On Nov. 13, 2010, Mat Troupe flew to Tucson for a recruiting visit, sat in the Zona Zoo during the UA-USC football game and began to think he would pitch for the Arizona Wildcats and not his first choice, the UCLA Bruins.
Troupe, then a .358-hitting catcher/pitcher at Los Angeles Chaminade College Preparatory, was an elite-level prospect who had told UCLA coaches he wanted to be a Bruin. And why not? The drive to UCLA's campus from Troupe's high school took 20 minutes.
But because college baseball is limited to 11.7 scholarships per 25-man team - "nobody on our team has a full scholarship," UA coach Andy Lopez said after qualifying for the College World Series - Troupe was in something of a bidding war.
The Bruins low-balled Troupe; Lopez almost doubled the scholarship offer. And so, on Friday night in Omaha, Troupe pitched 2 2/3 fabulous innings of relief, the winning pitcher in a compelling extra-inning victory over Florida State.
Troupe, who wears Eric Gagne-style glasses to reflect his admiration for the ex-Dodgers closer, pitched just two-thirds of an inning during the regional and super regional sweeps at Hi Corbett Field.
But he was ready when summoned from the bullpen in the 10th inning of a tie game. He looked a lot like the 2011 Chaminade pitcher who struck out 91 batters in 56 innings after converting from catcher to full-time pitcher.
Troupe was so committed to pitching for Arizona, turning down a bonus offer from the New York Yankees last summer, that when rumors spread that Lopez might leave Arizona to coach at Cal State-Fullerton, Troupe texted Lopez and said, "We need to talk."
The deal was: Troupe would bypass the Yankees' offer if Lopez remained at Arizona. They would do big things together.
And on Friday night they did.
Now comes tonight's match with Troupe's hometown team, UCLA. Tucsonans who watched the Wildcats win the 1980 and 1986 College World Series are reminded how important relief pitching is in Omaha.
In 1980, UA closer Greg Bargar pitched 2 1/3 innings of hitless relief in Arizona's championship game victory over Hawaii. Bargar pitched so well in Omaha that he was a third-round draft pick of the Montreal Expos.
In '86, Joe Estes was the winning pitcher, in relief, in CWS victories over Maine and Loyola Marymount. Estes left Arizona as the school's career saves leader.
And now come Troupe and his bullpen buddies, Tyler Crawford and Stephen Manthei.
Something tells me this UA baseball team will go as far as they can take them.
Tucsonan Abdirahman wins his last race before Olympics
Tucsonan Abdi Abdirahman won the U.S. Half Marathon Championship Saturday in Duluth, Minn., running 13 miles in 1 hour 2 minutes 46 seconds. He earned $12,000 for his victory, his last competitive event before he arrives in London for the Olympics in August. Tucsonan Ian Burrell was third in the half-marathon and earned $5,000. … The U.S. Olympic track and field trials begin Thursday in Eugene, Ore., and among the early competitors, beginning Friday, is two-time Arizona NCAA decathlon champion Jake Arnold. The decathlon field is loaded with notable favorites Ashton Eaton, Bryan Clay and Trey Hardee, but at 28, Arnold should be at his career best. He finished No. 4 overall at the 2008 Olympic trials (three make the USA Olympic team). Arnold is coached by Arizona's Sheldon Blockburger and moved his training base to Azusa Pacific University this spring. … Strangely, Track and Field News does not rank Arnold among the 10 leading contenders. The magazine ranks UA junior high jumper Brigetta Barrett No. 2 entering the Olympic trials and UA hurdler Georganne Moline No. 10 overall at 400 hurdles. … Nicole Penkalski Sayers, who coached the Catalina Foothills boys and girls teams to 12 consecutive state swimming championships from 2000 to 2005, is now a vice president of Bank of the West in Sacramento, Calif. She left Tucson and Hillenbrand Aquatic Center coaching jobs to follow her husband Mike Sayers' pro cycling career. And it has paid off. Mike Sayers last week was named to the coaching staff for the London Olympics by USA Cycling.
