Snakes and Chickens

Tucson has long been associated with minor league baseball. From the modest beginnings in 1915 baseball has been a part of this city. When the Arizona Diamondbacks were formed in 1995 they needed to establish a farm system for each level of play. The organization immediately looked south to Tucson for their AAA affiliate. At the time the Tucson Toros were the affiliate of the Houston Astros but that was about to change as in 1997 the Toros signed a one-year agreement with the Milwaukee Brewers. The stars all converged in 1998 and the Arizona Diamondbacks announced that Tucson would be their new AAA club and the team name would be changed to the Tucson Sidewinders. For the past nine years the Tucson fans have watched as the Diamondbacks best minor league players filled the Sidewinders roster. They had heard about the great farm system that the Diamondbacks had but none of that talent necessarily meant winning. The Sidewinders had not made the play-offs since they established their relationship with the Diamondbacks. The 2006 season would end that drought.

With the Diamondbacks still heavy with veteran players, many of the organizations young players found themselves at AAA rather than making the roster coming out of spring training. This meant that the Sidewinders were loaded with talent eager to show the Diamondbacks that they belonged in the big leagues. In April the team got off to a shaky start going 12-12 after starting 1-5. Fortunes began to turn around in May when the team went 18-12. That was just the beginning of their climb in the standings. June saw the Sidewinders go 20-8 with an impressive 10 game winning streak. They followed that in July with a 20-6 record and another 10 game winning streak. In August the team cooled while the temperatures rose but still managed an 18-14 record and a 9 game winning streak. Tucson ended the season going 3-1 making their season record 91-53 to reach the post season. They faced the Salt Lake Bees in the first round of the play-offs taking that series 3-1 with stellar pitching and timely hitting. This put the Sidewinders in the Pacific Coast League championship to face the Red Rock Express. Tucson again put on a pitching and hitting clinic beating the Express in three straight games to capture the PCL championship. This meant the Sidewinders would play in the inaugural Bricktown Showdown where the winner of the Pacific Coast League faces the winner of the International League for a chance to win the overall AAA championship.

The Sidewinders opponent in the Bricktown Showdown was the Toledo Mud Hens who are the AAA affiliate for the Detroit Tigers. The team was made famous during the 1970’s when M*A*S*H character Max Klinger was portrayed as a diehard fan of the team. The on-field product was what everyone was talking about this season. The Mud Hens were loaded with talent and 2006 marked the second year that they had won the International League championship. The team lead the league in home runs and Tucson would have their work cut out for them. The Sidewinders came into the game touting the distinction of allowing the fewest home runs in the season. This game would test the adage that it is pitching that wins championships. Tucson’s roster did have to go through minor tweaking on their way to the championship. Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin, Chris Young, and Alberto Callespo were all called up to Arizona as were pitchers Randy Choate and Doug Slaten. Sidewinders manager Chip Hale showed why he was named PCL manager of the year by arranging a line-up that would be competitive.

The Sidewinders jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly by Scott Hairston. The Mud Hens tied the game in the fourth inning on a single to center by Max St-Pierre. The Sidewinders immediately regained the lead on a home run by Juan Brito. The game remained 2-1 until the ninth inning when Tucson erupted for 3 runs. The Mud Hens mustered a comeback but the Sidewinders pitching shut down the potent offense ending the game on a line out to first baseman Robby Hammock. The final score was 5-2 in favor of the Sidewinders.

Outfielder Scott Hairston was named game MVP and shortly after receiving the award he and Robby Hammock were recalled to Arizona where they will finish the season with the parent club. After a nine-year absence from the post season Tucson now has a championship to call their own. Looking down on the farm, the future looks extremely bright for Arizona Diamondbacks fans.

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