A day in the life of Pima College’s new baseball coach:
Go to the ballpark to evaluate a pitching prospect’s bullpen session.
Answer calls and texts from a dozen people who say, “I’ve got a player for you.”
Answer calls and texts from 20 more people who say “I’m so glad you’re back at Pima.”
Answer calls from four or five men who want to be on your coaching staff.
Drive to Nogales High School to recruit two players from the Apaches’ state championship team. Stay late and visit their families.
Give an “are you crazy?” look to a newspaper guy who asks, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Eight days ago, Pima College athletic director Edgar Soto sat in his office with Rich Alday and his wife, Norma. This was not an awkward first-time meeting.
Soto played on Alday’s New Mexico Lobos teams of 1991 and 1992 at a time when Alday was viewed as the nation’s premier junior-college baseball coach of the 1980s — he was 366-166 at Pima College with five ACCAC titles that decade — part of Team USA’s staff at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, a coach in his prime, barely 43 years old.
Now it is 25 years later. Alday is 68.
“The age stuff doesn’t have any bearing on this,” says Soto. “We have Dick Tomey helping our football staff. We have Jim Rosborough on our women’s basketball staff. We have Jerry Stitt doing a knock-out job as our assistant AD.”
All of those men, iconic former UA coaches, are beyond 70.
“When I started searching for a new coach, I always came back to Rich,” says Soto. “He’s such a good baseball guy, such a quality human being; I’m impressed at how sharp he is. He seems like the same man I played for in 1992.”
Four years ago, Alday was hired to coach the Ironwood Ridge High School softball team. Some of the girls asked him if he knew anything about softball. His answer?
He coached the Nighthawks to a 107-34 record in four seasons, winning two state championships.
This didn’t happen overnight.
Eight years before Pima College played the first baseball game in its history, Alday led Tucson High to the 1965 state football championship. He was the quarterback. A few months later, he was Tucson’s All-City baseball catcher.
In the language of the ’60s, Alday “had the right stuff.”
Arizona’s two-time All-American shortstop Eddie Leon, who was a Tucson High senior when Alday was a freshman, would call Alday to get away for batting practice. A senior asking a freshman to pitch him batting practice? No way.
Alday asked the future Cleveland Indians shortstop why he wanted to play baseball with him.
“Because you throw strikes,” Leon said.
That is the working title of Alday’s coaching career: He throws strikes.
He won 1,010 games as the head coach of the Pima College Aztecs and the New Mexico Lobos, then returned to Tucson in 2007 and prepared for Act III. He put his connections to work, phoning the city’s heavyweight softball coach, CDO’s Kelly Fowler, and asked if she could help him get into softball.
“The Ironwood Ridge coach just resigned,” she said.
Ironwood Ridge’s athletic director, Phil Tilicki, had been a manager on some of Arizona’s powerhouse baseball teams of the 1980s. He had worked for Jim Wing, the UA’s Hall of Fame pitching coach, who had been Alday’s junior varsity coach at Tucson High. Wing called Tilicki. Bingo.
Two years later, after Ironwood Ridge won the 2014 state championship, Alday’s cellphone buzzed. It was Wing.
“I had faith in you, son,” he said.
Taking charge of a struggling baseball team in the demanding ACCAC, perhaps the top baseball conference in junior-college sports, is not a part-time job, nor one for a man without proper energy and enthusiasm.
Alday phoned a coaching buddy, former Mississippi State baseball coach Ron Polk, who coached at Alabama-Birmingham until he was 73 and now spends his summers coaching in the Cape Cod League.
“Ron said he coaches to stay young,” Alday says. “That’s how I feel about it. Let’s get going. I’m all in.”
Alday knows the numbers. Stanford’s Mark Marquess, 70, is still coaching the Cardinal. USC’s Rod Dedeaux coached the Trojans until he was 72. Rice’s uber-successful Wayne Graham is still coaching the Owls. He’s 81.
“I don’t mind people asking about my age,” says Alday, “but I didn’t have any second thoughts about this.”
Stitt, who was Arizona’s head baseball coach from 1997-2001, says that PCC ‘s baseball program was once “our bedrock.” Now it is in need of reconstruction.
Such is Alday’s specialty.
In his second season at Pima, 1975, the school still did not have a baseball facility. It played mostly road games and rented a few hours when necessary at city and county parks. Once, when Pima was to play Mesa College at Northwest Park near Silverbell Road, the powerful MCC team that included future major-leaguers Hubie Brooks and Mickey Hatcher, was not impressed.
“Hubie got out of the van, looked around and said ‘Where’s the baseball field?’” Alday remembers.
Now, 42 years later, the man who created Pima College baseball can still show the way.