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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Club baseball in ‘for love of the game’

    Psychology freshman Sean Meritt prepares to catch during infield warm-ups at club baseball practice last night at Santa Rita Park near East 22nd Street and South Fourth Avenue.
    Psychology freshman Sean Meritt prepares to catch during infield warm-ups at club baseball practice last night at Santa Rita Park near East 22nd Street and South Fourth Avenue.

    When springtime rolls around, the pleasant change in weather is usually accompanied by America’s greatest pastime.

    OK, technically spring doesn’t start until March 20, but the climatologically blessed Wildcats don’t care.

    With MLB spring training already underway and the Arizona baseball team sitting on a No. 1 ranking, the Wildcats are ready to celebrate plenty of sunshine and the national pastime.

    Gone unnoticed amidst these fixtures of springtime is a group of amateurs who decided to start the season early. Arizona club baseball roared into existence Feb. 9 with an 11-1 win over Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. It swept the weekend series to kick off its inaugural season, outscoring the Eagles, 30-7. For these guys, spring started an entire month ago.

    “”You could feel the intensity, offensively and defensively,”” said first basemen Ariel Monzon, describing the squad’s first game of the season. “”It just showed how much we wanted to be out there, how we wanted to be heard with our game.””

    Monzon oozes a quiet, but earnest, enthusiasm when talking about his team and his sport. He doesn’t shout to the rooftops but when he tells you that baseball is his passion, he looks you in the eye and you believe it. Monzon has played the game since he was six and outside of his family, baseball is one of the most important things in his life. When he met now-team president Kevin Scott, who was in the process of forming the team, he knew that he wanted to help in any way possible.

    The team is the brainchild of Scott, who started with an idea and not much else. After he failed to walk on to Arizona’s team his freshman year in the fall of 2005, he played Division III baseball for Edgewood College in Madison, Wis.

    Still, Scott transferred back to Arizona last spring. He wanted to go to Arizona. He wanted to play baseball. He knew he’d never play for the varsity squad so he decided to do the next best thing: start his own team.

    “”It wasn’t the best baseball decision for a lot of us to come here,”” Scott said. “”But we weren’t making the decision based on baseball, more or less just school.””

    Scott recruited through flyers and a booth at the gym, which is how he met Monzon, who has more or less been present from the beginning.

    “”I never met this guy before, I saw the flyer,”” Monzon said.

    When he saw Scott at his table in the gym he told Scott that he was doing a great thing. After the first organizational meeting last spring, Monzon was sold.

    “”I went up to him and told him, ‘I’m just as committed to this as you are and I want to do whatever I can to help.’ I told Kevin from the get-go, ‘I’ll run as far as you go,'”” he said.

    From that point Scott said the bulk of the work was shuffling papers, scraping up money and finding a coaching staff.

    Interest in the team hasn’t been a problem. Scott said that in initial meetings he had about 40 prospects, which have since been whittled down to a team of 25.

    “”It’s just been a fun process,”” he said. “”Putting this effort in to play baseball, it’s not very hard to work towards the final goal.””

    To help with the team, Scott contacted Catalina High School head coach Shane Folsom and his staff, who volunteered their services for free.

    “”We went out, watched them play and said, ‘What the heck?'”” Folsom said.

    No pay, no problem. Like Monzon, Folsom said his main motivation is love of the game.

    “”It’s been great,”” he said. “”Great bunch of guys, they work, they listen. There’s great potential here for us to go far.””

    “”We wouldn’t be the team that we are right now if it wasn’t for them,”” Monzon said. “”We told them, if you guys want to coach us, coach us as if you’ve coached us before. This is your team, you take it from here.””

    Today, with a four-man coaching staff, uniforms and membership in the National Collegiate Baseball Association, Scott’s gem of an idea is looking very much like a real team. A week after sweeping Embry Riddle, Arizona rattled off another sweep of last year’s Southern Pacific East Division champion ASU.

    Scott said the team is a good option for athletes who want to play serious baseball but know they won’t be playing at the Division I level at Arizona. He stresses that all of the athletes played baseball through high school and others, like himself, even played Division II and D-III ball at smaller schools. The team practices four times weekly and travels to play other schools in its division for a chance at the national championships in Fort Meyers, Fla. In short, it’s not intramurals.

    “”You can go to the school you want to. You can still go and play and be serious about baseball,”” he said.

    If Scott has his way, club baseball will become just one more rite of spring. Scott said he expects the team to endure long after he’s gone, hopefully following in the footsteps of other long-lived club sports on campus like rugby and lacrosse.

    “”We are definitely going to be around,”” he said.

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