From Sloan Park to Wrigley Field, longtime Valley Cubs fans celebrate World Series run

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by Trisha Garcia
Cronkite News

TEMPE – Former NBA player and current Suns broadcaster Eddie Johnson was just a kid growing up in inner-city Chicago when he attended his first Cubs game. He spent what little money he had to buy a Pittsburgh Pirates hat to be just like Roberto Clemente, his favorite player.

Then, he tried to get the autograph of Ted Abernathy, a pitcher for Chicago.

“He said, ‘Gimme that hat.’ I handed him the hat and he took his hat off his head, signed it and he gave me a ball, but he kept the hat,” Johnson said. “It hit me and I just fell in love with that team right away.”

Johnson and other Cubs fans like him who have relocated to the Valley had been waiting years to see their beloved “Cubbies” in the World Series, 71 to be exact, before the team advanced to the Fall Classic against the Cleveland Indians in a series the Cubs trail 2-1.

For Jerry Colangelo, a Chicago native credited with the growth and success of professional sports in Phoenix, the long-awaited return to the World Series is about business more than his fandom from growing up in Chicago. Continue reading “From Sloan Park to Wrigley Field, longtime Valley Cubs fans celebrate World Series run”

Suns rookies add to franchise’s youth movement

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by JONATHAN SAXON
Cronkite News

FLAGSTAFF – The Phoenix Suns morning practice at Northern Arizona University during the third day of training camp had drawn to a close and the players were going through their cool down routine before talking with reporters.

But, before the breakout, the Suns’ veterans had a gift to welcome their rookies to the league: Disney backpacks. The pink and blue book bags usually worn by elementary school children looked out of place on the backs of professional athletes preparing for an NBA season.

As the rookies gathered to check each other’s new gear, the veterans announced to them they need to keep the backpacks with them during games, and would be fined if they are caught without it. Tyler Ulis, the former Kentucky Wildcat drafted in the second round, had his own thoughts on the rookie initiation.

“Some days I might take the fine, depends on how I’m feeling,” he said.

The Suns will be starting the season Wednesday with three rookies on the 15-man roster: Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and Ulis. They are seen as the next wave in the youth movement the organization is investing in to go along with Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Brandon Knight and Alex Len. Continue reading “Suns rookies add to franchise’s youth movement”

Arizona State gathers 1986 team for 30th anniversary of Rose Bowl win

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by BRENDAN KENNEALY
Cronkite News

PHOENIX – Homecoming week is the perfect time to reflect on the past, which at Arizona State includes the 1986 Sun Devils, still the only team in school history to win a Rose Bowl.

In honor of the 30th anniversary of ASU’s 22-15 victory over the Michigan Wolverines on New Year’s Day in 1987, the Arizona State Alumni Association gathered players from that team at a Legends Luncheon held at the Arizona Grand Resort on Friday.

Christine Wilkinson, president of the Arizona State University Alumni Association, helped organize the event for the team with the idea of rekindling memories of that magical season for them.

“When you go into that room, all those memories are going to flood back,” Wilkinson said. “You’re going to see the banners and everybody cheering. We can’t wait.”

Wilkinson talked to the former Sun Devil players about how their run to the Rose Bowl didn’t just happen overnight, and that there was a lot of time and energy put in by a number of people.

“It always takes many different people to put it all together,” she said. “Your coaches also knew about you, your potential. And you’ve probably shared so many stories together.”

The camaraderie of that team can still be felt 30 years later. Continue reading “Arizona State gathers 1986 team for 30th anniversary of Rose Bowl win”

Injuries force ASU freshman Jack Smith’s return to familiar role: QB

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By TRISHA GARCIA
Cronkite News

TEMPE – Only one player on Arizona State’s football roster threw for more than 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. And up until a week ago, he wasn’t even listed as a quarterback.

It was Jack Smith, a freshman wide receiver until circumstances led to a move to quarterback.

Smith was the starting quarterback at Mountain Pointe High in Ahwatukee last year, his first and only season there after he moved to Arizona with his father, ASU baseball coach Tracy Smith.

Continue reading “Injuries force ASU freshman Jack Smith’s return to familiar role: QB”

Coyotes undersized players making an impact

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By MADALYN HEIMANN
Cronkite News

GLENDALE – The Arizona Coyotes were the second tallest and third heaviest team in the NHL last season, but there are several undersized players on the team’s roster that are making their presence felt – in a big way.

