From Illinois to the Arizona MSBL, the Arizona A’s found a Home in the 18+ National Division

By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications

This is a story about the 2017 birth of a successful team in the Arizona MSBL, how they started, and how they have become an 18-over contender in the highest division of the AZMSBL.

Alex Franzen is from Illinois.  In 2015 he moved to Arizona.  There is nothing particularly newsworthy about that, but wait!  There’s more.

Alex is 31 years old and was stuck in the softball abyss in Illinois, after playing a little in high school and college.  But he had an itch he needed to scratch.  Some of his friends back in Illinois had heard about the Arizona MSBL through their travels and encouraged him to get back into ‘The Game.’  So, Alex put his name into the free agent pool and the Arizona Storm scooped him up right away!

“I hadn’t played in, like, forever so I hit the cages and hoped for the best,” said Franzen.  “I played for a year with them but I am sort of a control freak and wanted to explore starting my own team.  I reached out to Joe (League President, O’Brien) and asked how I would go about it.  He wasn’t league president yet but was on the league board and really helped me get organized.”

Just like in Alex’s early days, he was advised to tap into the free agent list and combine that with some of the friends he had made in his first year in the league and work the numbers.  In the summer of 2017, it all came together and the 18+ Arizona Rockies was born.  After a name change to the Arizona A’s in 2018, they currently reside in the middle of the competitive 18-over National Division.

“We started as the Rockies and as guys weaved in and out, in the summer of 2018 we started fresh, got some new jerseys, and became the A’s.  I love to recruit and put a lot of time into watching other teams and players and looking for ways to improve the club.  I am passionate and obsessive.  I am constantly looking through Facebook, the free agent’s list, and of course, investigating referrals.  But primarily I look for good clubhouse guys.  Chemistry is so important.”

Alex truly enjoys his leadership role of making this ship sail but how much playing time does he see with this high-powered bunch?

“When I started the team, I played third base and batted third or fourth.  But we have found some really good players so I play less for the good of the team.  But I love to manage and simply love going to the ballpark and seeing the guys.  We are all good friends off the field, as well as talented players, so we are a very cohesive unit.”

One area that the Arizona MSBL dominates over the rest of the country is their ability to have regular games played on Major League spring training fields that the rest of us only see annually at the MSBL World Series every October and November.

“We are fortunate to play primarily on the Salt River Complex (home of the Rockies and Diamondbacks), the Tempe Diablo complex (home of the Angels and the MSBL World Series), and Indian School, which is now owned by Scottsdale but used to be the Giants facility.  Our first two games this year were played at the Red Mountain complex, which is also nice.  We also have occasional access to the beautiful Cubs facility in Mesa.  Joe does a great job getting us great fields to play on.”

So, what is the makeup of his 18-over assemblage of ballplayers?

“Our core is probably from 28 to 35 or 36 years of age.  We can still compete at a higher level.  The National Division is the best of the 18+ divisions (American is the other),” explained Alex. 

“My pitchers have four pretty good arms.  One guy played AA for Cleveland and hits 90 on the gun and Kameron Loe is 39 years old and 6’ 8” and pitched six or seven seasons in the majors for a few teams.  He still throws the mid-80s and throws a sinker that is tough to square up.  Another of my guys is a lefty who threw at Creighton University and throws the mid-80s and has a style sort of like Chris Sale.  Any of these guys will keep us in a game.”

Does your team play in any MSBL national tournaments?

“We played in the MSBL World Series only once, back in 2019.  Some of our guys combine with other teams but it is hard to attend as a team.  Yes, it is right in our back yard but these guys play on a lot of these fields all year long and spend a lot of money to do so.  To ask them to pay again is a hard sell.  They would rather rest and get ready for the winter season.  I always ask the team, but as a team, it is not a good fit.  But some of them love playing ball all year long so they hook on with someone.”

Alex is definitely the headmaster of the team but he gets help from his very good friend and pitcher Troy Carpenter.

“Troy has been my best buddy for three years now and he helps run the team in every way.  He can handle the whole thing if I must be away, from lineups to in-game decisions, and runs it exactly as I would.  That is very comforting.”

As is the custom in interviews, I asked Alex if there has been a special memory or event that truly sticks out during this A’s journey these past five years.  I found that his fondest memory involves his assistant coach, Troy.

“In 2019 we went undefeated and won the championship but the most memorable game was like the sixth game of the season and we were short players so Troy went out to pitch.  We were missing a lot of key players and Troy took the ball.  Usually, he will go five or six innings for us but that game stands alone.

Their guy threw the mid-90s with a great slider and we couldn’t touch him.  But Troy sucked it up and threw all nine innings with 18 strikeouts.  It was 0-0 after nine and the tenth inning came up.  We were the home team and I asked Troy if he wanted the tenth.  He was in a zone, didn’t say a word, grabbed his glove, and went out and struck out three more guys. 

In the bottom, our guy gets walked and the second guy hit a double and the guy went to third. But the ball got away and the guy slid into home and we won.  Troy went for ten innings but the other guy was gassed and only threw nine, so the new guy lost it.  Troy got the season MVP trophy after that amazing game!” 

Any advice or special words of thanks?

“I first want to thank Joe O’Brien for always being there.  He went out of his way to help me early on and is always there to help.  We have a great relationship.  He is always my first call.

Regarding any managerial advice, the number one consideration should be retention.  Keep your friends around and keep them playing together.  It is so important.  Make everyone a solid contributor and keep everyone happy and having fun.  Don’t let any negative attitudes near your core.  It will pay off in the long run.  Don’t let the lure of a superstar player with a selfish attitude ruin your plans.  You will still get where you want to go.”