Someone on TV said this is the “high season” of Tucson sports. This week. Late February.
Here’s a correction: What was once high is now low. Tucson no longer has a “high season” of sports.
Late February in Tucson used to be the PGA Tour, the world’s 500 best cowboys and cowgirls at the rodeo grounds, Tiger Woods on the tee, Randy Johnson on the mound and top-10 teams all over the UA map.
So much has come and so much has gone.
The last week in February is no longer reason to get too excited.
Ten years ago this week, 2005, John Wooden walked into McKale Center with Lute Olson, flanked by security guards front and back. Wooden, 94, had arrived on a charter flight to watch the No. 9 Wildcats practice. Lute had won 303 Pac-10 games, one shy of Wooden’s once-unbreakable 304.
By year’s end, Arizona would go 30-7, finish one bucket short of the Final Four. It all seemed like business as usual, one day in the high season of Tucson sports.
In the last days of February 2005, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem arrived in advance of the Chrysler Classic of Tucson. He sat behind a microphone and talked about Tucson’s future.
“Anything’s possible,” said Finchem. “We have to look at the future, and look at the best opportunities. We owe it to the folks here to give it a very hard look.”
Two years later Finchem moved the World Golf Championships to Dove Mountain. Tiger Woods would win here.
That’s a high season.
Now it all seems like some sports fantasy.
In the final week of February 2005, you could buy a ticket to watch No. 9 Arizona’s baseball team. It had six future major-leaguers on the roster: Trevor Crowe, Jon Meloan, Mark Melancon, Nick Hundley, Jason Donald and Jordan Brown.
That’s a high.
This is a low: Arizona’s last three baseball seasons have produced a 36-54 conference record.
In 2005 you could get a softball fix at Hillenbrand Stadium, where 2004 Olympic gold medal coach Mike Candrea was working toward a seventh NCAA championship. His pitching staff included Alicia Hollowell and Taryne Mowatt, who would pitch the Wildcats to national titles in 2006 and 2007.
That’s a high.
This is a low: Arizona did not qualify for the Women’s College World Series in any of the last five seasons. The UA lost to Cal Poly on Sunday.
In 2005, February was a time Arizona positioned itself to contend for NCAA championships in men’s and women’s swimming. Arizona finished No. 3 at the NCAA championships in both men’s and women’s finals. Frank Busch was named Pac-10 coach of the year for women’s swimming and NCAA coach of the year for men’s swimming.
This year neither UA swimming team, men or women, are ranked in the Top 10. Frank Busch moved to Colorado four years ago.
Even the UA’s women’s basketball team of 2005 was a national contender. Joan Bonvicini’s team spent February earning a bid to a seventh NCAA tournament in nine years.
It won 20 games and beat Oklahoma in a first-round game. Shawntinice Polk and Dee-Dee Wheeler were in the process of earning a spot in the Ring of Honor at McKale Center.
That’s a high.
This is a low: Arizona’s women’s basketball team is 11-61 in conference games over the last five seasons.
During the high sports season of spring 2005, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox drew 243,547 fans at Tucson Electric Park. The Colorado Rockies drew 67,089 at Hi Corbett Field.
Ten years later you have to drive more than 100 miles to get a sniff of spring training.
In 2005, the Class AAA Tucson Sidewinders showed up at TEP for spring training. Their manager, ex-Wildcat Chip Hale, was building toward the 2006 Pacific Coast League championship. Training camp included five Tucson products: Keoni DeRenne, Scott Hairston, Alan Zinter, Jesus Cota and Colin Porter. One of the Sidewinders, Andy Green, would become the PCL Player of the Year.
In February 2005, there were so many stories to write, and so little time to get to all of them.
This week, the world’s top 500 cowboys and cowgirls will again be at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds for La Fiesta de los Vaqueros. Seven Major League Soccer teams will continue spring training matches at the Kino Sports Complex, and Sean Miller will coach No. 9 Arizona toward March Madness.
It’s a good week, probably the best week of the year in Tucson sports. But it’s less because it used to be so much more.