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The Tucson Sidewinders (1998-2008) were a minor league baseball team based in Tucson, Arizonamarker. The team, which played in the Pacific Coast League, was the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks major-league club.

The Sidewinders played in Tucson Electric Parkmarker, located on the south side of Tucson. In June 2007, Jay Zucker of Tucson Baseball LLC announced the sale of the Tucson Sidewinders to SK Baseball LLC for $15 M. SK Baseball relocated the team to Aces Ballparkmarker in Reno, Nevadamarker for the 2009 season, where they became the Reno Aces.

History

Team origins

From 1969-97 the Tucson Toros were Tucsonmarker's Triple-A baseball club, playing at Hi Corbett Fieldmarker in midtown Tucson. Part of the old 10-team configuration of the Pacific Coast League, the Toros won the PCL Championship in 1991 and 1993. The Toros were preceded by a number of other Tucson teams between 1915 and 1958, such as the Tucson Cowboys and the Tucson Lizards.

After the MLB expansion that added the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenixmarker and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Toros moved to Fresnomarker, Californiamarker as the Fresno Grizzlies. The Phoenix Firebirds relocated to Tucson, briefly became the Tucson Toros (1997), and then became the Sidewinders (1998), the Triple-A affiliate of the new Diamondbacks. This was accomplished by what amounted to a "swap" in ownership in 1997, with Firebirds owner Martin Stone purchasing the Toros and Toros owner Rick Holtzman receiving interest in the Firebirds. The Tucson team retained management and staff primarily from the Toros, and traces its history from the Toros rather than the Firebirds.

The Phoenix Firebirds had played from 1958 through 1997 as an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. The franchise joined the Pacific Coast League as a charter member in 1903 as the San Francisco Seals, relocating to Phoenix when the major league New York Giants moved to San Franciscomarker. Seals alumni include Joe DiMaggio.

The Tucson Toros had been affiliated with the Chicago White Sox (1969-72), the Oakland Athletics (1973-76), the Texas Rangers (1977-1979), the Houston Astros (1980-96), and the Milwaukee Brewers (1997 only, with one Diamondbacks prospect, Travis Lee, playing with them by special arrangement). At the time of the change in venue and affiliations (1998), a new Tucson team name, the "Sidewinders" was chosen after a name the team contest was held.

Sidewinders era

With the coming of the Diamondbacks, a new ballpark was needed for spring training in Tucson, since the Colorado Rockies used Hi Corbett Field. Tucson Electric Park was built, and became the spring training site for the both the Diamondbacks and the Chicago White Sox. It also became home to the Tucson Sidewinders in 1998. Many changes took place between 1997 and 1999 - a new name, new affiliation, newly expanded league, new owner, new general manager and new venue - resulting in disgruntled fans and lower than expected attendance. Financial arrangements between team owners and Pima Countymarker were also the subject of criticism. After purchasing the team in 2000, owner Jay Zucker attempted to improve the situation with a variety of promotions, including weekly fireworks. These efforts met with limited success.

The team was very successful as a supplier of major league-quality players to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Many individual Sidewinders performed admirably in mid-season call-ups, sometimes returning to the major league club time and again as needed. This earned the Sidewinders the nickname "Baby 'Backs."

In 2006, the Tucson Sidewinders won the Pacific Coast League championship, and afterwards defeated the Toledo Mud Hens 5-2 in the Bricktown Showdown for the Triple-A baseball championship at AT&T Bricktown Ballparkmarker in Oklahoma Citymarker.

Sidewinders timeline

1997 - Martin Stone, a businessman, land speculator and former owner of the Phoenix Firebirds, purchases the Tucson Toros from Rick Holtzman. The Tucson Toros have a one year player development contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, filling the gap between the end of the Toros' contract with Houston and the beginning of the team's affiliation with the expansion Diamondbacks. Diamondbacks prospect Travis Lee plays in Tucson for part of the season. Toros owner Stone persuades the Pima County Board of Supervisors to approve a lease on Tucson Electric Park (then under construction) that protects the team owner from a portion of the team's financial losses at taxpayer expense.

