Immediately after finishing a doubleheader against the White Sands Pupfish in Alamogordo, New Mexico, on Wednesday night, the Tucson Saguaros loaded their team bus for an overnight road trip back to the Old Pueblo.
The Saguaros (30-13 before Wednesday) are set to host White Sands on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Cherry Field. The first two games start at 7 p.m., while Saturday’s will have a 1 p.m. start time.
Willie Ethington has been a key to Tucson’s success. A one-time 17th-round pick of the Boston Red Sox, Ethington entered Wednesday’s doubleheader batting .378 with three home runs and 33 RBIs. The Star talked to the 24-year-old Mesa Mountain View High School grad on Wednesday. Here’s what he had to say:
What did you know about the Saguaros before coming to play in Tucson?
A: “My knowledge was that they won a championship in 2016 and they’ve been a good team every year. This is my third year in the league. I was in Garden City, Kansas, my first year and then Bakersfield, California, my second year with the Train Robbers and now I’m here. I came down here to be closer to home, which is nice, and then I followed Bill (Moore). He’s been my coach for the past three years.”
Being from Mesa, were you very familiar with Tucson?
A: “Oh yeah.”
How has playing in Tucson been different than playing in Bakersfield or Garden City?
A: “It’s a bigger city, so it’s a little different. With the smaller cities, you kind of get to know everybody. We’ve been switching fields, so it’s been kind of hard.”
Do you even get much time off to really get to know each place?
A: “No, not really. I went to Mount Lemmon while I was here.”
What’s your day-to-day routine? Are you staying with a host family?
A: “We have late games, so we stay up late. Then wake up, eat, then pretty much head out to the field after that for practice and get ready. We practice and then eat and then get ready for the game. We start getting ready four hours before the game.”
What has been one of the most fun experiences you’ve had this season so far?
A: “Getting to know all the guys. There’s a lot of great guys on this team. And going on a 10-day road trip to California was really fun. Being with those guys in a hotel for 10 days and playing good baseball – I think we came together a lot over there, so I think it’s special. I think we learned a lot from each other there. To me, that’s experience — playing out there on the road.”
What’s your favorite thing about traveling for baseball?
A: “It (stinks), but it’s one of those things that’s good experiences — you’re going to new cities. Seeing the small cities, too. A lot of these teams are in small cities, so trying to see these small cities that no one’s ever really been to or that we’ve only ever really heard about. Like we went to Roswell and we went to the museum out there. That was cool. It’s cool to see what the small cities have, especially since a lot of us are from big cities.”
How long have you been playing baseball?
A: “I got drafted in 2012, so professionally I’ve been playing for six years. But I’ve been playing since I was out of the womb.”
Has baseball always been your sport?
A: “Yeah, I mean I played basketball and football and all that in high school. I quit football because I didn’t want to get injured for baseball, but baseball was the main focus and always has been the main focus of my life.”
What about baseball drew you in?
A: “The competitiveness. It’s such a hard game, (but) there’s not a lot of scoring. When something does happen, it’s very exciting. There’s a lot to it. It’s a very mental game and I like the challenge. It’s something you always want to get better at since it’s one of those sports that you don’t really succeed as much as the other sports. I just fell in love with it since I was little and I will always love it.
You are nearing the end of the season. What are you looking forward to?
A: “To win a ring – that’s what I’m looking forward to. Get to the championship. I think we have the team, mentally and physically.”
The Saguaros have the third-best record in the Pecos League and are leading the Southern Division. You guys are staying competitive, what’s going to need to happen to make sure you don’t lose momentum?
A: “Stay mentally focused, stay consistent and we should be fine. Stay healthy. If we stay healthy, we’re fine.”