Tag Archives: baseball

Here’s why I love Mets, Cowboys, Jacks & Suns

by Jason Stone

People have sometimes asked me to list my favorite teams. I’ll do it one better. I’ll rank them.

Here are my favorite teams in each sport, with an explanation why.

1. New York Mets (MLB)

The Mets top my list because for some reason they are the only team that still makes me cry as an adult. I am more of a fair weather fan with my other favorite teams (Yeah, I’ll admit it!). But for some reason I follow the Mets from afar no matter how crappy they are — which is most of the time.

I began following the Mets in the late-70s after living in Flushing and visiting there every year. I didn’t really become a big fan until 1983, right as the monster teams were coming. By the time “Doctor K” Dwight Gooden was dominating the world in 1985, I was hooked. And we all know what happened a year later.

I feel the team is on the verge of something special again in the next year or two, but I don’t want to openly jinx it yet. After all, the exhibition games haven’t even started yet.

2. Dallas Cowboys (NFL)

It’s really hard to be a Cowboys fan. Mostly because of the harassment that comes from other people. It’s usually better to keep it on the down low.  But this has been a lifelong love since living outside of Dallas for a good part of my childhood.

They were the first team I was ever exposed to in the late 1970s, and I can’t seem to shake them now — no matter how frustrating the fan experience has become in the Jerry Jones era.

One of my favorite personal moments was being a reporter during Super Bowl XXX when the Cowboys beat the Steelers. I got to be in the locker room as my favorite childhood team celebrated their fifth championship.

Unfortunately I kind of made a deal with the football gods that experiencing that was enough.  Twenty years later I’m kinda wishing I never made that deal.


3. NAU Lumberjacks (NCAA — alumni division)

Well, I did drop a lot of money at the place as a student for four years, after all.

Nobody really cares about NAU sports, but for some reason there I am every Saturday in the fall listening to that week’s football game, or picking up whatever midweek basketball game happens to be going on during the winter.

I figure since I actually go out of my way to find NAU content, that must mean they’re high up on my list. I just wish more people cared because it sure is lonely being a fan of a team nobody even knows exists.


4. Phoenix Suns (NBA)

I can’t even watch the NBA unless it’s a Suns game. But I’ve invested so much emotional energy over this team — John F-ing Paxson and Robert F-ing Horry’s hip-check into Steve Nash to name two — that I just can’t bail on them yet.

Because of years of near-misses and the above-mentioned bad fortune, they deserve a championship more than any of the teams that I follow.

The 1992-93 season was the peak. Even living 150 miles away in Flagstaff, cars all over the town had windows painted with support for the Suns. I can’t even imagine what it was like in Phoenix that summer.

If there is anything right in this world, the Suns will win it all — someday.

5. ASU Sun Devils (NCAA — non-alumni division)

I began following the Devils’ football and baseball teams when my family moved to Arizona in 1984. That was just in time to catch the 1986 and 1996 Rose Bowl seasons, which were thrilling.

I still think Jake Plummer was ASU’s best player ever, but what do I know. Just seconds away from a national championship in ’96!! Oh, the agony!

As for ASU baseball, I used to love going to those games in high school in what is now former Packard Stadium. I went to most of the home games during the 1990 season. I thought for sure center fielder Mike Kelly was going to be a major league Hall of Famer. I still have never seen a player that good who wasn’t in the majors.

6. Arizona Coyotes (NHL)

I never really followed hockey closely until the Coyotes moved to Phoenix in the mid-1990s. Prior to that I had always lived in places that didn’t have hockey, and before the Internet, you needed a local team to get any kind of regular content in the daily newspapers.

So, I adopted the team that was the Winnipeg Jets, who became the Phoenix Coyotes, and then this season, the Arizona Coyotes.

The Coyotes’ playoff run to the Western Conference Finals three years ago was about as fun of a couple weeks of sports as I’ve ever experienced. Anxiety was high during every game. I would pace up and down aisles at sports bars — and even got to see a couple of the games in person for their famed “White Out.”

7. USA men’s soccer team (other division)

This is a weird one, I know. Not to sound non-patriotic but I don’t generally care if any USA teams or athletes win anything in the Olympics or whatever. I figure, we dominate everything anyway, what does it really matter if we win another.

It’s different with the U.S. men’s soccer team, though. They are still the ultimate underdogs. (I mean, U.S. fans are typically out-numbered even in home games!) Plus, every four years there is a team to root for in the World Cup, which is probably my favorite non-annual sporting event.

