Decked out in his usual denim jeans, belt buckle and button-down shirt, paired with boots and a cowboy hat, there’s no mistaking the “Cowboy” when he shows up to the Tucson Saguaros’ games. Or even their practices.
James Gilbert has become known among the Saguaros as a super fan. The 63-year-old local attends practices and games, shags balls and even provides post-game cigars for players.
His support has not gone unnoticed. Tucson Saguaros field manager Bill Moore said the Cowboy spoils his team and other Pecos League teams have also shown their gratitude.
The Saguaros return home Wednesday to host the Ruidoso Osos at 6 p.m. at Cherry Field.
Here’s what Gilbert had to say about becoming the Saguaros’ super fan:
Why do you support the Tucson Saguaros?
A: “Why? Because they play great!”
When did you start supporting them?
A: “When they first came here two, three years ago.”
Why the Saguaros and not any other teams in town?
A: “Well, there aren’t really any other teams in town. There are a lot of other small teams, men’s leagues and stuff like that. And I imagine they play great baseball, but as far as a professional team, this is it. That’s why I support them.”
Has baseball always been your No. 1 sport?
A: “Yeah, baseball’s my top sport. I enjoy baseball. My kids played tee-ball when they were small. ... I didn’t really have much to do with baseball for many, many years. About seven, eight years ago, my youngest daughter wanted to go see the UA (baseball) play ASU. She’s a graduate of ASU. So she took me to a UA-ASU game and we had a great time. She has a young son, so we had a good time. Every so often, her and I get together and go watch the UA play and then I found out, I think, the Padres had a team here. So I started going. I’m an antique, so I get in cheap. So I started watching the Padres play because I was retired. It was something I could do in the evening and it didn’t cost much. I really enjoyed it. I like baseball. After they left, I spent a year or two years — whatever it was — without baseball. Then I found out the Saguaros were coming and I decided that we need to keep them.”
So, what makes you a super fan of the Saguaros?
A: “I don’t know. Last year I went to all the home games. This year I’ve been to all of the home games. I found out where their spring training was, so I just showed up and started harassing them, having fun. Ever since then, they all get to know me a little bit. I talk to them. I have a great time. Last year was the same thing. It was a great bunch of guys and I had a good time talking to them. I would go down before the game and just (talk to them) and take an interest in them. So, they’ve accepted me as a fan — the fan. But I’m not really. There’s a lot of good fans.”
Do you go out to all the practices?
A: “I go to as many as I can. If they’re doing something and I get wind of it, I go. I just have a good time.”
And you like to shag balls and just take part in everything?
A: “Oh yeah. They let me in the outfield. In fact, I shag balls for the opposing teams when they come. I get to talk to them. I’m in the outfield talking to whoever’s out there, so I get to know the other guys. In fact, the California team that was just here wanted to know if I’d go to California with them. I bring the ice water and make sure there’s plenty of water for them because it’s just too hot out there to not have water.”
Besides shagging balls and bringing water, is there anything else you do for the team?
A: “I have the cigars after the game. I’m the cigar guy. Seriously. There’s usually two or three players on each team that like to smoke a cigar and I just let it be known that I have cigars in the truck after the game. Again, it’s just a chance to get to know some guys and visit with them and have a good time. You get to meet people from all over the country, different ways of life and I just give them a little bit of my information. They seem to enjoy it.”
As a local, what does it mean to see this type of team come into town? And how important is it to keep it here?
A: “I think it’s very important for us to have our own team, to have our own identity. We had the Tucson Padres, and I thought that was going to break out, but they didn’t stay long enough to really develop.
“This team, I guess they’re kind of semi-pros, so to speak. I have a chance to get to know them. I get the chance to talk to them, and on a personal level. With the Padres, maybe I could have, had I been into it. But for some reason I got into (the Saguaros).”
How many mementos have you collected over the years, not just from the Saguaros, but from the different Pecos League teams?
A: “My friend TJ, the very first year, they had the All-Star game in Santa Fe and he brought me back a baseball from the All-Star game. He dropped it off on the way home. I probably have about seven signed baseballs from different teams over the last three years. They asked me to throw out the first pitch last year at Kino, so I have that signed baseball. That was a thrill.”
Did you play baseball?
A: “Never. Just sandlot, but never. I never could throw well enough. I keep telling everybody I need a cut-off guy to go from second to first. One of the outfielders this year, I believe he plays for the Ruidoso team, I got to shagging balls with him. I told him I never learned how to throw a ball and I got to watching him how he was throwing and he said it was in the flick of the wrist. So, him and I were hanging out there and throwing balls back and forth. Another cigar buddy, but he got called up last week to go to the Can Am League. I’m 63 years old and I’m just now learning how to throw a baseball.”
What would you say to the community about the team and supporting the Tucson Saguaros?
A: “The main thing I would say is, it’s really quality baseball. The product on the field is just excellent baseball. It’s a lot of fun. They don’t get paid much, if anything, and they’re out there because they really love the game, maybe trying to move on to the next level. ... Anybody that likes really good baseball should come out and see them.”