It seems like everybody had an opinion when Arizona State University announced the Sun Devil baseball team would relocate from the hallowed grounds of Packard to Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Halfway through the team’s first season in their new digs, and no one seems to mind. The program has touted an 18-7 record in 2015, is ranked sixth in the nation, and has only lost one series all year. After extensive renovations to improve facilities and the overall fan experience, the program is hoping that having a college program in a major league venue will help bring in the nation’s top recruits.
For former Sun Devil and Oakland Athletics second baseman Eric Sogard, the move hits home for his past and present team.
Up until last season, Phoenix Muni was draped in green and yellow rather than maroon and gold. The stadium was the spring training home of the Athletics for 30 years.
“I think a lot of the veterans were a little suspicious about it or didn’t like it too much because of the history that Packard had,” Sogard said.
“They did a great job with the move over at (Phoenix Municipal Stadium). I got to play spring training over there obviously the past, I think, five years or so. To have ASU come in and take it over and see the renovations that they did, they did a fantastic job. And it’s really a great setup for a college. ”
While it may have taken some adjusting, the Devils have come into their own in their new home, as has Sogard with his current club.
Oakland fans have embraced the sure-handed second baseman with thick-rimmed glasses as one of their own. The A’s faithful willed the defensive specialist past plenty of household names in last year’s “Face of the MLB” competition before Mets third baseman David Wright stole the crown in the finals just minutes before the deadline hit. And you may see references to “Face”, along with “Nerd Power” and the “Four-eyed Fielder” throughout the A’s new spring training home at Hohokam Park in Mesa.
Over five years with the club, Sogard has developed into the everyday second baseman, a progression that was started in Tempe.
“I don’t think I would be where I am if it weren’t for ASU and what I learned not only on the field but off the field as well.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to go to ASU, and I’m grateful to go back”
Coming from Thunderbird High School in Phoenix, “Face” developed into his role as second baseman and was named the 2007 Pac-10 Defensive Player of The Year. He was no slouch with the bat either, hitting .400 and in a lineup that featured fellow big leaguers Mike Leake, Brett Wallace, Andrew Romine and Ike Davis, who signed with the Athletics this offseason.
“Pat Murphy was my coach there, and he found a way to get the most out of each player. He would test you mentally, make you mentally stronger, build your confidence…and self esteem. He would really prepare you for not only a future in baseball, but in life. “
The days of Murphy have come and gone, but success has continued for the Sun Devils with new coach Tracy Smith. Smith and the coaching staff have made it a priority to ring in this new era, and new venue, by bringing in former Sun Devil stars like Sogard, Davis, Dustin Pedroia, Andre Ethier, among many others. According to Sogard, the coaching staff and venue may be new in 2015, but the talent and expectations remain the same as they were when the team was a few miles down Mill Ave.
“With this program at Arizona State, and the players he gets over there, (Smith) is going to have some fun,” Sogard said through a grin.
As a proven team in the Pac-12, the Devils are having plenty of fun in their 2015 campaign. And as the A’s are trying to make their fourth straight postseason, it seems like Sogard is too.