Tucson brings back fond memories for Mark Melancon and Nick Hundley. The two played together under Andy Lopez for the Arizona Wildcats baseball team in the mid-2000s. Together, they made a College World Series appearance, beating out Long Beach State in a Super Regional which featured a roster of now big leaguers Jered Weaver, Cesar Ramos and Troy Tulowitzki.
The two reunited in the San Francisco Giants clubhouse this spring. Melancon, now one of the most decorated and feared closers in the Major League Baseball, and Hundley, who has had a fruitful MLB career and will help shoulder the load behind the plate when Buster Posey moves to first base, have been great friends since their days in Tucson.
While the two might have clicked almost instantly on the field, it took a little while for Melancon, who hails from Wheat Ridge, CO, to “click” with his college town.
“The first semester, I was not a fan of Tucson,” Melancon said. “It really grew on me and now I can’t wait to go back. I love visiting the campus, and Tucson in general is a really special place.”
It took a while for Melancon to get acclimated to the desert climate, but he was right at home on the mound, appearing in a school record 29 games as a freshman. For Hundley, the thought of Melancon, transforming into one of the game’s most prolific firemen was no surprise.
“We said ‘He is going to make more money than all of us,’” Hundley said. “We had some really good players but he was the best, so when he stepped on campus, we said this is a different animal.”
The talent was always there for both players, and Tucson was where they flourished. Hundley played for the Wildcats from 2003-05 and Melancon wore the red and blue from 2004-06. In those four years, the Wildcats went 127-99-1 in one of college baseball’s premier conferences.
“It’s as good as anything out there, the Pac-12… They’re in a great conference,” Former Arizona head baseball coach Andy Lopez said. “I just think that you give credit where credit is due. Not to me at all but to mom and dad .”
“When those guys showed up in my world, I really didn’t have to do anything except make sure their names were spelled right in the lineup.”
Lopez did a little bit more than spell their name right. He groomed Hundley into one of the best backstops and bats in the Pac-10, who capped off his career with 15 home runs, 46 RBIs and a .352 batting average his junior year.
Melancon threw 168 innings, striking out 167 and saving 18 games in three years.
“He’s such an amazing person and somebody who I still really look up to and respect a whole lot,” Melancon said of Lopez. “He’s just one of those people who you can’t say enough good things about.”
The individual stats are impressive, but the success bled over to the duo’s teammates in practice.
“All I had to say was, ‘You don’t work as hard as Melancon or you don’t work as hard in your drills as Hundley.’…So they really set a work ethic that I was just able to expand,” Lopez said.
Fast forward to 2017 and Melancon is a three-time All-Star and is viewed as the one to bolster the backend of the Giants bullpen. In an eight-year major league career, Melancon recorded a 2.60 ERA with 168 saves and 407 strikeouts.
Hundley has had a nine-year career as a consistent backstop for the Padres, Orioles and Rockies, with 2015 being one of his most productive offensive seasons hitting .301 with 10 home runs and 43 RBI.
The catcher has also earned a reputation as one of the best clubhouse players in the league.
“Nick has such an upbeat character and such a work ethic that everybody can learn from,” Melancon said. “He’s going to bring some tangibles that we really need and everybody needs.”
It’s Hundley’s task to familiarize himself again with Melancon and one of the best pitching staffs in the league including the likes of Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto.
Nick Hundley reviewed video of all Giants pitchers on 40-man before spring. Said he owed it to younger Ps trying to make the team.
— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) February 24, 2017
“It’s my job to get on the same page as them,” Hundley said. “They’ve had a lot of success for a long time, all of them have.”
And moving forward, with the successes and the struggles 2017 will bring, the two Wildcats will use lessons they learned 12 years ago at the Old Pueblo to help them navigate their major league season.
“I have to go back to those days sometimes,” Melancon said. “You have to put in the work, you have to really have to bear down so to speak, no pun intended. That’s where I learned so much about myself, about who I am and where I needed to go through guidance with Andy Lopez and other teammates, so it’s a special place for me.”