May 3, 2006 - It feels like the hottest day of the year standing next to the batting cages at Canyon Del Oro High School on April 26. Even though the varsity baseball team has the afternoon off, four Dorado sluggers brave the heat and gather to throw batting practice to each other. On the field behind them, the program's freshmen squad is playing its season finale.
"The freshmen look so small," observed Nick Ziegler from inside the batting cages along the left field line.
Two years ago, Ziegler was one of those scrawny freshmen, even though you would never be able to tell that by sizing up his lanky yet muscular 6-foot, 2-inch frame. These days, Ziegler is BDOC (Big Dorado on Campus) and he owes a lot of that to his ability to hit a baseball a long way.
He owes it to America's growing fascination with the homerun. Its allure has driven grown men to inject dangerous chemicals into their bodies and, as the legend goes, chicks apparently dig it.
But steroids aren't a part of Ziegler's game as the CDO junior takes aim at the school's single season homerun record. The only performance enhancers in his game is the posse of CDO students who flock to his baseball games to see the slugger assault a record held by none other than his own brother, C.J. who graduated in 2004 with 33 career dingers.
C.J. hit 16 homeruns his senior year and 14 during his junior campaign. This year, his younger brother has taken the leisurely stroll around the bases 15 times.
"He doesn't want anyone to break it," said Nick of his brother's homerun record. "But, if it's got to be broken he's glad it's me."
C.J. also holds the school records for homers in a single game 3 and for a career 33.
The Dorados (20-9, 8-2 Class 4A Sonoran Region) finished off their regular season last week with a 6-4 win over Ironwood Ridge High School and a 14-2 whitewashing of Marana High School. A full house packed the bleachers for CDO's regular season home finale against Ironwood Ridge to see Nick try for the record.
Ziegler went four for four with four singles and two RBI, yet the CDO faithful seemed disappointed that he kept the ball in the park.
Fortunately for Nick, post-season homeruns count toward season stats and CDO expects to have a long run into the state playoffs. Two of C.J.'s homers came in the state playoffs. His 33rd dinger came in the Super 50 All-Star game and had to be skimmed out of the pool at what was then known as Bank One Ballpark.
CDO is a well-rounded team with solid pitching and an offense built around Ziegler that can slug it out with the best in the state. Players like catcher Ryan Lush, short stop Mike Weldon and pitcher Taylor Lewis have each hit three homeruns on the year. Still, the Dorados will need Ziegler's bat to challenge for its first state title since 2002, C.J.'s sophomore year.
What makes the homerun records of the Ziegler brothers more impressive is the fact that many of their long balls have come at home, where the wind traditionally blows strong and in from the outfield, said CDO head coach Len Anderson.
Anderson has been around the game for the better part of 30 years but doesn't see a surge in power revolutionizing high school baseball, despite the exploits of his centerfielder. The high school game - in comparison to the major leagues - is still dominated by teams with deep pitching, timely hitting and minimal mistakes in the field.
Should the record stay in the park this year, Ziegler will have one more season to take down his brother before following C.J. into the ranks of college baseball. The college game has been kind to C.J. who leads Pima Community College in homeruns.
The odds that either of the Ziegler brothers will reach the major leagues are minimal, said Anderson, who estimates that only five percent of those drafted will step a cleat on a big league field.
If anyone would know, it would be Anderson. The CDO skipper's son Dennis - a former Dorado with his own place in the program's history - was waived this spring by the Chicago Cubs. The catcher was told the move was not due to a lack of talent; rather the Windy City's North-Siders simply didn't have the room for him. Dennis is now faced with the tough decision: hang 'em up or try to catch on with another Triple-A farm team.
Then again, this is CDO, a school that has arguably put more players into some form of pro ball than any other high school baseball program in the state.
Unlike his older brother, Nick says he wasn't always a power hitter. He didn't find his power stroke until this year. With his newfound celebrity as a slugger, Ziegler is discovering the ever-evolving world of baseball slang and no other term in sports lends itself to more bizarre monikers than the home run: tater, dinger, big fly are a few that come to mind.
At CDO, however, they have a new name for Ziegler's taters, dingers and big flies. They call it "Bomb Sauce" and they regularly shout it from the stands when Ziegler steps into the batter's box.
He's figured out the pitchers, but it's his own fans that still perplex Ziegler.