January 5, 1999
TEMPE, Ariz. - While most students spent their summer lounging by a pool or working at the local mall, Arizona State baseball player Willie Bloomquist was busy working on his swing with the USA National Baseball Team. Bloomquist, who will be a junior this year, was one of 22 collegiate players nationally to make the final roster.
Although this was a non-Olympic year, the infielder/outfielder from Port Orchard, Wash., jumped at the chance to represent his country.
"It's a total different experience than playing for college because you're there representing your country," says Bloomquist. "You're playing for the red, white and blue. It was an awesome experience being able to represent my country. When you put on a USA uniform, it's something special."
The USA National Team, operating out of Tucson, played several series against international opponents during the early half of the summer as warm-ups for the World Championship Qualifier held in Managua, Nicaragua. Only five teams would qualify for the World Championships to be held in Italy later in the summer.
Playing in Nicaragua was a memorable first-time experience for Bloomquist. "Obviously the biggest difference was the living conditions and the playing fields," notes Bloomquist. "It made me thankful for what we have here."
While in Nicaragua, the team "adopted" a young man named Carlos as their bat boy for the qualifier.
"At our first practice, we were hitting balls out of the park and these little kids were grabbing the balls and trying to run off with them," Bloomquist says. "Carlos was out there stopping them. We thought that was kind of cool, he was going out there and preventing them from taking our baseballs. He never asked for anything from us, he just picked up all the bats and did his job."
Carlos showed up early before each game for the entire two weeks and the squad was impressed with his dedication. For his efforts, the team gave him a hat and a shirt to wear.
"He was on cloud nine," Bloomquist says with a smile. "He would show it to people in the stands."
If a USA pitcher wasn't pitching on a particular day, he would lend Carlos his USA jersey to wear for the game.
Towards the end of the trip, a couple of players got together and decided to do something nice for Carlos. Everybody on the team chipped in around $10 to show their appreciation for all of his hard work.
"It added up to over $150 and at the end of the trip we gathered in a big circle and Alex Santos (Univ. of Miami) translated for us," says Bloomquist. "He told Carlos that the money was for him to show our appreciation for all he had done and we hoped that he and his family could use this and wished him good fortune. We counted out the money and his eyes just got huge. He pulls out an old worn handkerchief and started crying. It felt really cool giving back like that. That's so much money to them and so little to us, just to help out felt really great."
While this year's USA squad finished a disappointing ninth at the World Championships, Bloomquist feels the experience was invaluable.
"It was a good learning experience," says Bloomquist. "I didn't play very well in the beginning of the summer. It was kind of tough making the transition from Omaha and the College World Series, but I played hard and after a couple weeks I got into a groove."
Talk about a groove, Bloomquist finished with a .333 average and hit .389 during the World Championships, including a solo homerun in the bottom of the ninth with two outs to beat Canada in the national team's final game in Italy.
The numbers Bloomquist put up with USA Baseball come as no surprise to Arizona State fans.
He hit a team-leading .414 batting average to win the Pac-10 Southern Division batting title. He also notched 109 hits, 33 stolen bases, nine triples and 88 runs scored. For his efforts, he was honored as an All-American by several publications, including Baseball America and Baseball Weekly.
Bloomquist's sophomore season was capped off by a first-time trip to Omaha, Nebraska where the Arizona State Sun Devils finish second in the nation at the College World Series and a number two ranking in the final polls.
"Going to the College World Series was a great experience," says Bloomquist, "but I'm a perfectionist so not winning was devastating for me. When I look back on it, it was a great feeling just to be there but next year I'm looking for one more win. I only have two more years to win a national championship, so I intend to make the most of it."
Bloomquist, who was ASU's starting leftfielder in 1998, will make the move back to the infield where he played he high school.
"I feel I was blessed with decent talent - I can run a little bit and I've got a decent arm," says Bloomquist. "I've had to work for what I have. I never played the outfield before I came to ASU - I had only played shortstop and second base. But coach needed me in the outfield and I wanted to contribute anyway I could. He put me in the outfield and I figured if I wanted to keep playing I have to work on it. I started getting comfortable out there and this summer I played centerfield for the USA baseball team. It helps to be able to play a lot of positions and play them well."
Bloomquist's versatility makes him a invaluable component on the Sun Devil team.
"Willie is an unselfish player - a total team guy," says ASU head coach Pat Murphy. "He plays the game the way I believe it was meant to be played. I've only been coaching for 15 years, but in that time I have never met a finer young man."
To illustrate Bloomquist's character, he recently relinquished his scholarship to allow a teammate to return on scholarship.
"I said, 'Coach if you need the money take it'," says Bloomquist. "I talked to my parents and they said they were in a financial situation where they could handle my tuition and stuff. If it's helping out someone in need than it's worth it."
Coach Murphy was not surprised by Bloomquist's generosity.
"Willie and his family are such class people it didn't surprise me," Murphy says. "It's unusual in today's world where everybody's got their palm up wondering what you can do for them, Willie's the direct opposite - he's got his palm down."