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Born December 17, 1931, Joe Palomarez is 83 years young. Palomarez is the patriarch of one of Southern Arizona’s greatest sports families.
Palomarez is a Tucson native who began his career as a Pima County Deputy under the colorful Sheriff Waldon Burr. Burr gave Palomarez a private license and that led to the formation of the Palomarez Guard Services.
“I was involved in the shootout with Billy Ray Alexander,” Palomarez said. “He was a big man who was always in trouble. When they finally let him out of jail he went back and tried to rob a Super City and was killed.”
But, at 6-foot-3, Palomarez is also a big man and his size and law enforcement background led to a stint being a body guard for John Wayne at the old Desert Inn. “John Wayne was a nice man and he came out and talked to me and asked if I had anything to drink because I stood there alone for about four hours,” Palomarez remembers.
“I told him I didn’t drink and that I was on the job anyway. He came back a few minutes later with a tall glass filled with something. He told me not to worry about it and I drank it. It was probably the first and last time I drank alcohol. It must have been because I felt woozy after that.”
It was about that time Palomarez began playing in and coaching a men’s fastpitch team, the Tucson Rattlers. It was a mainstay of the softball world for 54 years until he ended the team last year.
In 1993, at the age of 62, Palomarez pitched against the much younger Skull Valley Skunks in Prescott and he showed what he still had.
“Skull Valley was the national champions and we came in and I pitched against them. We beat them 2-1 and there was a big write up about me in the Prescott newspaper,” Palomarez said. “It was one of my highlights.”
The Rattlers have many alumni in the Tucson area to this day and a few are still coaching local high school and college teams.
A favorite hangout for the Rattlers in the early days was the Jerry’s Lee Ho Market on Meyer Street. His children worked there and the team celebrated victories at the market. It is one of many fond memories shared by the Palomarez family.
With his pitching days coming to an end, Palomarez picked up bowling and has gone to nationals for over 20 years.
“I bowl four days a week and will be getting ready for nationals again,” Palomarez explained. I once beat a pro 772-752 in El Paso.”
Palomarez and his wife Bertha raised several children, a couple dozen grandchildren and about a dozen great grandchildren. Many went on to become important sporting figures in Southern Arizona.
Bertha passed away in November of 2007 but she, along with Joe, left behind a great legacy.
Joe Jr. passed away (2003 at 54) along with twins John and Joseph Palomarez (at birth) and the surviving children include Eloise Encinas, Freddiann Miranda, Pete, Ernie, Bobby, Albert Cavasos and Fidel Cavasos.
Pete led Sunnyside to a state championship in softball in 2007. His 32-4 squad finished ranked eighth in the country after not being ranked at all entering the post season. His pitcher from that team, Estela Piñon, went on to win a championship at Yavapai before moving over to play at Arizona.
Piñon became the highest Arizonan ever selected in the National Pro Fastpitch draft when the Chicago Bandits took her fourth.
Ernie Palomarez is a member of the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame. With 561 career wins, Palomarez made a mark coaching baseball at Sunnyside (535 wins) before moving over to coach Rincon/University in the spring of 2014.
A standout at Sunnyside and Pima, Ernie went on to play at NAU before coming back to Tucson to coach youth softball and baseball.
Ernie’s son Jacob played baseball at El Paso, South Mountain and Wayland Baptist and his son Joel played at South Mountain.
Ernie’s daughter Erin Thompson played softball at Northwestern State in Louisiana before coming home to play at Arizona under Mike Candrea.
Jacob’s daughters Mia and Issa play 8U softball with the Las Ninas Little League with the Diamond Divas. The sisters, along with cousin Camryn Moraga, are competing in the City Tournament this week.
Erin’s son Brayden Thompson is entering the eighth grade in Louisiana and is already a high school standout. At 6-foot, Brayden played junior varsity as a seventh grader in both basketball and baseball. He’s still growing and his grandfather Ernie is looking to have him play summer ball in Tucson next year.
Albert’s son Francisco was a national champion in karate and his youngest son Dante Cavazos plays water polo for Pacific.
Eloise’s daughter Selina Moraga was a standout volleyball, basketball and softball player at Sunnyside before playing softball at Pima. She came back and coached volleyball and softball at Sunnyside until her daughter Camryn started to play softball.
Selena is married to former Sunnyside and Arizona baseball standout Omar Moraga. Omar was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1998 where he played in their minor league system for four years.
Also a softball standout, Omar played for Team USA for a couple of years and is now an assistant baseball coach at Sunnyside alongside his brother Gabriel.
Blue Devil standout pitcher Adam Moraga is their 17-year-old son. A sure Southern Arizona All-Star, Adam went 8-1 to help lead Sunnyside to a 23-10 finish.
Brandon Moraga is only 13 and is already a Jiu Jitsu champion and will be attending the world championships in July. Baseball is not his top sport but he excels at it according to his mother Selina.
“He is an amazing center fielder and plays on his middle school team for fun,” Selina said. “Brandon started wrestling competitively in the last nine months and took sixth in the Middle School State Tournament and first in the City Championships.”
As stated before, Camryn is only six but is already playing for a city championship in softball.
Selina’s brother Arejay Encinas, like a few other family members, played and pitched on the Rattlers fastpitch team coach by Joe.
We caught up with Joe Palomarez at the Kino League Southern Arizona Baseball All-Star series last week. His son Ernie was a major force in pulling off the successful series of all-star games featuring seniors and underclassmen from Southern Arizona.
In a fitting tribute to one of Southern Arizona top sports families, Joe threw out the first pitch to Ernie on the final night. Bill Leith of the Kino League wanted to keep the first pitch a secret but there were worries the duo would be at the 8U championships being played by little Camryn, Mia and Issa instead.
Even at 83, Palomarez makes it a point to try to catch every game played by his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
NEXT: The Rosthenhausler family. Sammy Rosthenhausler (October 14, 1920-) is a contemporary of Joe Palomarez.
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Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014 and has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here, on AZPreps365.com and on the pages of the Vail Voice and the Tanque Verde Voice. Contact Andy Morales at AMoralesMyTucson@yahoo.com