The average NHL player stands 6-feet-1 and weighs 201 pounds, according to hockey-graphs.com. And while size and strength can be advantages, there are many players that have found success despite falling well below the averages.

Forwards Anthony Duclair, at 5-11, 185 and Max Domi, who measures 5-10, 198, fall under the average. But with 20 goals and 24 assists last season, and playing on 34 shifts through two games this season, Duclair has found a place on the Coyotes roster as a left winger and believes that undersized players should not give up on finding a spot in the NHL. Continue reading “Coyotes undersized players making an impact”

Balanced attack driving Cardinals return to winning ways

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By JONATHAN SAXON
Cronkite News

TEMPE – After stumbling to a 1-3 start this season, the Arizona Cardinals climbed back to the .500 mark with a 28-3 victory over the New York Jets on Monday Night Football, and appear to be finding an identity.

It’s the identify of a team with a balanced offensive approach and an attacking defense.

“We’re finding more about each other each week,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Arians said that increased attention to detail and offensive balance have been the keys to the turnaround for the Cardinals, who have won two in a row since back-to-back losses to the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams.

The difference?

“Better focus over 60 minutes,” Arians said.

After four games in which more than 70 percent of their offense came through the air, over the last two games the Cardinals attack has been almost perfectly balanced – 50.15 percent on the ground and 49.85 percent from the pass (343 yards rushing, 341 yards passing). Continue reading “Balanced attack driving Cardinals return to winning ways”

Mountain Pointe football coach Vaughan turned Pride into powerhouse

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By BEN HALVERSON
Cronkite News

PHOENIX – In 2008, Mountain Pointe High’s football team finished with a 2-8 record and wasn’t even regarded as the best program in Ahwatukee, much less Arizona.

A year later, the school hired Norris Vaughan as head coach and the Pride flipped their fortunes, finishing with a 12-1 record and advancing to the the state semifinals.

Vaughan has continued to build on that quick turnaround, transforming Mountain Pointe into a perennial playoff contender.

The Pride, after a 7-0 start, sit atop the Class 6A rankings this season as they prepare to take on second-ranked Desert Ridge High in Mesa Friday night.

Since Vaughan took over, Mountain Pointe has an 82-15 record, reaching the state playoffs every season and creating a culture of winning at the school that has stirred support throughout the community. Continue reading “Mountain Pointe football coach Vaughan turned Pride into powerhouse”

Coyotes overhaul penalty killing unit

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By MATT LAYMAN
Cronkite News

GLENDALE – The Arizona Coyotes roster has a new look to it.

This offseason, first-year general manager John Chayka made acquisitions at several positions, but his abundant defensive acquisitions in particular could improve a penalty kill that was among the worst in the league last season.

Continue reading “Coyotes overhaul penalty killing unit”

Radim Vrbata beginning third go around with Coyotes

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By MATT LAYMAN
Cronkite News

GLENDALE – Radim Vrbata walked into a room full of reporters and photographers at Gila River Arena this September and was met by a lot of familiar faces in the Phoenix media after signing with the Arizona Coyotes – again.

This season marks the beginning of Vrbata’s third stint with the Coyotes in a 15-year NHL career.

Continue reading “Radim Vrbata beginning third go around with Coyotes”

ASU has rich history of walk-on football players

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By RYAN DECKER
Cronkite News

TEMPE – Frederick Gammage’s mind raced as he and his family drove home following a visit to Arizona State University. Gammage had a scholarship offer from an NCAA Division II program in New Mexico but the Brophy College Prep graduate really had his hopes set on playing at ASU.

“Dad, you know, I’m just gonna take this D-II offer and go out there and play,” Gammage told his father, believing that the family did not have the money for him to attend ASU.

Turning around, his father asked him, “Do you want to play in front of 1,000 people or do you want to play in front of 70,000 people?”

That was the moment that Gammage knew what he would do.

“He made me a deal,” he said. “He said he’ll find the money, he’ll work it out however – take the loans, or whatever – and he’ll give me two years to get a scholarship.” Continue reading “ASU has rich history of walk-on football players”

CORRECTION to Oct. 3 story on Diamondbacks front office changes

EDS: Clients who used a story slugged D-backs firings that moved Oct. 3, under a PHOENIX dateline, are asked to use the following correction. The error occurred in the third graf of the original story. A corrected version of the story has been posted here.

PHOENIX – An Oct. 3 Cronkite News story about the Diamondbacks front office changes included an old job position for Kim Ng. Ng is Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of baseball operations.

