During the Arizona Major League Baseball Alumni Association's Inaugural Awards Banquet, Arizona proved it was the baseball capital of the world as it honored its top baseball and softball players from around the state from the high school level to the major leagues on Saturday.
Mesa was well represented as former Desert Ridge High School pitcher Jake Barrett received the Arizona High School Player of the Year Award during the ceremonies. The Desert Ridge Jaguars were the 5A-II state baseball champions for 2009.
The state's top office was well represented when former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford received the association's Legacy Award for stepping up to the plate during a time when Florida was trying to lure teams away from the Cactus League.
Barrett, who will play baseball for Arizona State University next spring, finished the season for the Division 5A-II state champions with a 10-wins and two-losses pitching record and a 28-5 team record for the Jaguars.
"It's an honor," said Barrett, who was wearing a suit and a tie. "I can't wait to play for Arizona State University."
Mofford, 87, was nominated for the Legacy Award by Arizona Diamondbacks official scorer Rodney Johnson, who said she represents what the Cactus League is trying to do in Arizona, and credited her for saving the league when many teams could have left Arizona in the late 1980s.
Mofford, who was Arizona governor from 1988 to 1991, and Geoffrey Gonsher, a former director for the Arizona State Lottery Commission, formed the Cactus League Commission in 1988 to identify funding sources to keep teams from going to Florida.
"I don't think I deserve it, but I'm honored to get it," a spry Mofford said of her award. "I've followed baseball a long time, and will continue to follow baseball. It used to be that only half of the stadiums would be full for spring training, but in recent years, these teams have done a lot for the economy. We're trying to keep the Cubs here, so let's get behind them!"
With the arrival of the Cincinnati Reds in Goodyear in 2010, Arizona will be home to 15, or half of the major league teams' spring training facilities. The Valley also is home to more than 700 former major league baseball players, according to information from the Arizona Major League Alumni Association, which donates money to various charities connected with youth baseball.
The awards ceremony was two days before a groundbreaking will be held at 11 a.m. Monday on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community for a new spring training facility between Scottsdale and Mesa for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
Lou Klimchock, longtime president of the Arizona Major League Alumni Association who emceed the event, said Saturday that hosting an awards banquet to recognize the top players from Arizona was something he had wanted to do for a long time.
"One of our sponsors' sons' Little League teams made it to the National Little League World Series and all they got was a little blurb in the newspaper," Klimchock said. "I said, 'Gee whiz, we've got to do something to recognize these players.’ We're part of the community, we live in the community and we want to give back to the community. When we talk about Arizona, it's a baseball factory, as it's played here nearly all 12 months out of the year."
Former Arizona State University pitcher Mike Leake, a No. 1 draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds, was honored as the Arizona College Player of the Year, but was not in attendance to receive his award because he was pitching for the Reds in an Arizona Fall League game on Saturday night.
Other players to receive Arizona Player of the Year Awards were: Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier for the major leagues (not in attendance); Binghampton (N.Y.) Mets first baseman Ike Davis for the minor leagues; Arizona State University softball outfielder Kaitlin Cochran (not in attendance) for college softball player of the year; Central Arizona College pitcher Jimmy Patterson for junior college player of the year; Phoenix Community College catcher Lacy Goodman for junior college softball player of the year; Tucson's Canyon del Oro former pitcher Kenzie Fowler for high school softball player of the year; she will be playing for the University of Arizona.