Best of the Rest

Arizona Cardinals (NFL)

It’s much easier to be a Cardinals fan since they moved out of the NFC East more than 10 years ago. It was an unbelievable month in January 2009 when it appeared for about 51 seconds that the Cardinals were going to win the Super Bowl. It still seems weird that they were THAT close. I have seen most of this team’s games since they moved to Arizona in 1988, so it’s hard not to like them.

Texas Rangers (MLB)

I don’t follow them on a day-to-day basis, but from the late-70s until the early-90s they were my favorite team, alongside the Mets. This was back in the days when you could have a favorite in both the American and National leagues.

Teams I Used To Like

Dallas Mavericks (NBA)

Before moving to Phoenix, I was a big Mavericks fan during their first three or four seasons in the league. Of course, they were the worst team in the NBA during that time, so I never got to enjoy them winning anything. And since I became a big Suns fan, they became the enemy quickly.

New York Yankees (MLB)

I liked the Yankees for exactly one year. During the 1981 season, I attended my first game at Yankee Stadium, which just so happened to be the first game after the infamous players’ strike that year. Between 1977 and 1981, the Yankees played the Dodgers three times in the World Series, and because I identified with the East Coast more at the time, I sided with the Yankees. Of course, the one time I root for the Yankees is the one time they don’t win.

Phoenix Giants/Firebirds (MiLB)

Yeah, I actually had a favorite minor-league team back in the day.  The Giants (later named the Firebirds) were the AAA affiliate for the San Francisco Giants and they played their games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium when the first pitch temperature was usually around 107 degrees. The best part of those games: the nachos! I can still taste them 30 years later.

high schools

Prep teams battle for state positioning

by Jason Stone

Bats will ping and guns will sound as local baseball, softball and track teams get into playoff form this week.
As of Tuesday morning, a handful of local baseball and softball teams were still alive for their respective region championships, prior to next week’s state competition.
Cactus softball, looking for its third-straight 4A championship before conferences are split next year, will host the championship of the Wells Fargo Region Friday.
Deer Valley, meanwhile, ended as the top softball team in the 5A Northwest Region and earned the No. 1 seed at the postseason tournament. Mountain Ridge finished second.
In baseball, Mountain Ridge has the No. 1 seed for this week’s 5A Northwest Region championship series against Goldwater, the team that upset the Mountain Lions in regionals last year.
Ironwood, meanwhile, entered the 5A Desert West Region tournament as the No. 3 seed.
Track and field championships for the Northwest, Desert West, Desert Sky, Skyline and Wells Fargo regions will also be held this week as teams get one last chance at qualifying for next week’s state meets.

Published at glendalestar.com • May 4, 2005

high schools

Mtn. Ridge hopes pitching leads it to a 5A title

by Jason Stone

There is a big difference between regular season baseball and the playoffs.
Like in the NBA, where defense and guard play becomes important in the postseason, successful baseball teams usually rely on good pitching and a deep bench to excel in the playoffs.
Mountain Ridge learned this the hard way last year, when the Mountain Lions dominated the regular season, but were upset in the region tournament and lost early at state.
“Last year, we had a good 1-2 punch in pitching, but other guys didn’t step up like we needed to in the playoffs,” Mountain Ridge second-year coach Rob Kiepke said. “This year, I think we have a pretty deep team. It’s not just the top two (pitchers).”
But what a top two they are.
Brian Budrow and Corey Burns — the school’s Killer Bs — make up perhaps the best top of the rotation in the state and are the main reason the Mountain Lions are considered one of the favorites to win it all this year.4c50a14049937.image
Mountain Ridge has come close before — reaching the semifinals in 2002 — but observers are saying this is the Lions’ best shot at winning it all, especially because Budrow and Burns are both seniors and will be playing college ball — or maybe professionally — next season.
“I definitely think our staff is better this year overall,” said Budrow, who has been a force since his freshman year. “Plus, everybody we’ve been playing has been throwing their No. 1 or No. 2 (starters) at us, so we’ve seen the best of other teams.”
It’s certain that other teams see the best of Mountain Ridge every game. Burns transferred to the school from Moon Valley in Phoenix before the school year after his family moved right outside Ridge’s campus.
He replaced the graduated Nick Walters, who, with Budrow, made up one of the best 1-2 punches last year.
Budrow and Burns each reach the low 90s with their fastballs. Burns is more of a throw-it-by-you kind of pitcher, while Budrow uses more precision mixed in with his speed.
Either way, it’s been tough for the Mountain Lions to be beaten, something that has only happened twice all season.
One of those came last week when city-rival Deer Valley upset the Lions 6-0, providing what Budrow called “a good wake-up call.”
“Even the Yankees lose to the Expos (now Nationals),” Budrow said. “It was just one game.”
One game the Mountain Lions hope to win is the state championship. Winning state has been their clear goal, especially after the school’s success in volleyball and football early in the season.
“We always say that the fall sports set the tone for the year,” Kiepke said. “Our volleyball team won state. The football team went to the championship game. Now, we want to be there, too.”

