This was always going to be temporary, a summer fling.
But now the Tucson Saguaros are way past the meet-cute and fully into the twinkle-in-their-eye stage. It’s going to end sooner or later — for some, sooner rather than later. But at 29-9 entering Saturday and on pace for the best record in Pecos League history, these guys are in the thrall of it.
The Arizona Wildcats aren’t the only blistering baseball team in Tucson.
“Everyone on this team has the same goals; we all want to win, of course, but we all want to go to the next level,” Saguaros pitcher Randy Keen said. “It’s more of an enjoy-it-while-it-lasts kind of thing.”
Manager J.D. Droddy is torn.
He’s said it all along, right from the beginning: He’d rather place one player in a higher league than win it all. He’s already said goodbye to one — stud closer Daniel Hurtado packed up this week and left to play professional ball in Japan.
The manager has seen this before.
In 2014, Droddy managed the Trinidad Triggers to one of the premier regular season records in the league. They were loaded with talent — though, Droddy says, in all his years affiliated with the Pecos League, he’s never seen one better than this current Tucson squad — and lo and behold, five of Droddy’s six best players were plucked in the last three weeks. One by one, the entire bushel.
“It killed us at the end,” Droddy said. “The Phillies took my last one. We had a 96-mile-per-hour-fastball guy, and they took him the last day of the season.”
That sinking feeling is creeping in again.
Hurtado’s last appearance came on Thursday. He came into the Saguaros’ game against Trinidad in the ninth inning with the team up 3-2. Eleven pitches later — nine strikes, two balls to go three up, three down — it was like one last parting kiss.
“There is an internal conflict,” Droddy said. “I want guys to move up, and when they do, I’m really happy. But on the other hand ... I have two constituencies, if you will. Fans and players. If we don’t win the Pecos League from a personal standpoint, it’s OK. I want to win it, obviously, been in the league since Day 1 — but that’s not why I’m here.”
For their part, the players are very much living in the now.
They all came to Tucson with higher aspirations but know this is a necessary step to continuing whatever baseball they may have left.
Some appear destined for bigger stages: Outfielder Adam Urbania is batting .422 with eight home runs and 49 RBIs, while catcher Jesse Baker has a .394 average to go along with 43 hits and six home runs. Nine regulars have batting averages above .300.
“We have a good mix of guys, both rookies, guys coming out of college ball and guys who’ve been in it multiple years,” Keen said. “There’s a different viewpoint from every player. Most of the guys, we’re just playing ball as long as we can.”
Keen also could bid goodbye in a hurry, as he sports a sterling 2.01 ERA to go along with a 4-0 record.
“If the opportunity comes, you’re going to take it,” Keen said. “But we’re all pulling for each other. It’s easy to have fun while you’re playing, yet think about the next step. And not everyone here thinks it is. I would love to play ball at the next level, if that’s the plan for me.”
Some, like speedster Burnell Dailey, are relishing the fun of being on a scorching squad.
“Being on a winning team like this is something special at this level,” he said. “It’s not that we’re just winning, but we’re winning close games. You can tell about the bond, in the ninth inning, we don’t get down. Not every team can do that.”
Dailey, who played college baseball at Delaware State, looks at his time in Tucson as one more shot to prove himself.
“It’s something I appreciate a lot,” he said. “I graduated last year, and I could’ve said forget it, got down on myself. But when J.D. gave me the call, it was like a second chance. You have to cherish it every day.”