George Arias Sr. is one of the most potent hitters ever to come out of Tucson with his abundance of home runs when he played at Pueblo High School, Pima Community College and Arizona more than 25 years ago.
Yesterday, before the Sun Belt College League All-Star Game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, his son George Arias Jr. talked about where his promising career is headed after excelling at Tucson High School the last four years.
He is bound for Arizona on a baseball scholarship after posting a 10-4 record with a 1.79 ERA in his career with the Badgers as a right-handed pitcher.
It was a surreal moment yesterday as from one generation to the next, interviews have now taken place between myself and the baseball-rich Arias family. I was fortunate to cover George Sr. for The Arizona Daily Star when he was blasting them out of the park with Pueblo and Arizona before his pro career with the California Angels and San Diego Padres and in Japan.
Much like George Sr. at the same age, George Jr. is very confident in his ability, but he is also very humble because of the lessons his dad has taught him along the way.
“As coaches it’s our job to try to get these kids to stay within themselves,” said George Sr., who is coaching his son this summer for the Tucson Champs in the Sun Belt College League. “(George Jr.) has such a composure that I don’t think I ever had at that age for sure, and I think that’s what makes him extremely successful.”
George Jr. looks at his father as a coach when it comes to baseball, not as his dad, and that makes a significant difference.
“He’s played a huge role in my career,” George Jr. said. “He’s helped me grow a lot from when I was 12. I was never the best player on the team. I didn’t consider myself that. One moment, I told my dad, ‘I want you to coach me as hard as you can.’ He did and I think that made me a better player.”
George Jr. admittedly has tried to “definitely separate myself from my dad” when it comes to baseball in order to create his own identity and expectations.
That separation has included George Jr. taking the path toward becoming a pitcher, instead of a power hitter like his dad, although the younger Arias mentioned in jest he can hold his own when it comes to batting.
“I actually have power too,” George Jr. said with a smile. “I have too much power. That’s why I turned into a pitcher. My dad said, ‘Too many home runs come out of you, so you have to switch to pitching.’ I told him, ‘All right, I’ll do it.'”
His dad was a Collegiate Baseball All-American third baseman in 1993, the year Arizona’s most potent lineup in school history belted a phenomenal 115 home runs. The next-best number is 87 home runs hit by the 1998 team.
George Sr. produced a school-record 23 home runs in 1993. The record was broken in 2001 when Shelley Duncan hit 24 home runs.
The older Arias shares the Arizona single-season slugging percentage record with teammate Jason Thompson with both at .678 in 1993. Another teammate, Todd Landry, is No. 10 on the list with a slugging percentage of .638 that season.
That 1993 team also featured Robbie Moen, John Tejcek, Willie Morales, Billy Owens, Chris Gump, Jason Bates and Richard Lemons — all of whom former Arizona hitting coach Jerry Stitt and late coach Jerry Kindall could count for extra-base hits every game.
George Sr. remains close friends with many of his teammates of that 1993 team, which came one game from reaching the College World Series, losing at Oklahoma State in the regional final despite the Wildcats having an injury-ravaged pitching staff.
“That’s what’s great about baseball, you build lifelong relationships,” George Sr. said. “We can look back and remember we were knuckleheads at one time. We talk about it until this day — we cringe and we cry a little bit when our top three pitchers went down.
“But what is most important is the friendships.”
He then motioned over to his players in the dugout who comprised the Team Kino All-Stars last night and said, “You look at these guys. A lot of these guys know each other because it’s an all-star game. Once they start getting into the game and mingling with each other, they’re here for one reason — they’re all trying to make it.”
George Jr. certainly exemplifies a cool and calm demeanor on the field as if it was a second home. Actually, that is the case having grown up around baseball because of his father.
“I knew baseball as the only thing,” he said. “It took up all my days. I don’t remember summer vacation. It was all baseball.”
Instead of becoming burdened by the sport, especially with the shadow his father cast, George Jr. has basked in the competition.
“Every father wants to do whatever they can to help their kid get to the next level,” said George Sr., who with his wife Rachel have another son who is playing in youth leagues and a daughter. “It’s been kind of a tough journey that most people don’t know in the sense of, ‘Is he living in his dad’s shadows or trying to create a name for himself?’ I’m trying to get him to understand that, ‘If you want to get to the next level you have to continue to work hard. That’s when nobody is watching.’
“I just really ingrain that in my kids to do that. He’s starting to reap some of the rewards of that and it’s good to see the fruit of that.”
George Arias Sr. belts a home run in Japan at the end of this video.
George Jr. is further developed, especially with the mental aspects of the game, at the same age as when his dad played because of his focus on baseball rather than playing three sports in high school, as was the case a couple of decades ago.
Trying to excel in one sport with time spent on club teams and with lengthy personal training sessions places a ton of expectations on today’s player, the elder Arias said.
“It’s all year round and there’s scouts every year,” Arias Sr. said. “I think they have way more pressure than we ever did. For us, a lot of the time, it was fun. For them, it’s more about, ‘We have to get to the next level.’ It’s really tough.”
George Jr. appears to be handling that pressure well, with his work ethic and the resolve that his better days are ahead.
Selected in the 34th round by the Padres last month, he is not jumping the gun to play professionally. He is committed to playing at Arizona and spoke with excitement about having orientation Sunday on campus and beginning his summer classes Monday.
“I don’t think it makes a difference that my dad played at Arizona,” he said. “It was what my goals were. I just got to do what I have to do when I’m there.
“The ultimate goal is to play professional baseball. I was blessed with the opportunity out of high school but going to school for three years will be good for me overall.”
His father will be nearby for encouragement. When George Sr. was 11, his father passed away. He was without the father figure George Jr. now has.
“I know what it feels like to be fatherless. I know what it feels like to be hungry,” George Sr. said. “Growing up on the Southside, one of my stories to these kids is it doesn’t matter where you are from, use that as fuel to get to the next level, don’t use it as an excuse.
“When it comes to shaping lives with kids that’s what I do because I was one of them. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter your circumstances. If you have a love for the game, use it. Use that love to fuel you.”
George Sr. has actively given back to the community to make sure young players get on the right path much like his son.
He operates the Tucson Champs, which is a non-profit organization that helps local youths reach their life goals through training and competition. He also owns the Centerfield Baseball and Softball Academy that provides an opportunity for aspiring players (and the general public) to work on their swing and baseball skills.
“Growing up, there was a gentleman I remember when I made the USA national team my freshman year at Pima,” George Sr. said. “I didn’t have the funds and resources to perform and I was hanging around some guys I shouldn’t have been hanging around with. It was kind of a defining moment for me.
“(Southern Arizona youth baseball coach) Nathan Serrano sponsored me to go play for Team USA and because of that, it gave me hope. Ever since that, that’s what I want to do with kids. I want to give them a place to play, give them hope. That’s what I want to do the rest of my life, give back to these kids.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.