July 5, 2012
TEMPE, Ariz. - The 2012 College World Series concluded less than two weeks ago, and Arizona State head baseball coach Tim Esmay, who has been to the CWS seven times as either a player, assistant or head coach, traveled to Omaha, Neb., as a fan and spectator for the first time.
His purpose: To become familiar with the recently built TD Ameritrade Park, gain insight on some of the top collegiate teams in the country and connect with Sun Devil fans and alumni.
The Sun Devil Sports Information Department sat down with coach Esmay to talk baseball, Omaha, ASU fans and more.
You have been to the CWS once as a player in 1987, twice as an assistant under coach Jim Brock in 1988 and 1994, three times as an assistant under coach Pat Murphy in 2005, 2007 and 2009, and once as a head coach in 2010. How different was the experience as a fan and a spectator?
"To be a fan and just watch the way people go nuts there and see how full it is and how much excitement there is, that was great. People make it their whole day. When you're playing, you don't see all that stuff. We could look across our hotel and see them setting up for a tailgate at 9 a.m. for a 7 p.m. game. So seeing that gave me a better appreciation of what the CWS is really all about - this is why it's stayed in Omaha for so long. You get tunnel vision when you're competing. These people just love it and they embrace it. A lot of them are just fans. They're not there to watch a certain team. They just genuinely love the experience of the whole thing.
"I brought my wife, Joell, and we were just enjoying it. We went to fan fest, which I hadn't had a chance to enjoy before, and we had dinner right before the game and just walked over to the stadium. It was a different environment in that regard. When you're participating, you don't see that part. You're locked in and it's pretty intense. Joell was like, `at least you're fun to be around. You weren't fun before.
"I've always told myself that I wouldn't go [to the CWS] unless we were playing in it, so I guess that's why I've never gone back as a fan. It was different in the fact that we weren't playing in it, but I really wanted to go back and see what the difference in the two stadiums was. That was the biggest key for me. I've been fortunate to have been to Rosenblatt Stadium many times - as both a player and a coach - so you get to know how the grass and dirt play, where the sun sits, how the wind blows, and now all of that is different because the new field (TD Ameritrade Park) sits differently."
On the differences between Rosenblatt Stadium and TD Ameritrade Park:
"At Rosenblatt, the wind would blow out - now it blows in toward right field - and now the sun sits in the left-fielders eyes. It's not a very powerful ballpark and it doesn't sit real well for left-handers. I think the new ballpark was really set up well for UA because of their contact and the way they do things gap-to-gap."
On how TD Ameritrade Park will play to ASU's advantage:
"For us, running is still a big key there. You have to be able to run and play aggressive and put some people in motion on the bases. Three-run homers are few and far between there, so you have to be more of a gap-to-gap, contact-type offense. From a pitching standpoint - and this is just college baseball in general and not only the College World Series - if you pitch to contact, you're going to get rewarded. And we do a good job of that with the way we pitch and our philosophy on the mound, so as far as what we do from that side of the ball, the new ballpark will be a really good fit for us."
On spending some time in Omaha with members of the Sun Devil Club:
"That was really neat. I got to see some really strong backers of Arizona State University in Omaha, and to be able to speak to a group and have some people actually show up to it is nice. Ken Phelps, who played at ASU in 1975 and '76, and Steve Todare, who played for the Devils in 1979, were both there, and it's always great to connect with former players."
On the number of ASU fans in Omaha this year:
"ASU fans still showed up and they still had mid-June marked on their calendars for Omaha. They're going no matter what, because, in part, it's not a pipe dream that we have an opportunity to go. I think that's why there is such an ASU presence in Omaha. There were still a lot of Arizona State shirts and hats in the stands because that's just part of the baseball tradition at Arizona State. Whatever the odds are that ASU will be there at the end of the year, they circle it on their calendars and put it in the bank. It was very tough to watch other teams play, but it served as a driving motivation. When I came home, it was like, `All right, that's why we do this.' For me as a fan, getting to sit back and take that in and just look at the strength of the people still following our program - that was really cool and a little humbling, to a certain extent."
On the atmosphere being familiar even though ASU was not competing:
"I got off the plane and it still felt like the World Series, even though I wasn't there with my team. It's humid and the airport is busy - even though normally I would be getting on a bus - it's just that time of the year that it felt like the CWS. We went over to Rosenblatt Stadium and took a drive around there. It was weird and felt like a ghost town, because there was grass growing up through the sidewalk, but the stadium was still sitting there. It gave me goose bumps. It was like memory lane, but it was also like a dream. I could see past games and all the action happening in my mind, but in front of me, it was a rundown, ghost town stadium. This was the last time you could see it before they tear it down, so it was nice. I think Joelle was tired of me though because everywhere we went, I said, "this is where the bus would go, this is where that would happen," and she was like, `ok, let it go."
On being in Omaha for the CWS as a player:
"As a player, you're excited. In your mind, you're thinking it was worth it. All the hard work, everything you had to go through during the season. There's nothing like that feeling of walking out on that field and taking that first pitch and just sitting there and going `wow, we're in the College World Series, this is what we do. This is fun."
On being in Omaha for the CWS as a coach:
"As a coach, I think it's a lot more nerve-racking. As a player, I think you're not as nervous or uptight because you're kind of just worried about yourself and competing and doing what you need to do. As coaches, you're worried about all 25-27 guys. Even as an assistant, you want to win it - and I've been fortunate to be in a national championship game - but you're still kind of more concerned with your certain area. How was the offense? I wasn't as concerned about the pitching because I was worried about our offense. As a head coach, you're worried about all of it. So each one is different, but I will tell you this: That first pitch still felt the same, from when I was standing at second base to when I was coaching at third base to when I was sitting in the dugout with the lineup card and running the team. Those butterflies and the excitement, like, `here we go, we have a chance to win a national championship."
On the Pac-12 teams at the CWS:
"I thought our conference represented well. Obviously with UA winning the national championship - without losing a game in the process - and beating a South Carolina team that had a lot of guys on their roster who had been there and won a national championship. I thought UCLA played well, too. If you look at that and the Pac-12 teams that made Regionals and Super Regionals - we definitely play a different brand of baseball. UA was by far the best offensive team there and UCLA played offense better than they had in the past. So from that standpoint, it just proves you have to be a little more offensive in our conference to succeed."
On interacting with fans and coaches of other teams:
"Florida stayed in the same hotel as I did. They had left for their game already when I got there on Monday and then they got eliminated that night, so it wasn't one of those deals where you run up and say, `Hey, great year,' because they were the No. 1 team in country and the No. 1 seed in the tournament and they'd just been eliminated. But I've been there, so I talked to some Gator fans and told them they'll look back when it's all said and done, and say they still had a good year, even though at that point no one felt that way."
On his most unusual moment at the CWS:
"In 2010, my first year as the head coach, we got rained out the night before, so the next morning, we were eating breakfast and it was still in the dark at 5 a.m. We left to go to the ballpark to play and it was still dark. We got to the ballpark and the sun was just coming up. It just seemed surreal - you don't even do that in the regular season. Here we are in our opening game of the CWS and they're making us come back at 11 a.m. and have our batting practice time - since we were first team -at 7:30 a.m. That was really different and weird."