Two MCC players tend to the scoreboard in the team’s opener against Arizona Christian University. (Photo by Dylan Kessler courtesy of the MCC Athletics Department)

The Mesa Community College baseball team still embraces old traditions

The Mesa Community College baseball program is built on playing the game as they did when baseball was at its peak, and the talk of any city was how lucky they were to have a team. Players that sport the Thunderbird Red act and carry themselves in a way that is indicative of the program they represent.

When you attend a baseball game on campus at MCC and watch the game on the field, you will notice MCC players never getting too high or low. Whether there is a questionable call, or an opportunity for an MCC player to talk trash to an opponent, they remain quiet.

If you look into the outfield, you would expect to see a scoreboard like one does at any other baseball field in 2023. An electronic, flashy board that may even shine advertisements for local businesses or alumni who donate to the program. 

Instead, when you peer into right field, you see an old school scoreboard where MCC players sit during the game and make updates during the action by placing number cutouts to reflect the score, hits, and errors during the game.

This may seem like a program that might not be funded enough to put money into a new scoreboard, or one that doesn’t know how to keep up with the changing of the sport, and neither can be further from the truth. 

Head coach Tony Cirelli has been offered a new scoreboard on multiple occasions from former players, among others. 

Cirelli knows about the pressure being put on the game of baseball to evolve and make the sport more entertaining and watchable for younger generations. 

For Cirelli, MCC’s scoreboard helps keep an old school and traditional feel for his ball club. The scoreboard has been around since Cirelli came to MCC as a player himself in the 1980’s.

“Baseball is a classic old school sport, it’s like Fenway Park if they put an electronic scoreboard in there they’d probably tear it down or something,” said Cirelli.

To Cirelli, the scoreboard represents MCC baseball to a tee, it encapsulates the hard work that one must put in to become a Mesa Thunderbird baseball player. 

“We want the blue collar guy that brings his lunch pail and grinds,” said Cirelli, “when I tell them we have early work everyday before practice, we lift weights at five in the morning, run the six minute mile every Tuesday that’s not for everybody, not everyone can play at Mesa. We want the people that want this culture.”

Though nonsensical and below some players, the hard work and embracing the grind to improve as a baseball player each and every day becomes almost addicting and transforms their lives.

In doing so, players who have done things “the MCC way,” understand the benefits of the traditional aspects that the program has to create the best of the best. 

Former players play a role in MCC when it comes to their finding of new talent, as former players who step into the world of coaching will help their players who they believe can thrive in the culture that MCC houses.

“They go home and tell their high school to go and he sends another guy. We have lots of players that become coaches around the country that send us kids, they understand what kind of kid it takes to play at Mesa,” said Cirelli.

So, what makes an MCC baseball player? Obviously you want someone who can field, hit, run, throw, and catch. However, it’s the intangibles of the player that gives them the ability to play the MCC way. 

“They have to be tough and disciplined, competitive and coachable,” said Cirelli.

Some players simply aren’t cut out to be an MCC baseball player, and that is okay. Many move on from the program when they realize this isn’t your typical JUCO baseball team.

In his nearly 30 years at the helm, Cirelli has mounted accomplishments that tower over other coaches in the conference.

His teams have been nationally ranked 19 of the last 20 years, captured three ACCAC titles, four Southwest District titles, and a NJCAA National Championship in 2014, as well as a second place finish in 2019. Cirelli is also less than 10 wins away from hitting 1,000 victories.

Cirelli’s teams don’t just excel on the field, but in the classroom as well. 

Six of the last eight years, his teams have been honored for academic excellence and has had 50 players earn all-academic honors.

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