Tailgating even more important than the game for some

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By NICOLE VASQUEZ
Cronkite News

GLENDALE – Rick Inmon’s Arizona Cardinals tailgating crew has one rule: Everything must have bacon.

“It’s just something we decided early on,” said Inmon, a Glendale native. “It’s the candy of the meat world.”

Behind him, his friend Brad Hendrix, who wears a ‘Thanks Pat’ Tillman jersey, flips filet mignons wrapped in bacon. His brother, Stewart Hendrix, dons a matching jersey. He watches the grill’s flames spark and fall.

“No green stuff, we don’t do salads,” Inmon said.

That’s the scene on Sunday afternoons in the parking lots surrounding University of Phoenix Stadium, along with the Great Lawn that sits at the West end.

Inmon and the Hendrix brothers are a part of the 27 percent of grill owners who have tailgated in the past year, according to Weber-Stephens’ 27th annual grill survey. Continue reading “Tailgating even more important than the game for some”

Valley soccer standout Niki Jackson helps build GCU program

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by BEN HALVERSON
Cronkite News

PHOENIX – Niki Jackson had his choice of well-established college soccer programs coming out of Cactus Shadows High School and Casa Grande’s Real Salt Lake Academy.

One of the top players in Arizona, Jackson received numerous offers to play for top-tier programs including Washington, Nevada-Las Vegas and Akron. Washington and Akron are ranked among the top 25 in the latest NCAA Division I rankings.

Instead, Jackson decided to make his own mark and try to help Grand Canyon University join the elite programs.

“I had a long discussion with my parents before I decided where I wanted to go,” Jackson said.

Intrigued by the opportunity to help build a program and establish a winning culture, Jackson decided to stay home and play at GCU.

“The program wasn’t that big at first so I kind of came here trying, in my mind, to put GCU on the map from a soccer aspect,” Jackson said. “So when I came here, I wanted to be able to make a name for not only myself, but the school and the soccer program as well.

“The other schools already had big names. I wanted to come here and make this school a big name.” Continue reading “Valley soccer standout Niki Jackson helps build GCU program”

From Alaska to Arizona, summer league baseball prepares ASU players for upcoming season

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By GABRIEL VASQUEZ
Cronkite News

PHOENIX – Fourteen Arizona State baseball players recently participated in summer leagues in various states, leading to some long days for some. Literally, in the case of pitcher Connor Higgins.

Higgins traveled farther than any of the Sun Devils, playing with the Mat Su Miners in the Alaska Baseball League.

“The biggest shock was definitely the 22, 23 hours of sunlight every night in the summer,” Higgins said. “I think I got maybe 15 hours of sleep in the first five days there.”

He also had to adjust to a big change in weather, pitching a league semifinal game in a downpour.

“I really had no clue what to expect going up there, especially coming from Phoenix,” Higgins said. “Going up there it was weird because my first day up there it was about 55 degrees, but I really just fell in love with the overall experience.”

From Alaska to Arizona, summer leagues are available to college baseball players in different parts of the country, offering the chance to develop new skills or hone old ones.

With Sun Devils playing in seven different leagues over the summer, each player had their own unique experience. Sophomore outfielder Tyler Williams played for the Academy Barons in the California Collegiate League.

“It was just a great experience being out there, being able to play against pretty good competition,” Williams said. Continue reading “From Alaska to Arizona, summer league baseball prepares ASU players for upcoming season”

ASU hockey looks to show improvement in first full NCAA season

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by RYAN DECKER
Cronkite News

TEMPE – Arizona State was expected to struggle last season, its first as an NCAA hockey program. And the Sun Devils did, winning only five games against NCAA teams.

But with a year of experience and an influx of new talent, the Sun Devils hope to improve despite a far more difficult schedule in their second season in Division I.

“Last year was a trial year in every way: figuring out what worked, how we wanted to play and how we wanted to coach and communicate,” said ASU coach Greg Powers. “We learned a lot through a kind of trial by fire last year.”

The Sun Devils played a combination of NCAA teams, Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) teams and American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) club teams in their first season.

In 2016-17, the team will play a full slate of NCAA opponents, beginning Oct. 7-8 with a pair of games against Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

The Sun Devils went 5-22-2 last season against NCAA competition, while going 5-0-0 against the ACHA and 0-0-2 against CIS teams.

