By Lucas Robbins
Digital Communications Intern
Sun Devil Baseball owns five national championships, with the most recent dogpile on the field in Omaha in 1981. This weekend the spirit of that team will be revitalized at Packard Stadium.
March 14-16 is “Tip Your Cap to the 1980s” at Packard Stadium, and the 1981 baseball team will be honored during the Devils’ Pac-12 conference opening series against Washington on March 15.
ASU’s winningest baseball coach, the late Jim Brock (1,100-44), decided “Omaha and Fun in ’81” would be the slogan for his team. He admitted in the 1981 media guide, “We have as much talent this year than I’ve had in several years. This could be my best club since the one that won the national championship in 1977."
The skipper was right.
Second baseman Bert Martinez carries with him an abundance of emotions and memories from his playing days at ASU, but especially from the ’81 season. He hit two home runs in the College World Series and made the throw to first base for the final out against Oklahoma State to win the national title on June 8. He said the biggest factor in their success was the camaraderie between the players.
“I enjoyed playing with my teammates,” Martinez says. “There was a genuine like between each and every player, there was no animosity at any time. Everybody pulled for each other, we all loved each other,” “We certainly spent time together at Packard, but we spent a lot of time together off the field.”
The Sun Devils emerged out of the Pac-10 Southern Division with a 26-4 record in 1981, including a win over rival Arizona in the final series of the regular season, and hosted the NCAA West Regional in Tempe as the No.1 national seed. The Sun Devils beat Gonzaga once and Cal State Fullerton twice to sweep though regionals and advance to the CWS.
“The season was almost too easy, and back in the day after you won your regional you were on your way to Omaha,” Martinez says. “Our team wasn’t satisfied, we were still quite hungry.”
ASU only stumbled once during the CWS, an 11-10 loss to Oklahoma State in 13 innings, but that mishap was later avenged in the title game when the Devils beat the Cowboys, 7-4, to claim the national title.
That year the Sun Devils possessed a record-setting offense with a .356 team batting average, including 110 home runs and 694 runs scored, en route to a 55-13 overall record.
Longtime season ticket holder Dave Rasley has been loyal to Sun Devil baseball since his college days at ASU in the 1970s and remembers the magic surrounding the ’81 team.
“The whole team had this aura about them, as if they knew they could comeback anytime they wanted,” Rasley says. “They had ‘swagger’ before ‘swag’ was even a word!”
Third baseman Mike Sodders (.424) and first baseman/designated hitter Alvin Davis (.396) led the Devils’ offense that year, while outfielder/designated hitter Kevin Romine and shortstop Donnie Hill combined for 49 stolen bases. Senior outfielders Stan Holmes and Ricky Nelson rounded out the order and provided the power with 32 homers and 150 RBI.
On the mound, ace pitcher Kendall Carter led the nation with 19 victories, mostly in relief, and left-hander Kevin Dukes went 8-2 and beat Oklahoma State in the national title game.
“They (team captains and upperclassmen) were not going to allow us to fail.” Martinez says. “It was just known as the season progressed that we were not going to be denied winning a national championship.”
Martinez has fond memories of Packard Stadium in the early ‘80s when it was one of the newer facilities in the country. The attendance at Packard has always been one of the best, he added, in addition to its reputation of devoted Sun Devil fans.
“The stadium was contoured a little different and the fans were closer to you,” Martinez says. “We had people in the stands who would get on the other team unmercifully, but they were great fans! It was real intimate and it was real special.”
Rasley added that these same faithful fans have become more than faces in the crowd over the past 40 years at the corner of Rural Road and Rio Salado Parkway.
“When Packard first opened it felt like playoff baseball and at the time it was state-of-the-art, Rasley says. “Over the years we’ve had a ton of great memories, so it’s tough to pick one. The people I sit with at the games are really my baseball family.
As of 2014, the Sun Devil baseball program has 22 CWS appearances with a 61-38 record in Omaha. Thirty-three years ago, ASU earned its fifth national championship, an accomplishment that will be both celebrated and sought throughout this season.
“I’ll be forever grateful to Coach Brock,” Martinez says. “I was proud to be part of that team and proud to have worn the Maroon and Gold. I’m a Sun Devil fan. It was a big part of my life and Sun Devil Athletics still remains in mine and my family’s lives.”