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Baseball Hotbeds: Rising Arizona

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Arizona native Cody Bellinger

Arizona has been one of the fastest growing states in the nation over the last 30 years, nearly doubling in population since 1990. With that boom has come a surge of baseball players coming out of the state’s population centers.

Arizona has become a prime state for producing big leaguers, with more than two-thirds of the state’s all-time major leaguers debuting in 1995 or later. Paul Konerko, Bob Howry and Doug Mirabelli headlined the first wave in the late 1990s, followed by Andre Ethier, Ian Kinsler and J.J. Hardy in the mid-2000s and Cody Bellinger, Khris Davis and Kole Calhoun this decade.

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Year-round sunshine and high population density are major factors in Arizona’s prominence, but what sets Arizona further apart is how the Phoenix metro area—where most of the baseball players come from—has become a year-round baseball mecca.

Fifteen teams now conduct spring training in Arizona, up from eight in 1990, in addition to the Rookie-level Arizona League (which began in 1988) and Arizona Fall League (which began in 1992). With the addition of the D-backs in 1998, Arizona has gone from a place where professional baseball was played for a month in the spring before disappearing to having a robust year-round presence.

“We’ve got more people and more fields and more kids to play baseball,” one Arizona-based area scout said. “You’ve got more people living here who are working for those spring training facilities . . . creating this population of baseball people.”

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The sheer number of current and former pro athletes who live in Arizona compounds that population of baseball people. A huge number of retired athletes live in the state, drawn by its low taxes, year-round sunshine and large property lots. That, in addition to Phoenix being a major league city for baseball, basketball, football and hockey, has led to a huge number of children of pro athletes.

“For years it was a Phoenix Suns town, and now it’s the sons of Cardinals, sons of Coyotes, and sons of Diamondbacks who are popping up on our lists,” the scout said. “It’s not just the guys who lived here for spring training anymore. It’s guys who live here yearround because of their connections to these other sports. I start seeing the names like Khris Davis inthe big leagues, Ike Davis, Peter Bourjos and Michael Brenly (they all had fathers who played pro ball).

“Those were guys who 10 years ago kind of were the first wave, and now we’re seeing the Bellingers of the world popping up on the draft lists . . . Every year on my list I’ve got three or four names of sons of former big leaguers. It’s a hotbed of baseball here just because of all of those factors.”

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