The Pecos League championship series begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Kino Stadium, but if you ask the Tucson Saguaros, this became a reality back in late May.
That’s when a 5-0 start blossomed into 9-1 and even big deficits were no cause for strife.
As the Saguaros prepared this week for the visiting Northern Division champions, the Trinidad Triggers — a team they swept in four games at Kino earlier this year — it took them very little time to get their minds in the right state of mind.
They’ve been there for the whole summer.
“I was here from the beginning, when it all started, and it’s been my whole goal to get called up, but also to win ballgames,” Tucson pitcher Cameron Cox said.
“We’ve been really, really good, haven’t lost many games, and I noticed it around game 5 or 6. We’d be down in the late innings, had no panic whatsoever and came back and got the job done. That really shows who you are as a team.”
For manager J.D. Droddy, this title series has been on his mind since last October, and maybe even going back a few years before that.
Droddy managed the Triggers to the playoffs in 2013-14 before retiring and becoming the league’s adjudicator last season.
He returned to the dugout this year to help the league get a liftoff in Tucson as the team’s first minor league baseball option since the Tucson Padres left town in 2014.
He said of the city’s standing in an otherwise smaller-market league, “Tucson is like you’re looking for rocks and you find a diamond.”
And what’s a diamond without a ring?
“It was never anything we obsessed about, but this was mentioned quite a bit,” Droddy said. “Like, ‘Yeah, let’s do this. Let’s see what happens.’ The later in the season it got, the more we thought about it. By the time you’re two-thirds of the way through, we thought, ‘My gosh, we’re ahead of schedule.’”
Droddy wasn’t about to build a super team only to watch it come thisclose again.
He bolstered the roster in the middle of the year, adding second baseman Jimmy Heck — who has batted .426 in his time with Tucson since early July — and he fortified the bullpen after the Saguaros were light on arms during a midseason stretch.
Even while keeping one eye on the season and one eye on his player’s futures, each of their potential call-ups a notch in his belt, Droddy still looked forward.
Knowing that his team was fated for a Southern Division showdown with the Roswell Invaders and league MVP Cody Coffman, Droddy went out and signed left-handed reliever Matt Kelley in case Coffman presented a threat.
On Saturday night, in the team’s series-clinching 4-1 win over the Invaders, Coffman came up in the seventh inning with runners on first and second, only for Kelley to be called in, promptly striking out the slugger on a 3-2 count.
It’s that kind of scouting that put the Saguaros in the position they’re in.
You don’t put that type of work in unless you expect certain results.
“I knew on paper we were really good, and during spring training, it became apparent we were,” Droddy said. “I ended up giving away players at spring training who made the all-star team. It didn’t take long to find out it was real.”
Heck, a late addition who starred at the University of Minnesota-Duluth but is nonetheless hungry for a ring, knew it the minute he got here.
“It really sinks in once you get to know all the guys,” he said. “You become teammates, and the idea you’re working toward the same goal is a really cool thing to be a part of. You get to know their drive to win, and it makes you want it that much more.”