It’s official…Sun Devils say goodbye to Packard Stadium

It looks like the game of Musical Stadiums has officially come to an end.

Arizona State University announced in a news conference yesterday that the Sun Devil baseball team will vacate its on-campus home and begin play at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in 2015.  The Pac-12 school had asked the Board of Regents back in February to approve the move from Packard Stadium to the Muni, which is located just a few miles from the Tempe campus. (Phxfan article 2/02/13)  

The move is the final domino to fall in a series of major moves by Arizona teams.  It all started when the Chicago Cubs announced plans to build a new stadium at Mesa’s Riverview Park, thus making their spring home at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa available.  The Athletics, who have used the 49-year-old Phoenix Muni as their spring-training home since 1982, jumped at the opportunity to move to Hohokam – which then left Muni without a tenant.

ASU had originally planned to share the new stadium with the Cubbies, but the deal fell apart when the two sides discovered they weren’t compatible enough to even get an agreement completed.  So the Devils re-directed their efforts to working out a lease for Phoenix Municipal, a 25-year arrangement that will give the school program priority on the stadium’s use.  For its part, the school will cover all operating expenses and capital improvements.

And now school officials and coaches are sounding just as giddy about this move as they were when they thought they were moving in with an MLB team.

“The new stadium is exciting for players, coaches, alumni, and fans alike….playing in Phoenix Muni will now steer Sun Devil baseball into a new era of distinction,” said head baseball coach Tim Esmay, who also played his college ball in Tempe.

ASU, the 2010 Pac-10 champions, are currently 24-12-1 and ranked No. 8 in the country by Baseball America. The new stadium, located in Papago Park, gives the program a chance to show off its product to a larger audience – the Muni seats nearly 8,000, which almost doubles the capacity at Packard – and provides the coaching staff with an additional recruiting tool.

The move was inevitable.  Packard Stadium, which the Sun Devils have used for almost 40 years, was in desperate need of renovations, which were expected to run in excess of $20 million.  Their new home underwent major renovations in 2003.

Packard will fall to the wrecking ball as ASAU develops the corner of Rural Road and Rio Salado to provide a new revenue stream for the school.

And the school and the City of Phoenix will also both benefit from this latest plan.  “This is a walk-off grand slam for ASU and the City of Phoenix,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, mixing in a little baseball-speak at the news conference.

Actually, ASU could use a little positive PR right now, after being beat up over the decision to “update” the appearance of Sparky, the school mascot.  The public rejected the new look and now the school has gone back to the drawing board, but this time letting fans and alumni vote on the revised images.

In the case of the stadium decision, the Sun Devil Club Board of Directors has been gathering input along the way from season ticket-holders, coaches and players, and alumni.  After a bumpy detour around the Cubs’ stadium, the collaboration appears to have paid off.

And now, as Coach Esmay points out, a new era is about to begin.