In 1998, Ridge Halenar -- then a Frontier Elementary School first-grader-urst onto the Arizona baseball scene by finishing third in a state baseball competition.
Following the sterling showing -- which occurred in Bank One Ballpark just prior to an Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Seattle Mariners game -- local Little League coaches and fans were predicting Halenar would someday become one of small-town Arizona's finest players.
Those predictions turned true May 25 when he was tapped to the Class 1A-3A All-State first team.
His naming to the prestigious celestial squad comes on the heels of his choice as an All-East Region first-team member.
Halenar was chosen to both teams as a catcher, a position he has manned for the Longhorns the past three seasons.
Although the 3A East featured many fine players in 2008, the PHS junior was the only region player chosen to the all-state first team.
Region coaches' choice for East Player of the Year, Blue Ridge's Terry Dempsey, fell to the all-state second team.
Although Dempsey edged Halenar as POY in coaches' balloting, Sports Zone magazine later named the Payson star its player of the year.
Halenar is elated to have been chosen Arizona first team but hopes the honor is only a stepping-stone to a promising future.
"I want to continue my baseball career and see how far I can go with it," he said. "Maybe I'll be lucky enough to get drafted, or possibly I can play in college."
But if those dreams and aspirations don't work out, the well-grounded Halenar has backup plans.
"I'd like to get into a (university) ROTC program and someday be in the Army flying helicopters," he said.
Although baseball has always been Halenar's favorite sport, he also plays football and basketball.
Next season, he plans to not play basketball.
In football, he's an all-region quarterback and safety who is being counted on to lead the Longhorns' charge into the postseason.
Halenar is dedicated to football, but says he realizes that playing multiple sports in high school is not the path many talented baseball players opt for.
Instead, they concentrate on playing baseball year-round, hoping to gain the experience, exposure and moxie it takes to earn a college scholarship or get drafted.
"I know many of the good Valley athletes play only one sport and I've thought about (playing baseball year-round) but I've had scouts tell me to keep doing what I'm doing," he said. "I think playing other sports makes me better."
The early years
Halenar's earliest memories of baseball are as an elementary school student competing in the major league baseball competition that is now known as Pepsi Pitch, Hit and Run.
After winning four consecutive town and sectional championships, Halenar earned the right to represent Payson in the Arizona Diamondbacks' state showdown.
The third-place finish in 1998 was followed by a fourth-place showing in 1999, a bronze medal in 2000 and a fourth-place effort in 2001.
"All of those were a blast," he said. "I was happy to make it to state for four years."
In 2003, Halenar played a huge role on the Payson Little League major division all-star team that won area and sectional championships.
During the state tournament in Gilbert, he pitched the Payson stars to an opening round 10-1 win over Nogales.
Halenar and his teammates were eventually eliminated from the state fray but the players departed knowing they had set history by becoming the first Payson team to reach the state finals.
"That was so much fun, it was a great experience," Halenar said.
The following season, Halenar was a member of the Little League Junior-Senior Division all-star team that advanced to the area tournament.
On the road to becoming one of the Rim Country's finest athletes, Halenar has been bolstered by the support his parents, Bob and Michelle.
Both have been active in seeing that he has had the opportunities to become the best possible student-athlete.
"I owe a lot to both of them," Ridge said.
During Ridge's childhood years, Bob, a member of Payson High's 1981 state championship football team, could often be seen on the local Little League field playing catch with his son or throwing batting practice.
"He's always been a big inspiration to me," Ridge said.
With school recessed for the summer, Ridge has his sights set on honing his quarterbacking skills in hopes of leading the Longhorns next season to the gridiron promised land.
But as focused as he'll be on football, his baseball aspirations -- and possibly a career as an Army helicopter pilot -- won't stay far from his thoughts.