Video by Kaard Bombe | Multimedia Reporter
For 40 years, Packard Stadium has been the home to ASU baseball. In that time, the Sun Devils have won two national championships, 18 NCAA Regional Tournaments and more than 1,100 games.
More than 100 former Sun Devils have played in the major leagues, including baseball’s all-time home run leader, Barry Bonds. As recently as last season, Dustin Pedroia represented the Sun Devils in the World Series, and won it all.
Only four men have ever been the head coach in its existence. Since it joined the Pac-12, the team’s .681 winning percentage is best in the conference.
And it all started on a cattle ranch in Colorado Springs, Colo. in 1972.
Top of the first
In 1972, Guthrie Packard and his brother, Peter, ran a cattle ranch in Colorado Springs. The two decided they wanted to find a way to honor their father, William G. Packard, but wanted him to see whatever it is they decided to do before he died.
Packard called a friend of his, who put him in contact with ASU’s athletic director at the time, Fred Miller. Packard had gone to ASU as a student, and his parents had a winter home in Wickenburg, Ariz., so he felt close to Arizona.
“At that point in time, the football stadium sat 50,000 and nothing was there,” Packard said.
Miller came to Colorado and, together with the two Packard brothers, decided to build a baseball stadium, in part because of Packard’s friendship with then-ASU baseball coach Bobby Winkles. They built a model of the stadium and showed it to their father.
The funny thing is, despite Packard’s connection to ASU baseball, his father had none.
“Everyone asks ‘What was your dad’s association with ASU?’ ” Packard said. “The simple answer to that is absolutely none.”
The stadium was completed, and the Sun Devils moved into their new home for the 1974 season.
Despite the stadium being named after him, William G. Packard never saw ASU win; the Sun Devils managed to lose each game he attended.
“(Former ASU baseball coach) Jim Brock used to tease me and say, ‘Your dad can’t come to games anymore,’” Guthrie said.
Next season, ASU baseball will move to Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The 2014 season will be Packard’s swan song, and the program is making sure it is a memorable one.
For its 40th anniversary of playing at Packard, ASU baseball has dedicated 2014 to the history of the stadium, which will include a special “Tip Your Cap To Packard” logo and slogan, among other events.
The legacy of ASU baseball, and specifically Packard Stadium, is unlike any other. Only USC and Texas can match its 102 alumni to have played in the major leagues. The three schools are tied for the most among any program in the nation.
ASU’s major league class began when Pete Lovrich pitched an inning of relief for the Kansas City Athletics in 1963. Of those 102 former Sun Devils, 79 played at Packard Stadium.
The list of Packard-era players includes big names, such as former major league sluggers like Bonds and Bob Horner, as well as current stars Pedroia, Andre Ethier, Mike Leake and Jason Kipnis.
Seventh inning stretch
Because of its history of excellence, ASU has a considerable fan base. Packard Stadium sports a banner listing years in which it has drawn the most fans on the West Coast. And arguably none of those fans are more passionate about ASU baseball than Fran Eastwood and her family.
“OK, first of all we are not ASU fans, we are Sun Devils,” Eastwood said.
Eastwood has seats with her brother Barry Stahl and his son Jonas Stahl, as well as her parents, Hal and Toby Stahl. The family has had season tickets since around 2000, by Eastwood’s approximation.
Eastwood said her nephew Jonas Stahl learned to walk at Packard. Eastwood and her family have season tickets right behind the visitors dugout. She said Jonas would prop himself up on the dugout and use it as a hand rail to pick himself up.
Jonas’s 10th birthday is Friday, Feb. 14, the same day as ASU’s season opener against Baylor at 2:30 p.m. However, Jonas has a conflict he’ll have to work out.
“Of course, I do have school until 3:30,” Jonas said.
“But we’re working on that,” Eastwood added.
Eastwood said it will be weird to see ASU play a home game anywhere but Packard, but that it is time to move to a different venue.
“I’m sad to be leaving here, but when push comes to shove, it will be better over there,” she said.
