ASU baseball begins fall play with returning talent, new skipper

There comes a time each year when we have a convergence of all three major college sports: football, basketball, and baseball.

That time is now.

Football is moving into the latter stages of the season and basketball is waiting in the wings as that sport readies for the move from practices to game time in about four weeks.  And baseball, believe it or not, is back on the field, starting its fall schedule.

Baseball doesn’t start in earnest until the regular season rolls around in the spring.  But teams like the Arizona State Sun Devils are starting their fall games, a warm-up for the spring schedule.

And it will likely be the Sun Devils who receive the lion’s share of attention as the Pac-12 program begins a new era since ASU is taking the field with a new head coach in the dugout.

Willie Bloomquist was hired in June to replace Tracy Smith who had been running the program the last seven seasons.  The decision by ASU athletic director Ray Anderson is an experiment of sorts since Bloomquist has no coaching experience, either at the college or professional level.

What Bloomquist does have is a Sun Devil pedigree as a player who is steeped in the tradition of the ASU program.  He was a star infielder who helped the 1998 team reach the College World Series championship game and was later inducted into the ASU Athletic Hall of Fame.

That said, he still has no coaching experience.  And that’s one reason Sun Devil fans will be watching closely as he begins his rookie season on the bench.

But Bloomquist isn’t shirking from the spotlight.  The Sun Devils will close out the short fall schedule with its annual five-game intersquad program called the Maroon and Gold World Series.  And they’re not waiting for fans to make the trip to Tempe to watch the games.  ASU has planned a local tour, taking the team to play at various Spring Training facilities, giving a wider array of the fan base a chance to get to know the players — and the new coach.

Fans will get a refresher on what talent is returning from the 2021 season, when the Devils finished a mediocre 33-22 and were done for the season after two straight losses in the Austin Regional.  It’s been 10 years since an ASU team has made it past the regionals to move on to the Super Regionals and get a chance to return to the College World Series.

Bloomquist is still trying to assemble a pitching staff as he attempts to blend in a sizable contingent of transfers to help fill the void after losing most of large year’s starters, but he does have power at the plate back again.  All American sophomore Ethan Long, who led the team last season with a .340 batting average, is back along with the No. 2 hitter, sophomore second baseman Sean McLain, who finished with a .322 average.

Long hit 16 home runs in his first season of college ball and led the Pac-12 with a .725 slugging percentage.  McLain also earned Pac-12 All Conference recognition and was named to the ABCA All-West Region First Team.

Bloomquist will also have two-thirds of last year’s starting outfield returning in Kai Murphy and Joe Lampe, who was a Pac-12 All-Defense outfielder last year.  The catcher’s position also appears to be handled, with Nate Baez, a redshirt sophomore from Tucson’s  Ironwood Ridge High School, likely to get the role on a full-time basis after sharing duties last season.

Long, Murphy, and Baez are all local products, with the latter two being redshirt sophomores.  Murphy played his prep ball at Red Mountain HS in Mesa and Baez went to Ironwood Ridge HS in Oro Valley near Tucson.   Long, who also pitches, is from Mountain Pointe HS in Gilbert.

So the cupboards weren’t bare when Bloomquist stepped into the job.  But there hasn’t been much time since his hire to get traction on the recruiting trail.  It will be next season before we’ll get a better idea of what he can do with his own guys.

For now, he’s going to have to play with the hand he was dealt.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)