By Kevin Wittner
TUCSON, Ariz. – When Mike Flinn returned to the University of Arizona’s campus in the fall of 1980 for his senior year on the defending NCAA Champion baseball team, he had no idea that he and new teammate Tommy Barrett would be playing for another national championship 30 years later.
This weekend, Flinn captains the 4.5 Southwest men’s team from Phoenix at the 2010 USTA National Championship at the Reffkin Tennis Center.
Two years after enrolling at UA in 1977 alongside classmate and current Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, Flinn and the Wildcats reached the College World Series in 1979 before winning it all in 1980. The following fall, unbeknownst to Flinn, he met his future (tennis) hitting partner.
Looking back, Flinn recalls his time as a pitcher for the Wildcats.
"Tommy came in my senior year as a junior college transfer, so we played together for one year," Flinn recalls. "We didn’t have a great year but we had a lot of fun."
Barrett went on to play in parts of three seasons as an infielder with the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox, while Flinn’s professional baseball career reached its peak at the Class A level before suffering a torn rotator cuff.
Following surgery, Flinn played in Holland and Australia, where he began playing tennis recreationally.
Barrett, who had taken up tennis as a youngster – his first racquet was a Jimmy Connors T2000 – recalls the story of how the former ballplayers were reunited.
"I saw Mike at a (UA) alumni game many years ago, but we hadn’t really kept in touch," Barrett says. "Then when my daughter went out for the tennis team at her high school, and the coach of that team knew Mike. When the coach found out I, too, was from UA, I said ‘no way!’"
The two have been regular hitting partners ever since.
Looking back at their time in Tucson, both men recall legendary UA baseball coach Jerry Kindall as a major influence on their lives.
"Coach Kindall is an outstanding mentor, role model and coach," Flinn says. "He taught a lot of things from an athletic standpoint in terms of focus and playing within yourself and not trying to do things you can’t do. It translates from baseball to a lot of other athletic endeavors, as well as life in general."
The lessons have served Flinn well, who now works in the financial services industry and is playing at his third 4.5 national championship in the last five years.
When Barrett’s professional baseball career ended, he managed in the minor leagues for a few years before developing baseball-related software for the Boston Red Sox. He has continued to develop software outside of the athletic sphere.
Although a championship eluded Flinn and Barrett in 1981, they have an opportunity to make amends capture one this weekend. This time, however, they will need racquets – not bats – to lead them to a title.