1998 - The renamed Tucson Sidewinders begin their affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks, playing at Tucson Electric Park. A new mascot is also introduced, Sandy Sidewinder, a snake with arms. The old mascot, Tuffy the Toro, is phased out.

1999 - In May, longtime Toros general manager Mike Feder is fired from the Sidewinders by team owner Stone. A local uproar ensues in support of Feder. He is replaced by Jack Donovan. After the season, broadcasting entrepreneur Jay Zucker purchases the Sidewinders from Martin Stone, reportedly for about $7 to $8 million, after Stone is diagnosed with prostate cancer. The new ownership group, led by Jay and Melinda Zucker, is Tucson Baseball, LLC.

2000 - Zucker loses over $200,000 in his first season as owner. Feder returns as GM.

2001 - Feder leaves prior to the season to take a role as Regional Marketing Director for the NFL's New Orleans Saints. Todd Woodford returns to Tucson as general manager after spending a year with the PCL's Salt Lake franchise.

2002 - Rick Parr becomes the team's general manager. Despite the parent club's World Series win the previous year, the Sidewinders report 268,807 total attendance for the season, an average of 3,895 per game. Tucson Electric Park has a capacity of 11,000.

2003 - Tucson Sidewinders prospects earn the nickname "Baby 'Backs" with their relative youth and frequent call-ups to the major league club.

2006 - The team finishes the regular season 91-53, the best in AAA baseball for 2006 and a new franchise record. Team manager Chip Hale is named PCL Manager of the Year. After defeating the Salt Lake Bees 3-1 in a best-of-five PCL Pacific Conference Championships series, the Sidewinders win the Pacific Coast League Championship Series in three straight games versus the Round Rock Express. They then defeat the International League champion, the Toledo Mud Hens, 5-2 in a one-game playoff in Oklahoma Citymarker for the unofficial AAA title. Despite this feat, the Sidewinders still suffer from dwindling fan attendance and a general lack of interest from the Tucson market. After the 2006 season, the Sidewinders renew their player development contract with the Diamondbacks for another two years. Manager Chip Hale is promoted to the Diamondbacks coaching staff as their new third base coach.

2007 - Bill Plummer, the former manager of the Diamondbacks' former Double-A affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies, takes over as skipper for the Sidewinders in 2007. Randy Johnson pitches the home opener as part of a brief rehab stint with the Sidewinders, and picks up a win for the team in his second outing on April 20. Hampered by low attendance and concerns over the location and playing field maintenance at Tucson Electric Parkmarker, Tucson Baseball LLC sells the Tucson Sidewinders to SK Baseball LLC for $15 M in June 2007. Tucson finishes the 2007 season with a 75-67 record, the second most wins in Sidewinders history. Tucson Baseball LLC completes sale of the team to SK Baseball LLC on September 12, 2007. Also in September, outgoing Sidewinders owner Zucker announces the formation of a new Tucson baseball team with an old name: the Tucson Toros, to begin play in 2009 as part of the Golden Baseball League.

2008 and beyond - The Sidewinders have a win-loss record of 60-82 for their final season in Tucson, finishing in fourth (last) place in Pacific South division of the PCL. SK Baseball plans to relocate the team to Reno, NVmarker for the 2009 season, where they will be known as the Reno Aces. The reconstituted Tucson Toros return to Hi Corbett Fieldmarker to begin play in 2009.

Notable players

Some notable players to don a Toros or Sidewinders uniform:
Several players listed were "Tucson" players only by virtue of being sent down to AAA for rehab after an injury.

Team name

The name "Sidewinder" refers to both a snake indigenous to Arizona and pitchers with a particular style of throwing. Since a Diamondback rattlesnake is also common in Arizona, the Tucson team's name is now more in line with that of the parent club than the alliterative name "Tucson Toros." For a few seasons ending in 2005, the Sidewinders unofficially played under the old name on "Toros Tuesdays", wearing pinstriped Toros uniforms. The team still has occasional Toros-related promotions, such as a giveaway of replica Toros hats.

The team name will change its name to the Reno Aces with the move to Reno.

References



External links




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