The Pima College baseball team is opening the season with the first Rich Alday invitational on Friday and Saturday at Reid Park.
The tournament was created to honor Alday, the program’s first baseball coach, who passed away last year.
Alday, a legenday Tucson High figure who was an all-state quarterback with the Badgers in 1965, coached the Aztecs from 1974-89 and returned in 2017 before retiring after the 2018 season.
He finished his career with a 517-251 overall record.
“Rich Alday, for me, was a mentor,” Pima coach Ken Jacome said. “He gave me my first opportunity to coach at the Division I level when he was the head coach at the University of New Mexico. I fortunately had an opportunity to be here for a period of time when he was the (Pima) head coach and my brother (Jason Jacome) was an All-American.
“We’ve got some people that have had some relationships with him. His family is an important part of who I am. The opportunity for me to coach is because of him. I just felt that it was important to try to honor him the best that we could and it was a great deal to have a tournament in his name.”
The Aztecs are coming off of a historic season that saw multiple milestones accomplished and six athletes signing letters of intent to Division I colleges.
Pima finished the 2021 season with a 36-14 record, which was the lowest total of losses for the team since 1987. They also went 27-11 in ACCAC play, which was the most conference wins since 1991.
Pima earned a trip to the NJCAA Region I, Division I tournament that year. The trip was the first one they had earned since 2014.
The Aztecs lost their first two games to Yavapai College and Arizona Western College, but the run was amazing nonetheless.
“We had a good season,” said Ken Jacome, whose brother is on the coaching staff. “Our guys played well. They put us in a good position at the end of the year to play in the postseason. Obviously, it didn’t turn out like we wanted it to, but I think it was an opportunity for us to take a step in the right direction of our ultimate goal, which is going to the Junior College World Series.”
The six Division I level athletes signed their letters of intent last November. They will be enroll in their universities following the spring semester.
Pitchers Jaren Jackson and Josh Lackner are headed to New Mexico. Infielder Romeo Ballesteros and pitcher Darius Garcia will play at New Mexico State. Pitcher Aiden May and outfielder Bradon Zastrow will attend Arizona.
Another former Pima player, infielder Preston Clifford, is headed to Grand Canyon after playing two years at Washington State.
“They’re a big part of what we were able to accomplish, so I’m thankful for those guys coming in and playing for us and winning a lot of games for us,” Ken Jacome said. “What they did was they basically laid a foundation for the new group and the new guys that are coming in this year. They understand that our program is gonna win, were gonna continue to get better.”
Of those athletes, two are from the Tucson area. Ballesteros is a Salpointe Catholic graduate and Clifford comes from Sabino.
Ken Jacome stated the importance of recruiting locally.
“In order to be the team that you wanna be and get the opportunities to go to a championship, you have to be able to recruit the best players from your area,” he said. “When I first got here, it was a little bit difficult because we were losing some of the kids to some other programs outside of Tucson. If we show that we can win a little bit and we can develop some players and send them to the next level, its easier for us to attract kids.”
Pima’s first games Friday at Reid Park were against Northwestern (Colo.) Community College and New Mexico Junior College.
The Aztecs on Saturday will play El Paso Community College at 11 a.m. on Field 1 at Reid Park and again at 3 p.m. against Lamar (Texas) Community College.
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Nathaniel Martinez is an aspiring sports journalist who is a Sahuaro High School graduate and Pima Community College student. He has written for the Aztec Press at Pima. While at Sahuaro, he played football for longtime coach Scott McKee and he wrestled for the Cougars.