In February of 2013, I came to AZ Desert Swarm as a guy looking for a way to go to Arizona baseball and hockey games for free.
I leave four years and four months later having done so much more than that.
As fate would have it, I’m actually writing this post in the Hi Corbett press box during Arizona baseball’s Senior Day of what will most likely be the final game I cover at this historic stadium. It won’t be my last Arizona baseball game though, as I’m going to Lubbock this coming weekend.
When I started writing for this website, a lot of people had to take a chance on me. First off, Kevin Zimmerman had to trust me to be out there without really having any journalism background or even knowing me at all. I graduated from Arizona with a Bachelor’s in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
At the start of my college career, I came down to Tucson from Flagstaff as an undeclared major, and even lived in the undecided dorm of Cochise my freshman year. There were several things that interested me -- sports writing being one of them — but my English 101 and 102 classes turned me off to the entire department.
Biology 181 and 182 is what made me decide on the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology route, and I’ve never regretted it, especially now that it’s coming back into my life with what I’m about to embark on by moving to Dallas and pursuing my true top passion by continuing to be an advocate for animal health and conservation.
When I graduated from U of A, I worked full time at Reid Park Zoo for a year as an apprentice zookeeper. But during that time, Paul Swaney of Stadium Journey reached out to me to write a review of McKale Center, which of course I could do since I’d probably been to just about a hundred games in that place over a five-year span. And it’s not like you completely ignore writing when you’re a science major...not even a little bit.
Joining Stadium Journey allowed me to do things on my days off at the zoo that I couldn’t have imagined. For some reason I think the turning point was actually going to El Paso to go to a UTEP basketball game, then going back just a few weeks later to cover that awful USC team that ended up losing to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Being that close to Lane Kiffin’s despair was something I’ll never erase from my memory.
Those trips were both in December 2012, and my time at the zoo ended in late January. So I needed something while I was interviewing at other places around the country, and that’s when I emailed Kevin.
At that point, this site wasn’t too big or well known, and the staff had kind of dwindled to where it was just the two of us. So after baseball I ventured into football thanks to the help of Blair Willis, and away things went.
I took over control in the weeks leading up to the Fiesta Bowl, and watching that year first-hand was probably one of the most memorable three months I will ever experience. Being on the sidelines for the endings of the Cal and Washington games was amazing. Obviously that ASU game for the South ended up being the most intense Arizona Stadium atmosphere that I will argue has ever existed.
The 2014 football season is why I love doing this, even if those last two games didn’t exactly go according to plan.
I also feel like that was the turning point of the site. I knew when I became the manager of AZ Desert Swarm I had to find people to help me. Luckily for me, we formed what I now like to call our “Core Four” of me, Ryan Kelapire, Gabe Encinas, and David Potts. And luckily for me, the first two were in Tucson and would be able to help me do things in person, while David added the humor and perspective we needed from Phoenix and his seemingly weekly trips to Albuquerque.
We were able to parlay this newfound team and turn this site into what you all know it as today: the premier place to get Arizona sports news.
Obviously more people have come and gone (shoutout to Alec Sills-Trausch and Brandon Combs for being so invested in the basketball and football recruiting, respectively...I personally hate recruiting and wish you people would stop reading about it so much). Matt Sheeley became the ultimate Arizona basketball columnist that we needed for those long perspective pieces from the fan side. And I can’t wait for this Lute Olson tattoo that’s coming. Two decades worth of not being an elite basketball program is resulting in that bad boy.
So here we are, coming to the finish line of the 2016-17 sports/academic year. Baseball is in the postseason for the second time in a row, and only the second appearance in the time I’ve been coming to the old ballyard all the time as a “non-fan”. Of course I will never get to work a Tucson Regional or likely Super Regional, I was one year too late for that, but if another Omaha trip is in the cards...you can bet on me being there however long I need to be.
When the sun does set on the 2017 baseball season, it will also set on my time as managing editor of AZ Desert Swarm. It’s been a fun ride and I have so many people I’m grateful for and should be thanking for their guidance and helping hands that I haven’t already mentioned.
