When Scott Hairston moved to Tucson in 1998, he wasn't sure what to expect.
He arrived in December and had one semester of high school left. Sure, he was worried about meeting new friends and fitting in at Canyon del Oro, but he was most concerned with how the move would affect his baseball career.
"It was a big, big change of scenery for me," said Hairston, who moved from Naperville, Ill., when his dad took a job with the Chicago White Sox, who were training in Tucson at the time.
Little did Hairston know at the time it was one of the best things to ever happen to his baseball career.
He joined a loaded CDO team that featured current big-leaguer Ian Kinsler and former major-leaguers Chris Duncan and Brian Anderson.
Four future major-leaguers on one team. And get this - they didn't win a state championship.
"It was definitely something special," said Hairston, who started in left field and batted fourth for the Cubs in Thursday's spring training game at Kino Stadium. "That doesn't happen often. I don't know if CDO will ever have a team like that again. That's pretty hard to do. At the time we felt like we had something special.
"We all had a collective goal and wanted to win a state title. We obviously didn't do that, but we motivated each other to work harder and all had great experiences."
Hairston is now prepping for his 10th big-league season and first with the Cubs. After two seasons with the New York Mets, Hairston signed a two-year, $5 million deal with Chicago.
Hairston is coming off his most productive season as a major-leaguer. He played in 134 games for the Mets and hit 20 home runs and had 57 RBIs.
In signing with Chicago, Hairston was able to return to the Cactus League, where he spent the first seven years of his career. That meant a move closer to his parents and two sisters, who all still live in Tucson.
"I try to come down a few times in the offseason to see my parents and nephews," Hairston said. "I really like it here."
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo found himself in an unfamiliar spot at Kino Stadium: the visitor's clubhouse.
Rizzo starred for the Tucson Padres in 2011, hitting 26 home runs and driving in 101 runs in 93 games while hitting .331.
Rizzo was traded to the Cubs by the Padres following the 2011 season; Thursday marked his first trip back to Tucson since.
"It was a lot of fun playing here," Rizzo said. "We had a good manager, a good clubhouse. I enjoyed living here in Tucson for a little while. It was really a good time here."
Rizzo's Triple-A days are now behind him. He was called up by the Cubs in the middle of last season and played in 87 games. He finished the season with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs, and he batted .285.
"We want him to play like he did last year - no more, no less," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He's going to play every day and hopefully get 600 plate appearances. We're hoping he can have a 30-home run, 100-RBI season. He's very capable."
Love for Lopez
Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis doesn't have a direct tie to Tucson, but you would be hard pressed to find a bigger Arizona Wildcats baseball fan on the Dodgers team.
Ellis played for Andy Lopez for four years at the University of Florida. He called his former coach "a very important person in my life." Ellis said he watched the Wildcats' run to a College World Series title last year and wasn't surprised at all when they won the crown.
"Watching that team play - that was an Andy Lopez team," said Ellis, 35. "They played the game the right way. Nothing really stood out about them, but they threw the ball and caught the ball well. It was really fun to watch that team."
Ellis said he and Lopez still exchange text messages and talked on the phone a couple of times in the offseason.
Contact reporter Daniel Berk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk