May 11, 2005 - At Canyon Del Oro High School, being the best on the baseball field isn't a goal; it's almost a requirement.
In the long line of baseball stars that have shuffled through its green and gold halls and dugouts, being a home run-walloping slugger is as good as it gets at the Class 5A Oro Valley school.
TJ Steele is one of those sluggers, if not the slugger.
The senior outfielder is a major reason why the Dorados (20-8, 8-4) find themselves once again back in the state playoffs and among the best Arizona has to offer.
If anyone needed a reminder, Steele provided it in the first round of the Class 5A Southern Region tournament against Tucson High School.
One mighty hack is all it took for Steele to flex his muscles in the post season. The senior right fielder took a pitch in the sixth inning and launched it for his 10th home run of the season.
More importantly, the late run was the only one CDO would need to edge the Badgers, Steele 1-Tucson 0.
He wasn't always a Ruthian-type slugger, however.
"I was always the short kid," said Steele of his undersized history of hitting the long ball. That all changed with the growth spurt that shot the senior to six feet, three inches and 185 pounds by his final year.
Getting vertical fast may have helped the five-tool player go from being a solid player to becoming a highly touted prospect for the next level.
Baseball is in his blood, and a bat or mitt has been in Steele's hand for as long as he can remember. When fall arrives, Steele has agreed to a baseball scholarship to play for the University of Arizona as an outfielder.
"I've been coaching for 30 years," said CDO skipper Len Anderson, "and he's the best athlete I've ever had."
Athleticism aside, Anderson says his teammates can learn a thing or two about the game simply by observing Steele at work.
"He's a lead-by-example kind of kid," the first-year CDO coach said.
In 88 at bats during the regular season, Steele hit .477 with 37 RBI, 42 hits and 37 runs scored - all team highs.
With strong numbers that rival anyone's in the state, Steele may never see the inside of the dugouts at UA's Sancet Field. On June 7 and 8, Major League Baseball will hold its annual amateur draft in which Anderson, a former scout, said Steele could go as high as round three to five.
For now, Steele said he's staying put, but the temptation to jump to pro ball may be one too intoxicating to pass up.
"Of course I'll give it some consideration," said Steele of turning pro if the opportunity presents itself. "Right now I'm going to the UA unless something miraculous happens."
The amateur draft can be a fickle temptress, however, in light of past lofty numbers. Last year, CJ Ziegler, also of CDO, went undrafted through all 50 rounds, despite hitting 30 long balls throughout his career as a Dorado. As a senior, Ziegler hit .595 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI.
This year, while playing at Central Arizona College, Ziegler hit .309, was second on the team in RBIs with 33 and was tops on the squad with 32 walks.
Steele said he learned a lot from watching Ziegler.
"I learned by watching his maturity at the plate," said Steele of his ex-teammate, "and just how he approached the game."
Canyon Del Oro entered the state playoffs this week with a first-round game against Mesquite High School.