Barnes caddies at Open, hoping for UA golf job
While he awaits Greg Byrne's selection of a new UA men's golf coach, ex-Wildcat Andy Barnes is at the U.S. Open as a caddie for K.T. Kim. Barnes is no stranger to big golf events: He played in the 1999 U.S. Open and has caddied for his brother, former UA All-American Ricky Barnes, at both the Masters and U.S. Open. Andy has been the assistant men's golf coach at Arizona since 2008 and hopes to replace Rick LaRose at the top. … Pueblo High grad Michael Perez will transfer to Nevada and be eligible to play in the 2013-14 season as a junior. It's a good choice for the former UTEP shooting guard. By his fifth season of college basketball, in 2015-16, he is apt to develop into a pro-level player with the opportunity to make a lot of money in Europe. … Flowing Wells grad Chris Ayer is averaging 19.1 points and 12.4 rebounds for the Los Angeles Lightning of the Independent Basketball Association. The Loyola Marymount product will lead his team into the IBA playoffs that start next weekend in Gary, Ind. … After winning the region men's soccer championship and finishing fifth in the NJCAA in 2012, Dave Cosgrove's Pima College men's soccer team attracted four scholarship offers for 2012-13. Mountain View grad Nick Peppe will play for Division I Wright State; Sahuaro grad Daniel Bacon signed with D-I South Carolina Upstate; defensive star Eric Glad has chosen to sign with D-II Midwestern State; and Tucson High midfielder Chris Marrone will play for D-II Eastern New Mexico. … After Tucson High grad Tom Wilhelmsen became the Seattle Mariners closer last month, he told Seattle reporters that his killer curveball, his out pitch, was taught to him as a kid by Tucsonan Brent Strom, who has worked with hundreds of young Tucson pitchers. Strom, who is now the St. Louis Cardinals minor-league pitching instructor, also operates the Strom Baseball Institute in Tucson in the off-season.
Miller's contract raises financial stakes in Pac-12
Sean Miller's contract extension, through 2016-17, worth as much as $2.6 million a year, plus incentives, shoots far past ASU's Herb Sendek, who signed an extension through 2015-16 recently worth $1.2 million a year. Washington's Lorenzo Romar probably enjoyed reading about Miller's contract. Romar's deal, through 2020, at $1.7 million annually, can be adjusted every two years to reflect the market. Miller's contract raises the financial stakes in Pac-12 hoops. … New ASU football coach Todd Graham beat Arizona's Rich Rodriguez in the first notable in-state recruiting battle last week, landing Lakeside Blue Ridge linebacker Chans Cox. A year from now, the state's top prospect is likely to be incoming Salpointe Catholic junior receiver Cameron Denson. … UA baseball coach Andy Lopez initially recruited and signed Gilbert High School third baseman D.J. Peterson, who is now a sophomore at New Mexico. Peterson detoured to the Lobos when Seth Mejias-Brean became an impact third baseman at Arizona, but Peterson is also one of the nation's top third basemen. At UNM this year, Peterson hit .419 with 17 homers and was named a first-team All-American last week by the Collegiate Baseball Writers. … Incoming CDO sophomore golfer Chris Meyers won his fourth JGAA championship of the summer last week, winning the Willie Low Invitational at the Phoenix Country Club by shooting 70. His mother, Susie Bedoy Meyers, spent the week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, walking the U.S. Open course with another of her pupils, first-round U.S. Open leader Michael Thompson. … Lance and Kelly Fowler's 18U Desert Thunder softball program, the best of its kind in Arizona over the last decade, has once again qualified for the ASA Gold Nationals next month in Oklahoma City. The Fowlers' team includes nine Division I college-bound freshmen and incoming Tucson seniors Emily Griffin of Salpointe, Taylor Lawson of Sahuaro, Adrian Rosthenhausler of Sunnyside, and Class of 2014 juniors Sammy Nettling of CDO, Gina Snyder of Sahuaro and Becca Ziegler of CDO.
My two cents
Run-down Forty Niner Country Club receives second chance
Since it opened more than 50 years ago, Forty Niner Country Club has played host to the PGA Tour (1963 and 1964) - it is the only Tucson course that Jack Nicklaus played competitively - and has been one of the top golf properties in Southern Arizona, a wooded oasis on the far east side.
But it fell into disrepair under ownership of the IRI Group and for the last few years has at times been nearly unplayable, dry and brown. Many members scattered, and the long drive out Tanque Verde was rarely worth the time or cost to play the old course.
It was on the brink of closing.
Finally, last week, club member Ron McKenzie bought the facility from IRI and pledged that his first order of business was (this is not funny) to turn the water back on and start growing grass in the fairways again.
McKenzie, who founded and operated a billion-dollar mining and construction company in Colorado in the 1970s, sent an email to club members saying, in part, "the club has virtually no equipment that works," and "we will not be able to fix everything overnight, since it took years for the club to get this run down." He estimated that Forty Niner lost more than $200,000 annually in recent years.
The golf industry in Southern Arizona continues to swoon; Tucson City Golf actually raised the rates, a baffling marketing approach, to combat a lack of play and a staggering budget deficit. Dozens of other courses, in Tucson and Green Valley, are barely profitable.
But I've always thought Forty-Niner was a special place, shady and tree-lined, a parkland-style course that could hold its own in the market place. Now, under McKenzie's ownership, it will get an unexpected second chance.