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Arizona Traces
State a hotbed for baseball talent
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com

PHOENIX -- Terry Francona is a diehard Arizona Wildcats fan, and like so many alums of that Tucson institution, that means he is a diehard Arizona State Sun Devils detractor, to put it mildly.

But the rivalry that heats up Arizona every day of the year has to be pushed aside every day of the baseball season when Francona fills out his lineup card. He doesn't mind a bit, either, because one of the key players on Francona's Red Sox is second baseman Dustin Pedroia, a product of Arizona State.

And that's just one of many ways Arizona is connected with the 2008 postseason.

Of course, the Arizona-ASU rivalry still rears its head occasionally. When a friend e-mailed Francona this summer about how ASU had dominated UA in major sports recently, it was not news to the manager.

"I heard the results from Pedroia!" the manager wrote back with an unkind word about the Sun Devils mixed into it.

The Red Sox manager loves the University of Arizona, where he starred on the baseball diamond. His bench coach and close friend, Brad Mills, was a teammate of his there, and even though Francona hasn't played there in years and is thousands of miles away in Boston, he doesn't have to look very far to get his fix of the rivalry that has defined sports in the Grand Canyon State.

Outfielder Andre Ethier, Pedroia's teammate for two years at ASU, would have liked nothing better than to have his Dodgers square off against the Red Sox in the World Series.

Of course, the connections go wider than just the universities.

Rays manager Joe Maddon lived in the Valley of the Sun for many years when he worked for the Angels and is a diehard Arizona Cardinals fan. According to a story in The Arizona Republic, Maddon became a Cardinals fan in 1962 when the football team was still in St. Louis. Maddon's dad took him to a game at Yankee Stadium and gave the then 8-year-old his choice of hats at the concession stand. He chose a St. Louis Cardinals hat and decided that his loyalty extended to all of St. Louis' teams. He attended his first game in Arizona and can often be found around his house wearing Arizona Cardinals apparel.

Moreover, the Arizona Fall League has served as a finishing school for Major League Baseball's top prospects since its inaugural season in 1992.

When the postseason began, 18 of the 25 players on the Phillies roster were Fall League alums. That includes the heart of Philadelphia's order -- Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell.

The Rays had 15, most notably B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford. The Red Sox had 12, including Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew.

And while the Dodgers had the fewest with 11, they form the core of the team in Matt Kemp, Ethier, James Loney, Russell Martin and Jonathan Broxton.

So, despite the fact that the D-backs did not make a return trip to the National League Championship Series in 2008, Arizona fans still had plenty to root for.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.