Desert View celebrates 31st anniversary of baseball state championship

Desert View’s historic baseball family including members of the 1988 and 1991 teams (left to right): Adam Rodriguez, assistant coach Bobby Rodriguez, Gabe Diaz, coach Rene Rodriguez, Billy Grajeda, father of Jesus Rodriguez and assistant David Clark. (Curtis Dutiel/Desert View High School)

The 1991 state championship remains Desert View High School’s only one in baseball, and it still tears at coach Rene Rodriguez to this day that the Jaguars should really have two.

The 1988 team that featured Desert View legends such as Adam Rodriguez, Billy Grajeda, Pete Wilkins and Bobby Garcia lost 6-5 against Peoria in the state championship at Tempe Diablo Stadium after leading 5-0 going to the bottom of the sixth inning.

“That game, we should have won it; it still haunts me to right now,” Rene Rodriguez told the crowd at Desert View on Thursday night, before Sunnyside beat its rivals 10-3. “I still can’t sleep at night. I think about it. I can reminisce every inning of that game.

“But it wasn’t meant to be.”

An equally divided crowd supporting Desert View and Sunnyside was in attendance at the Jaguars’ baseball field Thursday night, similar to that glorious night May 21, 1991, for the Sunnyside Unified School District at Hi Corbett Field, where the Jaguars defeated the Blue Devils 3-2 for the 4A state championship.

A crowd of 2,851, including Arizona coach Jerry Kindall, attended that game — a baseball spectacle not only for Desert View, but also the sport at the high school level in Southern Arizona.

Desert View’s state championship team from 1991

“It was just one of those seasons that everything came together,” said Grajeda, who served as an assistant to Rodriguez in 1991 after spending two years at Pima. “I remember it was a walk-off (against Sunnyside). The pitcher from Sunnyside walked in the winning run, so it was pretty exciting.

“Huge crowd (at Hi Corbett). They had mariachis there. I remember all the coaches from the area were there. I remember Jerry Kindall being there, to congratulate us. It was a lot of fun.”

Grajeda went on to pitch for Kindall and was part of the 1992 Pac-10 championship team. He continues to proudly wear the ring from that title.

Former Desert View, Pima and Arizona standout pitcher Billy Grajeda shows his 1992 Pac-10 title ring with Arizona (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Sunnyside coach Gabe Moraga, a member of the famed Moraga baseball family with the Blue Devils, happened to be the pitcher who walked in the winning run for Desert View in the 1991 title game.

He has either played or coached with the Blue Devils for close to two decades. The battles against the Jaguars are numerous, and the competitive juices always flow for these Duel in the District games whether it’s for a state title in 1991 or a regular-season game like Thursday night.

“You can be undefeated or have no wins, it doesn’t matter when you play this game because anybody can win this game,” Moraga said. “It comes down to that. It’s a fun game to be a part of.”

Thursday’s ceremony included the return of Adam Rodriguez — one of the best multi-sport stars this city has ever seen — to his alma mater.

As the Jaguars’ quarterback, he passed for 5,774 yards and had 42 touchdowns in his four seasons and led Humberto Federico’s team to the state playoffs in his last two years. He was a two-time wrestling state champion. His top sport was baseball.

After leading the Jaguars to the state title game in 1988, Adam Rodriguez went on to Pima to play for Rich Alday similar to Grajeda and then Oklahoma City College before getting drafted by the Detroit Tigers as a catcher (although he could also play first base, third base and the outfield).

He played five years in Detroit’s farm system and was with the Triple-A Toledo Mudhens in 1997. An injury ended his career and he returned to Tucson and became a police officer.

“I’m still doing that 23 years later,” he said. “If I couldn’t play sports, I was going to do something to help the community. Being a police officer did that for me. I was able to protect the families and protect the community, show these kids that it’s not just about making that money, selling the drugs and doing stuff.

“There is a good side to it. There is education. There is a chance for us to do better. We can stop complaining, ‘I’m from the southside, I’m from the southside …’ We are from the southside, so make each other proud. With God, we can do anything.”

Other members of the Desert View baseball family, including the 1991 team members in attendance Thursday, included Tony Garcia, Gabe Diaz, the father of Jesus Rodriguez and assistants David Clark and Bobby Rodriguez. Desert View softball coach Louis Gonzales was also part of the championship team.

Rene Rodriguez remembers of the 1991 title game against Sunnyside as being “just a great game; it was probably the greatest game ever.”

“Thirty-one years later … they still talk about it. I didn’t think we were going to win it. The team that should’ve won it was 1988. … We lost to Palo Verde (in 1991). We never used to practice on Saturday. We practiced on Saturday. Chewed the guys out. After that, boy, they came together. They peaked at the right time.”

Sunnyside scored four runs in the first two innings and capped the game with a four-run rally in the seventh to beat Desert View 10-3 on Thursday night.

The Blue Devils were led by leadoff hitter Wyatt Stockam, a shortstop who went 2 for 3 with two runs and two RBIs, and second baseman Alonso Martinez (2 for 2 with a run and two RBIs).

Jovanni Toledo also ripped a deep-fly double to centerfield that scored two runs as part of the seventh-inning rally. He finished with three RBIs.

Joshua Barrios pitched an effective 4 1/3 innings allowing two hits and three runs (all earned) with three strikeouts and six walks. Relievers Victor Leyva and Orlando Cobarrubias combined for 2 2/3 hitless and scoreless innings with three strikeouts and three walks.

Desert View was led by Bradie Black’s two RBIs.

Sunnyside improved to 9-10-2 overall and 2-1 in the 5A Southern while Desert View is now 10-8 and 1-2.

The teams play again at Sunnyside on April 19.


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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District. He is a 1985 graduate of Sunnyside High School.

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