Published at glendalestar.com • April 6, 2005

high schools

Prep region races begin this week

by Jason Stone

Spring break is over and now the real action gets going.
All local baseball and softball teams will be in the midst of region play this week as the 5A Desert West Region starts play, joining the 5A Northwest, 4A Desert Sky, 4A Skyline and 4A Wells Fargo, which have already started their region seasons.
Mountain Ridge baseball is hoping to claim the top spot in the Northwest Region after starting the season with 15 wins in its first 16 games.
Ironwood’s baseball team will have its hands full with Sunrise Mountain and Tolleson, teams that have gotten off to great starts.
In softball, Apollo has started off strong and will be a team to beat in the Desert Sky Region, while two-time defending champion Cactus is again the team to beat in the Wells Fargo Region.
The second Deer Valley/Sandra Day O’Connor Softball Festival is also scheduled for this weekend and features local teams Deer Valley, Ironwood, Cactus and Mountain Ridge.

Published at glendalestar.com • March 31, 2005

high schools

Glendale teams chase repeat feats

by Jason Stone

If the East Valley dominates local prep sports, softball is not included in the equation.
On successive nights last spring, Deer Valley became the ruler of the 5A Conference, while Cactus won its second straight 4A crown a night later.
With each team returning the heart of its roster again this year, could a pair of repeat titles be in their futures?
Cactus, which has won five state titles, and Deer Valley, which owns two, are the odds-on favorites to repeat in each conference.
Mountain Ridge, meanwhile, has one of the most stacked teams in 5A baseball, giving the West Valley hope going into state playoffs in May.
Fans will soon find out if local teams are for real as the spring sports season begins region play over the next two weeks.
4c50a153b3996.imageDeer Valley’s softball team has set itself up for another state title with the return of the talented trio of catcher Karie Wilson, first baseman Laine Roth and pitcher/third baseman Kristen Cruickshank.
Cactus, meanwhile, went undefeated last year behind the pitching of Katie Holverson and hitting of slugger Stacie Chambers. Both players are back, although the Cobras finally lost in their first tournament this season.
Plus, don’t count out local teams Mountain Ridge in 5A and Apollo in 4A — teams that usually have something to say about the state championship race.
In baseball, Mountain Ridge will be tough to beat with seven starters returning and the addition of transfer Corey Burns to the pitching staff. Burns and Brian Budrow make up arguably the best staff in the state, and the return of catcher Jeff Mutchler and infielder Dan Duffy should help the team improve on last year’s 28-6 record.
Deer Valley is hoping to put pressure on the Mountain Lions with 10 lettermen returning, including top pitcher Calvin Lewis and its top two hitters Santiago Maldonado and Nick Salahub.
Ironwood enters the season with new coach Dan DeBattista, who replaced Scott Lanning after last year’s 5A Desert West Region championship.
In 4A baseball, nine lettermen are back for Cactus, which went 21-8 last year and reached the 4A quarterfinals. Returning ERA leader James Bateman is the best of the returners.
Dan Streeter is continuing his rebuilding job at Apollo with only one starter back for his second season as coach.
In boys volleyball, three local 5A teams all return experienced teams. Deer Valley, Ironwood and Mountain Ridge — the only Glendale schools to play the sport — each return eight starters.
Deer Valley senior Steve Lacey, who is coming off the basketball season, is one player to watch.
In boys and girls tennis, Ironwood’s boys will attempt to defend its Desert West Region championship, but will have to overcome the loss of its top singles player and doubles team.
Apollo’s girls team has four letterwinners returning in hopes of moving to the top half of the 4A Desert Sky Region, while Deer Valley’s girls team has an international squad, led by No. 1 singles player Ajla Sijecic, who is from Bosnia.
In track and field, Glendale High’s Greg Lacey will try to defend his 4A state championshp in the long jump. Lacey also was a finalist in the triple jump.
Mountain Ridge has two state champions returning in middle-distance runner Reese Byerum and high jumper Leah Neff. Both Mountain Lions teams finished in the top six of state last year.
Apollo’s girls will be boosted by Brittany Wray, who took second in the state last year in the 300 hurdles and was on the 4×400 relay team that took third.

Published at glendalestar.com • March 10, 2005