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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    CDO Cats lead baseball vs. USC

    Brian Anderson. Chris Duncan. Scott Hairston. Ian Kinsler.

    A short list of names with one common thread: all four attended Tucson’s Canyon del Oro High School, and all four currently play, or have played, in the major leagues.

    There’s more: Jason Stanford, Shelley Duncan, Colin Porter and Ryan Schroyer, to name a few.

    Arizona baseball’s T.J. Steele, C.J. Ziegler and Mike Weldon – all CDO graduates who head into this weekend’s Pacific 10 Conference series with USC as key parts to the Wildcat program – would like to add their names to that list.

    “”CDO’s been blessed for a number of years, before I even got there, with some terrific players,”” said UA volunteer assistant coach Keith Francis, who headed up the CDO program from 2000-05, winning two state championships. “”It’s kind of a tradition.””

    “”The standards at CDO are pretty high,”” added Ziegler, a Dorado from 2001-04. “”Everybody that plays baseball there looks to go on and play somewhere else.””

    It’s a tradition that most agree started with a Dorados team that was a favorite to win state in 1999, even though the program had won four state titles to that point. It’s a team that featured, by Francis’ estimate, four future major leaguers and another who’s currently in Triple-A.

    “”I would suspect that if you would review it, I suggest to you there’s no other high school in America that’s produced that many big leaguers off one team,”” Francis said.

    And though Arizona lost out on two members of that ’99 team when Ian Kinsler and Ryan Schroyer had already committed to ASU by the time head coach Andy Lopez arrived on campus in late 2001, the CDO-UA pipeline has been open ever since.

    “”Our goal is always to keep the best talent in Tucson here at the University of Arizona and then try to get people from other places to balance it out with those guys,”” Lopez said.

    Added Ziegler, whose brother, Nick, is a senior outfielder for this year’s Dorado team that lost in the 4A-I semifinals Friday, “”You never want to let the hometown boys get too far away.””

    After Porter and Shelley Duncan, whose UA school record of 55 career home runs from 1999-2001 may never be broken, the next Dorado to make the jump was Anderson, who now starts at center field for the Chicago White Sox.

    Steele followed suit two years ago, and was joined by Ziegler, a junior-college transfer, and Weldon, a freshman, this season.

    “”It’s the high school here,”” Steele said of CDO, “”and then you’ve got the big college here, and it’s kind of like progress up into U of A.””

    Weldon said he came to Arizona in part because of his familiarity with Steele, Ziegler and Francis.

    “”I had guys on the team like C.J. and T.J.,”” he said. “”Obviously, I like playing with guys that I’ve played with before.””

    Both Steele and Ziegler acknowledged liking what Ziegler called the “”hometown connection,”” but in order for that connection to go both ways, they had to produce in high school.

    During his time at CDO, Francis said Steele struggled a bit with the bat.

    “”He handled high school pitching, but not as well as he could and probably should have,”” said Francis, who coached each Ziegler, Steele and Weldon at some point during their respective Dorado careers.

    Still, Francis added, “”I saw a wonderful athlete (in Steele), probably one of the best athletes – he certainly is comparable to Brian Anderson as far as anybody that’s played there.””

    The first baseman Ziegler, meanwhile, tore through the Dorado hitting record books. He still holds CDO records for home runs and batting average – both hitting and career.

    “”C.J., ever since he was a sophomore and I brought him up, I saw a will to get better and a will to win,”” said Francis, now in his seventh year coaching Ziegler, having coached him all through high school and then serving as an assistant at Pima Community College during Ziegler’s two-year stint there.

    Without Steele and Ziegler this season, Lopez likely wouldn’t have his No. 14 Wildcats (35-11, 10-5 Pac-10) in prime postseason position.

    Steele, who led all Pac-10 batters in conference hitting last season, is tied for the team lead in overall batting average (.358) and was recently named Pac-10 Player of the Week after an 11-for-14 weekend that saw him homer three times, including a shot over the batter’s eye in center field.

    “”I think the thing with T.J. is he’s a hard guy to please for himself,”” Lopez said. “”He’s always looking to do something better – which we like, don’t get me wrong, we push that in this program all the time, ‘Get better everyday’ – but I think with him, sometimes he puts a little too much expectation on himself, and he falls in that category I heard a long time ago, the ‘Hey, just because you’re not doing something great doesn’t mean you’re not doing something good.'””

    Ziegler, meanwhile, leads the team in home runs (10), is second in RBIs (48) and fourth in batting average (.337).

    But Lopez said he is most pleased by Ziegler’s move from designated hitter to first base, which allowed a more offensively-potent lineup.

    “”We didn’t see that happening, quite honestly, we thought ‘OK, there’s our DH,'”” Lopez said. “”We thought he would hit and then when he showed up and started hitting the way he did, we thought ‘OK, this is going to be kind of fun to watch him take four at-bats a game.’ But, man, he’s done a great job at first base, I’m really happy about that.””

    Weldon, a second baseman who holds CDO’s record for hits in a season and in a career, has emerged as Lopez’s late-inning defensive specialist.

    “”He’s made a couple of great plays that he made look very easy that were not easy plays just because he has that ability,”” Francis said. “”His glove and his arm are exceptional. He probably has the best arm in the infield.””

    And though Weldon has yet to record his first career collegiate hit, both Lopez and Francis envision him becoming a major key to the puzzle in the years to come – just as other Dorados have done in the past.

    “”Wouldn’t it be nice if you could take all the big-leaguers in Tucson and keep them here, especially now that I’m here?”” Francis said. “”I’d love that to happen. That’d be great.

    “”It’s been a wonderful tradition.””

    Extra bases
    Arizona will throw Preston Guilmet (9-1; Pac-10 best 1.68 ERA) against the Trojans (23-22, 6-9) Saturday at 7 p.m., Brad Mills (9-4; 3.70) Sunday at 6 p.m., and Mike Colla (2-1; 5.58) Monday at noon. … The series was pushed back a day because of finals.

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