Chris Moon graduated from Tucson High School last May as the best player on the nation's most historically successful high school baseball team.
Moon, a star pitcher, and an even better hitting prospect, spent the summer on a local American Legion team that went to the World Series. There, he won the event's Home Run Derby.
He started this school year on a baseball scholarship as a freshman at the UA, rated by some as the No. 1 college baseball team in the nation this preseason.
Everywhere Moon went, he was surrounded by the best baseball in the country. He was on target to become Tucson's next major-league prodigy.
That is why his decision to quit baseball last week was so surprising.
Moon informed UA coach Andy Lopez on Jan. 15, the day before the spring semester started, that he was leaving the team to enlist in the Army.
"I talked to my parents and a few other people, and I decided school and baseball weren't what I wanted to do anymore," Moon. "It put a lot of stress on me, and it wasn't as fun anymore."
Moon was the 2006 Southern Arizona Player of the Year and a first-team all-star last season for Tucson, which holds a national record with 29 state championships. He expected to spend his freshman year being groomed by a horde of All-Pac-10 players.
As much as the decision impedes Moon's road to a sure-fire professional career, it forces the Wildcats to rethink their future on the fly.
"I just took him off our bullpen rotation today, and I changed our hitting plans to eliminate him today," Lopez said this week. "He had a great fall with us. He was definitely a big factor in our plans for next year and beyond. He may have very easily moved into a contributing role this year."
Moon will sign a multiyear commitment to the Army today in Phoenix, and he expects to leave for boot camp in about two weeks.
His decision was not spurred by academic woes; he passed all his classes last semester. He was not bothered by the likelihood of limited playing time, nor was it an inability to succeed at the highest level of college baseball.
Sometimes the best explanation is the simplest one.
"My love for playing the game is gone," he said. "I still like baseball. But it was overwhelming, and I got tired of it."
Moon's high school and American Legion coach, Oscar Romero, reacted as any mentor would. He told Moon to think it over, digest all the information, then think about it some more.
No matter how Moon looked at it, he knew his promising baseball career was at an end.
"It shocked me," Romero said. "If he has made a heartfelt decision to (join the Army), then I wish him nothing but the best. But I hate to see such a great athlete not take advantage of the opportunities in front of him."
Moon will be in boot camp next month, knowing full well our country's troops are still deeply rooted in the Middle East. It puts the UA's Feb. 22 season opener against SEC powerhouse Georgia in proper perspective.
"We'll miss Chris in many ways," Lopez said. "I'm really appreciative of any young person who joins the military at a time like this, so I can coach baseball and live in a free country."
Heading (far) east
Santa Rita football coach Jeff Scurran and Canyon del Oro senior quarterback Daniel Nicholas — the Star's 2007 Coach and Player of the Year, respectively — were seen chatting at McKale Center on Monday during the MLK Basketball Classic.
Their connection is not just local: Scurran is the coach of USA Football's national high school team, and he tabbed Nicholas to be the quarterback of the team that will play the Japanese national team on March 22 in Kawasaki, Japan.
"No one has ever come to Arizona to look for players for these things before, so when they named me coach, I said, 'I'm going to take as many Tucson kids as I can,'" Scurran said. And he did.
The USA team includes 15 players from Arizona, including Nicholas, and 10 other Tucsonans. They are: Joe Chiusano, Santa Rita; James Hanson, Catalina Foothills; Alex McGillivray, Salpointe Catholic; Chris Miller, Salpointe; Paul Perez, Santa Rita; Adam Rogers, Santa Rita; Clint Smith, Santa Rita; Troy Smith, Santa Rita; Mike Snively, Santa Rita; and AuBurá Taylor, Santa Rita.
Some of the details are pending AIA approval, Scurran said. The team will train for two days in San Diego before leaving for Japan.
● The football coaching vacancies in Southern Arizona grew this week with the resignation of Pusch Ridge Christian's David Brittain and Willcox's Mike Patterson.
Brittain is a considerable loss for Pusch Ridge. A former Scurran assistant in Sabino's heyday of the 1990s, he led the Lions to the 2A state playoffs each of the last four years.
● After resigning last month as Salpointe's boys tennis coach, John Condes changed his mind and will return to lead the four-time defending 5A-I state champion this spring. Practice began Tuesday for 5A tennis teams.
At the buzzer
The field has been set for the 16th annual Cactus Classic, Tucson's best baseball tournament.
The Classic is noticeably smaller this year, cut from 32 teams to 16. The biggest omission: five-time champion Catalina Foothills, which has won the last four Classics.
"We needed to cut it down to make it more manageable," said Amphitheater coach and tournament director Todd Naskedov, whose school is one of four host sites. "I have to actually coach in it, so we made some adjustments."
The tournament (Feb. 27-March 1) will feature a home run derby for the first time. With teams such as CDO, Sabino, Sunnyside and Flowing Wells still in the mix, the Classic is still the best of its kind in town.