Packard Stadium’s concrete steps have been filled with the clacking of legendary cleats over the decades, and in its farewell season some of them have returned to pay homage to the place in which their careers began.
Famous names like Oddibe McDowell, Willie Bloomquist, Kendall Carter, Alvin Davis, Mike Devereax, Bert Martinez, Bob Horner and Barry Bonds have returned for the “Tip Your Cap to Packard” season-long celebration, during which the legacies have both honored the 40-year history of the stadium and given words of advice to the new generation of Sun Devil Baseball players.
“When I decided to come to ASU I never expected to be able to meet all of these guys,” catcher Brian Serven said. “It’s been really cool to be able to talk to them and learn from them…I wasn’t too familiar with the actual history of ASU Baseball but once I got here it was clear how important it is. It’s really cool to be able to finish this last season in Packard and hopefully send out the stadium in the right way.”
For native Californian and Giants fan Darin Gillies, it was an absolute dream come true to be able to meet his childhood hero, Barry Bonds.
“It was one of the most memorable days of my athletic career,” Gillies said. “Growing up, Barry Bonds was the reason I turned on my TV. As a kid, my dad would take me to Pac Bell Park to watch the Giants and would offer to get seats in any part of the park. I always chose the left field bleachers behind my favorite player.”
Gillies was able to briefly chat with Bonds, during which the home run king thanked him for his years as a fan and told him to remain focused during his time at ASU. He then threw out the first pitch of the game and gave the ball to Gillies after signing it.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” Gillies said. “And if I could pitch to him once, I think I’d throw him my slider or my changeup. My slider is my best pitch and my changeup goes away from left-handed batters. I would go after him with both of those and just hope to keep the ball in the yard.”
Gillies and Serven, as well as pitcher Zak Miller, all agree that the most inspiring former Sun Devil they met was utility player and current Seattle Mariner Willie Bloomquist.
As a utility player, Bloomquist played almost every position on a variety of teams. He was with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013 for one of his most successful seasons in which he batted .317 in 48 games. He’s been in the majors for more than 12 years, so his advice on seeing the game through fresh eyes resonated with the young players.
“There’s been a lot of inspirational people that have taken the time out of their busy schedules to come speak to us,” Miller said. “But I think the one that hit home for the team was Willie Bloomquist. He talked to us about finding ways to win even when things went against the team, and talked about picking yourself up even when things didn’t go our way.”
Added Serven, “He really sat down with us and talked to the whole team directly.
He told us to go out there and grind every day, and to love what we were doing because if he hadn’t had that mindset then he wouldn’t be playing for as long as he has. That really resonated with me.”
Gillies also described the passion in which Bloomquist spoke about the game.
“He told us to never take anything for granted,” he said. “To fight like hell and never stop competing until they rip the jersey from your back. That stuck with me because as ball players, we are fortunate. We play a kids game. It’s the best job in the world so enjoying it is important and so is playing with passion, because there will always come a day when the game tells each of us we can no longer play.”
Though that day has come for many former ASU players and will for many in the future, the 2014 team has seen firsthand how they will always be a part of baseball through Arizona State.
“The program that we have here is rich in tradition and history,” Miller said. “For these people to come take the time out of their busy schedules to talk to us just shows how important this program is and has been. This place really becomes a home…it just shows how being a part of (ASU Baseball) is like being in a family and you can always return no matter how long you’ve been away.”
More than 110 former players have returned to Packard Stadium for the season-long “Tip Your Cap to Packard Stadium” celebration, including seven members of the ASU Baseball Wall of Fame and 12 ASU Hall of Famers. Floyd Bannister, Willie Bloomquist, Barry Bonds, Alvin Davis, Bob Horner, John Jacobs, Mike Kelly, Paul Lo Duca, Jerry Maddox and Oddibe McDowell, among others, have all participated in recognitions or spoken to the 2014 team this season.