“We had some ups and downs against the NCAA competition,” Powers said. “We got a few big wins but, for the most part, we just didn’t have the depth and the experience to get through an entire season.” Continue reading “ASU hockey looks to show improvement in first full NCAA season”

Coyote goalie’s mask a canvas for Canadian artist

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BY MADALYN HEIMANN
Cronkite News

GLENDALE – Every hockey goaltender must wear a protective mask, but the masks often do more than protect the goalie from slap shots flying toward the net at more than 100 mph.

Today’s masks, with their elaborate artwork, can also tell a story about the people behind them.

David Arrigo, David Gunnarsson and Diel Leroux are artists who have told many of those stories, designing and painting masks for many of the game’s best goalies.

Arrigo is responsible for some of the most famous NHL masks and got his artistic start crafting murals on walls for bars and restaurants more than 25 years ago. Continue reading “Coyote goalie’s mask a canvas for Canadian artist”

Phoenix Mercury embrace underdog role heading into series against top-seeded Lynx

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By LINDSEY WISNIEWSKI AND GISELLE CANCIO
Cronkite News

PHOENIX – The Phoenix Mercury have entered uncharted territory.

Every time they’ve brought home a WNBA championship in the past, the Mercury were the top-seeded team in the playoffs. This year, the eighth-seeded Mercury snuck into the playoffs during the final week of the season, despite a losing record (16-18).

And now, the Mercury hope to make history as the only WNBA team to win a championship after finishing below the .500 mark during the regular season. Only the Chicago Sky in 2014 even made it to the Finals with a losing record.

But first, the Mercury have a date with a longtime rival.

For the fourth straight year, the Mercury and Minnesota Lynx will square off with a berth in the WNBA Finals at stake. The Chicago Sky and the Los Angeles Sparks meet in the other semifinal. Continue reading “Phoenix Mercury embrace underdog role heading into series against top-seeded Lynx”

Suns’ Booker delivers surprise and a big check

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By ALEXIS RAMANJULU
Cronkite News

PHOENIX- Timothy Bolen, Arizona director of the nonprofit Best Buddies, was only expecting a visit from a representative of Phoenix Suns Charities earlier this week, hoping that Best Buddies might qualify for a grant.

Instead, Bolen got the surprise of a lifetime when Suns guard Devin Booker and the Suns Gorilla showed up with a check for $10,000 from Suns Charities to Best Buddies, an organization dedicated to supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Greg Devorce, a participant in the Best Buddies program, was more than surprised. He was thrilled but a little skeptical when Booker and the Gorilla entered the room. He even asked Booker, “Are you the real Devin Booker?”

He was. Continue reading “Suns’ Booker delivers surprise and a big check”

September an opportunity for minor leaguers to fulfill lifelong dream

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By MATT LAYMAN
Cronkite News

PHOENIX – Matt Koch was pitching in the sixth inning of a minor league game in Tacoma, Washington, when his manager walked toward the mound.

Koch was perplexed.

“At first I was like, ‘Why am I getting taken out early in the sixth inning?’ ” Koch said.

Reno Aces manager Phil Nevin wasn’t visiting the mound just to pull the 25-year-old right-hander from the game. He also had some news for Koch, delivered right there on the mound.

Koch had been called up to the big leagues by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“It kind of took me back a little bit,” Koch said. “It went from being a little disappointed about being taken out to super excited to tell my family and friends that I was going to be able to go to the big leagues.”

Every September, Major League Baseball’s roster limit is expanded from 25 to 40 players, giving players like Koch the chance to realize a lifelong dream. Continue reading “September an opportunity for minor leaguers to fulfill lifelong dream”

Curtain falling on career of ‘one of the best players in the world’

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By LINDSEY WISNIEWSKI
Cronkite News

PHOENIX – Penny Taylor rose from the bench and drew a deep breath.

Teammates Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi stood by her side, each cradling her with an arm around her shoulders. A deafening chant grew within Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“Penny, Penny, Penny,” roared the Mercury’s “X-Factor” crowd.

All eyes were on Taylor, the Phoenix Mercury’s veteran forward, as she prepared to play against the Seattle Storm in her final regular season home game September 15 and possibly her last career appearance in front of the home fans. Taylor announced her retirement during over the Olympic break this summer.

“Every night there were people here cheering for us and a lot of those people have been out here throughout my entire time in Phoenix,” Taylor said. “I guess that’s the really special part — that I’ve seen kids grow up from babies into teenagers and true loyal fans that we’ve had through thick and thin.”

Phoenix has seen Taylor grow up as well. Continue reading “Curtain falling on career of ‘one of the best players in the world’”