June 22, 2005 - No more pencils, no more books, and aside from the occasional glare from the third-base coach, no more dirty looks.

School may be out for the summer, but the learning never stops for the diamond denizens of the Northwest and Foothills area. With the high school season well in the rearview mirror, baseball teams from Catalina Foothills to Mountain View are already gearing up for next season with play in the Tucson Summer Instructional League.

"In all reality, it's almost like an early tryout for next year's varsity team," said Len Anderson, head coach of Canyon Del Oro High School.

Just about every high school in Class 5A and 4A has a team competing in the summer developmental league. Formidable programs include those of Salpointe, Tucson, Sahuaro and Flowing Wells high schools.

Games are seven innings or two hours, whichever comes first, and no mercy rules are enforced.

Anderson's team, which was 6-1 through June 19, is the same squad that finished 20-8 and made an appearance in the Class 5A state playoffs this season, with one notable difference: no seniors.

The league is a chance for managers like Anderson to tinker with various combinations and place players in positions they otherwise might not play.

Although it may be a chance for the younger players to make a lasting impression on coaches, the atmosphere around the league is a relaxed one.

"It's laid back," said the coach. "Just about every game, everybody plays, so it's more of a developmental type of league rather than something where you're trying to win every game. You try to win, but not at the expense of playing time for some of the players."

The 20-game schedule offers Anderson a chance to try out younger players, who play the same position as a varsity starter, at new posts on the field.

CDO's lone loss for the summer came against Catalina Foothills, which shut down the Dorados behind freshman pitch Kayvon Bahramzadeh.

State runner-up in three of the past four years in Class 4A, Foothills is reloading for another run to the top of the state. After losing just four players to graduation - John James, Jimmy Dever, Kyle Houlton and Adam Kaiser - the Falcons will use this summer to fuse next year's squad into a tightly knit unit.

"It's not as intense," said Foothills' hurler, Joe Rohe Jr., "but we're learning and getting experience."

Foothills is divided into three squads: the Navy (which is the varsity-level squad), Gray (junior varsity) and White (freshman and JV). Despite no seniors, the Falcons have picked up right where they left off in May, winning ball games.

The Falcons' Navy squad has only one loss and a tie for the summer, with both setbacks coming at the hands of Ironwood Ridge High School. Foothills (12-1-1) has an advantage over most of its competition: all of the Falcons' games are played at their home field behind the school. Teams at CDO and Ironwood Ridge, when not playing at Foothills, split their games between Kino Sports Complex and Arthur Pack Park.

To avoid burnout or injury, coaches keep watchful eyes on the future of their programs.

"They watch you," said Rohe from his perch in the stands behind home plate, where he tracked pitch speeds with a radar gun against Mountain View. "They're not going to let anyone get hurt."

The Falcons' season will continue through July and will conclude with the team's annual trip to San Diego to play in a weekend tournament in the Golden State. CDO will be back in action June 23 with a 5 p.m. game at Kino and a June 26 tilt against Mountain View at Arthur Pack Park.

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