession.
Families submit applications each year and the D-backs go through them to determine those most in need.
This year, the team has seen an increase in applications from military veterans who have recently returned home from overseas.
"This year we had a number of veterans who have returned home some with disabilities and post-traumatic stress," Hall said. "It was remarkable how many of those applications came our way."
Not everyone gets full season ticket packages, but everyone gets something depending on their individual circumstances. Partial plans are given to those unable to attend 81 games during the year. Some families need to drive to the ballpark, so parking vouchers are included, and others receive food vouchers.
In order to keep the program special, the tickets awarded are lower-level seats, though, the team does get requests for upper-level ones.
"We have some people that for years have had tickets on the upper concourse, the third level, and they told us they wanted to stay there because of the relationships they have with the season ticket holders around them and the usher," Hall said.
Each year the D-backs get calls from other professional sports teams inquiring about the scholarship program, but it is believed that no professional sports franchise has yet to copy it on the same scale.
Regardless, the D-backs have no plans on changing the way they do it.
"It's helping out fans who cannot afford it, who have had a change in circumstance, or are facing tough times and once they get back on their feet hopefully they're able to turn around and support themselves," Hall said. "We're starting to see signs of that, but until then we want to help as many as we can. It's a powerful program and it continues to grow and as long as we have the inventory and as long as there's a need out there we're going to do this."