*This is going to be long and kind of emotional and very self-indulgent so bare with me*
Back in January of 2013, I was looking for something to do with my life. I had just completed a one year full-time zookeeper apprenticeship at Reid Park Zoo, was a year and a half removed from graduating from the University of Arizona, and was unsuccessfully interviewing at zoos around the country for my next job.
In the meantime, I sent an email to SB Nation and Kevin Zimmerman asking if I could write about the Arizona club hockey team and the baseball team, you know, just to pass the time.
Never did I think it would ever grow on me like it has.
From there, I sent an email to Sean Hogan, the head coach of the Arizona hockey team at the time. He agreed to give me whatever I needed despite not having a real track record of covering a specific team before (I had been covering random games for Stadium Journey and Paul Swaney for a year prior on my weekends at the zoo).
Thank you Coach Hogan and Paul for this initial jump start. Thank you Kevin for taking a chance on an unproven person like myself.
The next month, I was at the Arizona meet the team event. It was crowded since, well, National Champions the year before, but I was still able to get a word in with Greg Byrne. I asked him about allowing AZ Desert Swarm to cover the baseball team, and he gave me the email of Blair Willis to get the ball rolling.
I owe Blair all of the credit for this site gaining credibility. Thank you Blair.
He agreed to let me cover the team, and I rolled in on Opening Night of 2013 an hour and a half before the game, and was the first "media" member there. I sat and waited as the pregame festivities went down, and the first game of the year got started, then ended, and had my first encounter with Andy Lopez as a person working the game rather than just a fan in the stands.
I missed a good chunk of the middle part of the season (job interviews in Tulsa, San Antonio, Phoenix, Eugene and San Luis Obispo plus a trip to Vegas for the Pac-12 and Mountain West Tournaments) but came back and was welcomed back despite me just randomly disappearing.
The season came to an end, with our baseball coverage gaining some traction as Arizona was very much on the bubble during the final weekend. Of course, they didn’t make the tournament, but Blair also opened the door to the football program for me on that final day of the 2013 baseball season.
From there, it’s all been history here.
I started covering the football team, giving this site access to a revenue sport, and able to provide readers with free insight, something that has gone away just about everywhere else on the internet.
More than a year later, I was now covering basketball thanks to some relationships I was able to build covering football, and all of the sudden AZ Desert Swarm’s popularity jumped up a lot. It didn’t hurt that football was playing some of the most exciting games in the history of the program to reach the Fiesta Bowl at the same time.
In November of 2014, Kevin moved on to Fox Sports Arizona at the time, and recommended to the powers that be that I take over as the new manager of AZ Desert Swarm. I officially started on December 18th, and was suddenly faced with the reality of having to cover the Fiesta Bowl, plus men’s basketball, by myself.
I needed help.
This is where I’d like to thank Gabe Encinas, David Potts, and Ryan Kelapire for jumping into the fray with me in the first few weeks of 2015. National Signing Day 2015 was the next huge jump for this site, as we were able to have something written about every player who signed that day. There were other people that helped make that happen too, but these are the three that have stuck with me the entire time.
It also worked out perfectly that they all have strengths where I am weak. Ryan’s basketball knowledge is second-to-none among all Arizona writers. Gabe’s ability to track down recruits and connect with them is giving Arizona fans a place they don’t have to pay money to know about the future of the program. And David’s wit adds another layer that no other Arizona sites can offer.
As we continued to grow, and had three of us covering football games together, it also led to another staff expansion that was needed.
We added a lot of people for basketball season this year, and it paid off in a big way. We were able to give our new readership several different angles throughout the season. I’d really like to thank Matt Sheeley, especially for his work in March. He churned out Bracketologys that everyone loved, and was up late at night on those tournament nights writing about things even when Arizona been long-eliminated. I also need to thank Alec Sills-Trausch, James Schlittenhart, Brandon Hill, James Hartman, Ivan Leonard, Nick Latta and Mike Paulus. All of them picked up the slack on basketball coverage when it was needed, and I had nothing to give them for it other than gratitude and the reaction from the readers.
I also need to thank the guys at Wildcat Radio — Bryant Conger, Josh Worthington and Rick Powell. Those guys continue to crush it and have the best Arizona podcast out there for everyone to listen to, and just like everything else here, it’s free.