Eastwood said one of her favorite memories of Packard was in 2009 when ASU hosted a Super Regional matchup. Current Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis’s father was in attendance. ASU won the game, and Eastwood’s brother Barry took a picture of Kipnis jumping into his father’s arms in celebration.
“It was one of those great moments,” Eastwood said.
But she didn’t hesitate in calling Pedroia the best player she had ever seen at Packard. Pedroia’s popularity is shared by many ASU fans, including Charles Fields.
Fields has been coming to ASU games for what he guessed was about 30 years. He is originally from the East Coast and is a Boston Red Sox fan, so he said he loved seeing Pedroia play at Packard, then continue his career at Fenway Park.
“They thought (Pedroia) was too small to make it, but I thought this guy is going to do it,” Fields said. “He still never gives up.”
Everyone has a memory from Packard they will never forget, and for Fields, it was a man he knew only as Ernie. He was a regular, Fields said, who was known for his popular chant.
“He used to sing in a deep baritone voice ‘Go Devils, go,’” Fields said. “When they made it to Omaha (for the College World Series), listening to it, I could hear his voice on the radio.”
Eastwood said she believed that Phoenix Municipal Stadium would be better for the team. Fields disagreed.
“My thought is they should stay here,” Fields said. “Too many memories. There’s no Rural Road up in Phoenix.”
Rural Road is the street behind the right-field wall of Packard, and any baseball is one solid swing away from landing there.
Eastwood and her family and Fields were getting nostalgic thinking about Packard’s history, and they were fans. Brett Bordes is a diehard Sun Devil baseball fan now, but he used to play on the field at which he now watches games.
Bordes played at ASU from 2003-06, and holds the ASU record for career appearances as a pitcher with 109. He was drafted in the in the 24th round by the Detroit Tigers in 2005 but opted to return to ASU for his senior year. Following that, he was drafted in the ninth round by the Baltimore Orioles. That time around, he did sign with Baltimore. His brother, Greg, is currently an assistant coach for the Sun Devils.
Bordes said he had mixed feelings about leaving Packard.
“Just going back on the tradition that’s come through here, the cleats that have touched the ground here, a lot of amazing players and great friends we met,” Bordes said. “It’s a bummer, but at the same time, things always change, and that’s OK.”
Bordes said he wishes the team would stay at Packard, but understands the need for a move. He said it would help the program, citing a similar move by a rival school.
UA relocated from Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium into Hi Corbett Field, a former MLB spring training facility similar to Phoenix Municipal Stadium, in Tucson in 2012. The Wildcats’ attendance increased, and the team won the College World Series that year.
Bordes said he has hopes to see something like that happen for the Sun Devils next season and said the pressure to do it is on during Packard’s farewell campaign.
Bordes and Eastwood also believed it would help the team draw even more fans than it already does.
“I think it’ll be good for the guys and definitely for getting bigger crowds,” Eastwood said. “Can you imagine an ASU-UA game there?”
Mixed emotions are everywhere, especially the man that built the stadium. Packard said it will be a bittersweet season for him.
“It’s 40 years; it’s something we’re giving up, (and) it’s going to to be pretty emotional to give it up, but at the same time, this is OK,” he said. “It’s a great step for ASU baseball. It’s like Packard Stadium was. We moved from (the old field) to Packard, now we’re taking a couple of more steps up again. And it’ll be the obligation of fans, players and history for them to pick that tradition up and move it to Phoenix Muni.”
Bottom of the ninth
ASU baseball hosted its annual preseason banquet Jan. 30. It was there that coach Tim Esmay said that the last regular season game at Packard would not be the last game at Packard. He was referring to the possibility of the Sun Devils hosting a postseason game, an idea that excited fans.
“Oh God, yes,” Fields said. “That’s a good attitude.”
“I would love it. That would be huge,” Bordes said. “To win it and walk off winners on this field would be a great feat. I think they’ll do that too.”
Whether the last game of the season is May 20 against Abilene Christian University or a regional or a super regional, it is the last chance for ASU fans to tip their caps to Packard Stadium before it closes its doors.
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Video by Kaard Bombe | Multimedia Reporter