SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Prior to Sunday night’s contest between the Surprise Saguaros and Salt River Rafters, Steve Cobb -- the longtime director of the Arizona Fall League -- was inducted into the league’s Hall of Fame.
At the heart of Cobb's pregame speech was the mantra that he found integral to success in the AFL: Enjoy the moment.
As the 46th person to be named to the AFL Hall of Fame, Cobb’s inclusion among the league’s elite places him alongside a list of Major League talent, both current (including Mike Trout, Max Scherzer and Andrew McCutchen), and past (Derek Jeter, Mike Piazza and Roy Halladay). Beginning in 2001, Cobb oversaw the inductions of myriad players who starred both in the AFL and the Major League ranks. On Sunday, it was his turn.
In June 1993, Cobb became the AFL’s director. At that point, the league had crowned exactly one champion in its history and was just beginning its ascension into much of what the league represents in 2019. Cobb retired after the 2018 season.
Before coming to the AFL, Cobb spent over five years as the associate athletic director at Xavier University (1987-93) and nearly four years as the travel secretary for the Cincinnati Reds (1982-86).
With such a wealth of talent having taken the field under his guidance for two and a half decades, along with a plethora of behind-the-scenes personnel having helped to build the Fall League into what it has become, Cobb was appreciative of it all. But when it comes to what stands out most?
“I just think of the incredible players, collectively, that have come through this league,” Cobb said. “Just being around this setting and interacting with the players and the coaches … everyone from the front office, our front office staff every year that we would have. Many of them have gone on to impressive careers.
“It’s not really one thing that stands out. It’s more the body of work that I think of and I’ve been fortunate to be associated with.”
Inherently, the stars of the AFL are not yet big league stars. Cobb demurred when asked to name a “best” player to have come through Arizona during his time at the helm.
But two players prompted crowds to flock to AFL games for reasons outside of sheer baseball talent. With one transitioning from the hardwood and another from the gridiron, the appearances in Arizona of NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan and college football legend Tim Tebow remain two of the more significant stints during Cobb’s tenure.
So, who had the more palpable buzz and drew the bigger crowd?
“It’s not even close -- Michael Jordan. And I love Tim Tebow, I have so much respect for him and the person that he is,” Cobb said.
During the 1994 MLB strike, the AFL, then a burgeoning league, was the place to come see both baseball and the Chicago Bulls legend.
“It was crazy,” Cobb said of Jordan’s presence. “And it was really, in the [Phoenix] metro area, ‘Michael Jordan coming to a ballpark near you.’ … You could make a case that Michael Jordan saved the Fall League.”
The Cobb family was on hand for Sunday's pregame festivities, with a suite reserved to take in the action between Surprise and Salt River, which entered the evening with the two best records in the AFL.
On a picturesque Arizona evening that encapsulated everything that makes the AFL a draw, could Cobb see more baseball life on the docket moving forward?
“I’m done,” Cobb quipped in the moments after his plaque was unveiled and he received congratulations from those in attendance.
On Saturday, after more than six weeks of play, the AFL will crown its 2019 champion. And for the first time since the Sun City Solar Sox claimed the inaugural honors in 1992, Cobb will not be the one presenting it. He’ll be in attendance, but not on the field, before heading off into another Arizona sunset.