First and foremost, Matt Brown and Luke Zimmermann, the college league managers at SB Nation. The daily emails and constant feedback on how to make the site grow really opened my eyes to how the internet works, and how poorly everyone else in Tucson actually does it, which is sort of a big reason why we’ve been able to bring all the new eyes here.
Secondly, Daniel Berk and Michael Lev, who I’ve spent countless hours with at baseball and football games/practices over the years. You also have to put the legendary Scott Terrell in this group, and if you’re still looking for a great baseball follow after I move on, WildcatUniverse is where you should be.
Anthony Gimino, Steve Rivera, Matt Moreno, Damien Alameda, and David Kelly of various other Arizona/Tucson outlets have also been great sounding boards over the years and their knowledge of the history of Arizona or lesser known stories about the less-covered sports in the area have also meant more than I could have ever imagined.
Bruce Pascoe was always the friendliest and willing to converse no matter how much he had on his plate with Arizona basketball, especially with what’s been going on the last couple years. I will always respect him and what he does and can’t even imagine being in that position over the years. I gotta throw Kelly Presnell in here too, especially with how stupid I look next to him with my little point and shoot, AA battery-powered digital camera at baseball and softball.
Thank you to all the coaches, players, media relations people, and facility security I’ve dealt with over the years. I know I probably got annoying at times, but I was almost always treated with kindness and respect by everyone I came across at Arizona, and I’ve built some relationships I never thought I would have had four years ago. When Jay Johnson came to Arizona in 2015, there was no baseball beat writer at the Star at that time, so I was able to hit on something big there for those few months, and even sat next to him while he was scouting San Diego State at last year’s Tony Gwynn Classic and we just talked baseball sitting there at Tony Gwynn Stadium on a Saturday night in February while he wasn’t on the phone with tournament directors and recruits.
Of course I’ve already mentioned the mainstays on our staff, but Ryan Kelapire became an invaluable piece to the puzzle, and his decision to opt for writing here ended up being enormous for not only us, but people that wanted to read about Arizona basketball. If you’re one of those people out there that watches our Facebook Live videos (shoutout to Rudy Martinez), you’ll know that those would have been trash if it had just been me there, so luckily I had Ryan next to me at McKale this year and making our coverage better than you could find anywhere else. Also over the last two years, while I’ve been getting my veterinary technician license in addition to doing this and teaching drumline at the high school and college levels, he stepped up when I couldn’t.
He’s going to do some big things in this business, and I look forward to him joining Turner this summer. I just wish the last game we worked together wasn’t the most devastating loss in the history of Arizona softball.
Also I have to send an extra shoutout to Gabe. We had fun at football practices and games, and I also had someone to talk Pokemon with when I wasn’t with the U of A drumline staff. If you need someone to do your taxes next year, hire Gabe. He is not trash.
I’m also continuously impressed with Brandon Combs’ desire to write about football recruiting with the current state of this program. That’s some serious dedication right there. And his dedication to going to Red’s on Uni basically every night he was in Tucson last year was also a sight to behold. No Anchovies better.
Again, I couldn’t possibly thank everyone here that I probably should. But most importantly, it was you the reader that made all of this possible. Without you (especially the 99.9% of you that don’t leave anger-fueled comments), this is less worth it. It’s been fun running into people that know who I am and we just start talking about Arizona sports. It was especially odd in Las Vegas this year when people stopped me at 1 AM while walking down The Strip, but if that means we’re doing this right, then so be it. We already have about as many page views in the first five months of 2017 that we had in the entire year of 2015, so again, thank you for trusting us to give you the best and most-informed Arizona news out there.
As for what’s next here, that’s a little unclear. But someone will come in, and with my help, the transition will be nice and smooth and this site will remain a credible resource for Arizona fans out there. I truly believe that. That person needs to love Arizona basketball though if they want to be successful. Just fair warning.
Whether I’m still around in a lesser role this time next year, that remains to be seen. I look forward to potentially writing my perspective about watching football games with other Arizona fans in a Dallas sports bar this upcoming year. I look forward to making a trip to Waco and watching Anu Solomon play for Baylor.
There are a lot of things that I’ll miss about doing this every day, and some things I won’t miss at all, but it was all worth it.
So this isn’t goodbye forever, but it’s more of a see you later.
And just remember, you’re all premium users here.