(in other news, we'll be looking for more writers as we head into the 2016-17 academic year, so if you're interested, especially if you live in Tucson, get in contact with me)
But back to why I’m writing this on the day baseball lost a National Title game. Despite all these successes with football and basketball, I’ve always prided myself on providing Arizona baseball fans the best coverage of this team. I stuck around for the hour-plus that Lopez would go in on his team, and in the last couple years, that happened more frequently than anyone would have liked.
Then the coaching change happened, and it happened at a time when the Star didn’t have anyone to cover the team. So I was out at fall practices by myself, building relationships with the new staff, and gaining their trust so I could give you, the reader, the best insight possible into this team when it mattered most.
I knew it was going to be difficult, because I’m also back in school looking to further my life in the animal health world, while also trying to balance this site with other things going on in my life.
Before the season, the coaching staff gave their blessing to have Robby Medel, who has turned into somewhat of a star, write a weekly blog for the site, only to have Athletics shut it down a month into the year. It was another unique thing that only we could bring readers, and hopefully in the coming months, we will have something similar to it with a different Arizona athlete.
Thank you to the players and coaches that have dealt with some of my really dumb questions over the last four years and trust me to write fair things about you, and to allow me to build a relationship with you to the point where you trust me enough to have a first-person piece from a player.
I went to San Diego in the second weekend of the year, partially because I had the time, and partially because I wanted to be the first Arizona writer to see this team play a game in person. I watched seven baseball games in 72 hours that weekend, three of them Arizona’s, and one of them alongside Jay Johnson as he scouted San Diego State and Kentucky. After being around the team so much that weekend, I felt like they were going to be better than people thought. But to think they would make it to Omaha was never in my mind.
Three months later, this team made the tournament, and had a legit shot at hosting a Regional. But they were on the road, and I was unable to get to any of the postseason games.
When they advanced to the CWS, I was immediately exhausting every option I had to try and get to Omaha. The deadline to decide by was that Tuesday morning=. I was going to have to spend a ton of my own money to make it happen, drive there from Tucson, stay at a hotel half an hour away from the stadium, and would have had to leave the first Thursday of the CWS if I had gone. It killed me that I wasn’t going to be able to pull it off, because I pride myself on giving you the best baseball coverage.
It hurt watching people complain about having to stay in Omaha for two weeks for this when I was trying so hard to make it happen. Then it really stung when people who hadn’t watched this team all year tried to make assessments based on what they’d seen in only two weeks.
But I know those of you who care about Arizona baseball knew better, and would still turn to us for correct info.
Even without traveling to Omaha, we still made it happen the last couple of weeks. When I first started writing about Arizona baseball, I was lucky if 100 people would read a particular story. Now this year, there are thousands of eyeballs on all of our stuff within minutes of it posting, including recaps of a baseball game against UC-Riverside in the middle of March.
It’s been an incredible ride not only this year, but the last four years with the baseball program, and they have been at the root of us being able to provide you with the best all-around coverage of Arizona Athletics.
As time marches on, I know I won’t be able to do this forever. In all honesty, I’m not sure how next year will work as I close in on other life goals.
But we have plans in the works starting in the fall to expand on everything we’re doing now, to live shows on our various outlets, to original video content, to being able to give even more insight with our traditional written stuff.
It’s been exciting watching our reach grow, even if it’s not outwardly visible due to the lack of a commenter base. Hopefully that will change in the immediate future, and we will get more engagement from you the reader on the actual site rather than on our Facebook and Twitter. It would also be cool to see people writing FanPosts, where you can share your own thoughts about Arizona in a more longform kind of way.
Thank you to everyone who has ever read an article on AZ Desert Swarm, and a special thanks to those of you that made it all the way to the bottom of this. I realize it’s very self-centered, but I felt like I just needed to share with you how Arizona baseball got this ball rolling, and how we plan on being your one-stop-shop for everything Arizona Athletics.
You may see me dressed up wearing a Block A tie at football games this year. That’s because I’m joining the Pride of Arizona Drumline professional staff, and will be doing that as well as writing and talking about the football team. It’ll be just another thing on my plate this year, but with everything we’ve built, and the great staff of writers that we currently have, and you the readers, I’m not worried about it at all.
We will continue to bring you the best Arizona Wildcats coverage moving forward. You can count on that.