By Michael Schwartz
assistant sports editor
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 26, 2006
When they first arrived at Sancet Stadium, they set out on a mission to return Arizona baseball back to its glory days.
Three years, three postseason berths, a college World Series appearance and millions of dollars in professional signing bonuses later, most of Arizona baseball head coach Andy Lopez's first recruiting class returned to Tucson for Sunday's alumni game.
While these would-be seniors pondered what might have been if they had stayed together one more season, the weekend's festivities allowed them to reflect back on their accomplishments in the midst of the great teams of Arizona's past.
"We wanted to come in here, we wanted to put Arizona back on the map, we wanted to compete for a national championship, and we did all those things coming in," said catcher Nick Hundley, a second round draft pick of the San Diego Padres. "If you look at how much this program has grown with everything, all the fan base support and ... all the new field renovations and everything, it's incredible."
In three years, this group helped Lopez turn yet another program around and awake the sleeping giant that was Arizona baseball.
With seven juniors drafted from Lopez's first recruiting class, which was ranked No. 10 by Collegiate Baseball at the time, this group has paved the way for future Wildcat success.
It all started with left fielder Trevor Crowe, picked 14th overall by the Cleveland Indians in June's Major League Baseball draft, who became Lopez's first commitment at the time and eventually the highest-drafted Wildcat since 1965.
Although Arizona had been a struggling program at the time, Crowe called high school stars like Hundley, first baseman Jordan Brown (fourth round, Indians) and pitcher John Meloan (fifth round, Los Angeles Dodgers) and told them that Arizona was "a gold mine waiting to happen."
These four juniors ended up being the first foursome in Arizona baseball history to be drafted in the first five rounds.
The class also includes pitcher Kevin Guyette (10th round, Boston Red Sox), who transferred to Arizona with freshman eligibility after redshirting his first year at Georgia Tech, and center fielder Chris Frey (11th round, Colorado Rockies).
Senior second baseman Brad Boyer, who was drafted in the 14th round by the Seattle Mariners but decided to return to school, and senior outfielder Derek Decater are the only remaining members from that recruiting class and will be looked upon to bridge the gap to the next era of Arizona baseball that sports 17 freshmen on the 2006 roster.
With the sustained success this group has accomplished, Lopez will have more to offer future recruits.
"I think any time you get into something, no matter whether it be baseball or business, you want to leave it better than when you arrived," Crowe said. "Hopefully we've put Arizona back to being a national powerhouse year in and year out."
Both Crowe, last year's co-Pacific 10 Conference Player of the Year and a first-team All-American by Baseball America, and Hundley, a second-team All-American who joined Crowe and Brown on the All-Pac-10 team, said that the top thing they want their class to be remembered for is their competitive spirit.
That spirit showed on the field, where, after reaching the postseason for the second time since 1993 as freshmen in 2003, they caught fire at the right time, leading to their College World Series run in 2004.
After being ranked in the top 10 of Baseball America's national rankings most of last year, the Wildcats' high-powered, junior-led offense ran into trouble at defending national champion Cal State Fullerton, ending their dream season in the regionals.
The next morning an even bigger blow was delivered to the Arizona baseball program as most of that first recruiting class left in the draft.
"I think I accomplished every goal I had, with the exception of winning a national championship, but still even though we didn't accomplish the goal of winning a national championship it was still a great three years for me that I'll never forget because of all the friends that I made," Crowe said.
After the alumni game, won by the alumni off the strength of the 4-for-7, three-run, one-RBI performance from the would-be seniors, friends Hundley, Guyette, Meloan, Crowe and Frey chatted behind home plate, all wearing the caps of their respective major league organizations.
Already, Crowe has reached Double-A and said he expects to make it to the major leagues in two seasons. The others aren't far behind, meaning this may not be the last reunion of Lopez's first recruiting class.
"I know that if the majority of our group stays injury-free, we will be playing against each other in the big leagues," Crowe said.
What more could you ask out of a recruiting class?
Michael Schwartz is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.