Some awfully good things have happened in sports in Arizona during the past 12 months. Let’s take a moment and celebrate the victories before we bemoan the losses or look forward to an uncertain future.
The biggest success of all, of course, was the Arizona Diamondbacks winning the National League Western Division, the Divisional and League Championship Series and, finally, the World Series, the ultimate prize in professional sports. It just doesn’t get any better than that. Related individual honors went to Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Craig Counsell and Luis Gonzalez. Hopefully, no one was left out who actually received such honors as League Championship Series MVP (Counsell) or World Series MVP (Johnson and Shilling) or National League Cy Young Award (Johnson). There were others who deserved awards and didn’t get them, notably Bob Brenly who should have been the National League Manager of the Year.
Then there were the Arizona Wildcats basketball team which played in the finals of the 2001 NCAA Tournament, losing to Duke in that last game of the season. After four starters either graduated or moved on early to a professional career, Coach Lute Olson began a “rebuilding” year. With a mostly freshman line-up (and a few top notch veterans, only one of whom had been a starter), Olson built a squad that was back in the Sweet Sixteen and competing for another shot at the championship. That was some job of rebuilding. How many times are we going to see Olson turn in “his best coaching job ever”? It seems an amazingly frequent occurrence for something that is supposed to be a once in a lifetime experience.
The Arizona State Lady Sun Devils made their mark in the NCAA Women’s Tournament and won their first game before falling to top-ranked Vanderbilt. This was a watershed performance and, hopefully, the first of many for Coach Charlie Turner-Thorne.
The University of Arizona softball team brought home an NCAA Championship of their own. With the almost unbeatable Jennie Finch on the mound, the 2002 Lady Wildcats are not a bad bet to defend their title. Of course, winning the second time around is possibly even harder than winning the first such championship.
Both the University of Arizona under Olson and the Arizona Diamondbacks under Brenly have reputations of running programs that are devoid of the types of behavior that have given sports a bad name in much of the country. Both are gentlemen who act the part and expect the same of their charges. My guess is that the people in charge of the other programs cited above are as well.
There is much to celebrate about the sports scene in Arizona. There are a few things to rue and regret as well, but those will wait for another day. That, if it is ever written, will be a much harder column to put on paper.