Willie Bloomquist knew the head coaching position at ASU was too good to pass up when it opened in Summer 2021 after former coach Tracy Smith was fired.
He donned the Maroon and Gold from 1997-99 and helped lead the team to a 119-66 record in that time. But he is taking on a role he never has before: serving as the skipper of a team.
"Those were the best three years of life, best three years of my career," Bloomquist said. "To have this opportunity to come back and wear this jersey again, it's pretty darn special."
Although he's a fan favorite and alumnus, the lack of coaching experience led some to question whether he was the right person to hire.
But hitting coach Travis Buck said Bloomquist acknowledged his lack of experience and is willing to learn.
"I think the best thing that he's said from the beginning is that he's learning and that he wants to learn, he's not afraid to admit that," Buck said. "It's great to have a guy and a leader like that who wants to learn is willing to listen, and will do whatever it takes."
While Bloomquist may not have head coaching experience, he has a breadth of playing experience. In 175 career games, Bloomquist finished his ASU career with 256 hits and a .394 batting average, good for third in school history.
A Washington native, Bloomquist's family were diehard fans of the Washington Huskies. He was given a full-ride scholarship to go to school there, but his heart was set elsewhere.
“Everyone thought I was going to Washington, except for me,” Bloomquist said. “I met with Coach Pat Murphy and saw what ASU had to offer. At the end of the day, I was excited, but I remembered I had to face my old man when I got home.”
Bloomquist committed to ASU without giving it a second thought, but he remembered his father did not want him to commit without telling him, and the news was given in a unique matter.
“As I’m getting off the plane, my dad is actually getting on the same plane to come down to Arizona to watch Washington play ASU in football,” Bloomquist said. “He asked me ‘How was it?’ And I told him, ‘I committed,’ and he gave me an expletive or two, but I told him that this is where I wanted to be, and he said to me ‘Good job, you made the right decision.’”
After his tenure in Tempe, Bloomquist was drafted in the third round of the 1999 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, his hometown team.
He stayed with the team for seven seasons before playing for the Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks, where he was nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award for his work with Phoenix Children's Hospital.
He then returned to his hometown Mariners for the final two years of his career. He finished his 14-year Major League career with a respectable .269 average and 778 hits.
Following his retirement in 2016, Bloomquist joined the Diamondbacks and served as a special assistant to President & CEO Derrick Hall for five years. There, he worked with Hall and other departments, assisting with Minor League players and attending community events.
Even as Bloomquist enters as a first-time manager, players said they are adjusting to the new culture he is setting.
"We hold each other accountable," redshirt senior pitcher Boyd Vander Kooi said. "If there (are) any mess-ups, it'll get handled and we'll stay as a unit."
Redshirt sophomore outfielder Kai Murphy, Pat Murphy's son, grew up around Bloomquist, as his father was the head coach during Bloomquist's tenure as a player.
"Obviously I've been able to know Willie for a while through the ASU connection," Kai Murphy said. "When you're listening to coaches, it's a little easier to listen to someone who’s already done it at the highest level."
The Sun Devils enter 2022 confident about their offense that includes key players such as sophomore Ethan Long and redshirt sophomore Sean McLain. However, some worry about the pitching staff that was depleted from injuries and from the 2021 MLB draft.
"We're going to have to utilize the number of guys, coming into this situation with the injuries we've had last year," Bloomquist said. "Everyone's going to have to be ready to go and step up, I think we're in a better position than we were in the fall."
The father of four daughters, Bloomquist knew jumping into the role would impact his free time, which included “taking my daughter to volleyball, and watching my other daughter do pom.”
“I knew it was going to be a lot, but I love every minute of it,” Bloomquist said. “I do miss out on some of the stuff when it comes to my family, and I knew it was going to be that way, but that’s been an adjustment for me personally."
Bloomquist’s family knew coaching ASU baseball was a big opportunity to get involved with the university and the program. He looks to make the most of that opportunity, aiming to lead the Sun Devils back to the College World Series for the first time in over 10 years.
"I love Arizona State, I've always loved this program and what they’ve done for me," Bloomquist said. "I can't say enough how excited I am to have this opportunity."
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Aaron Schmidt is a sports reporter who covers ASU Baseball and ASU Women’s Golf for The State Press. He previously covered Higley High School football for AZPreps365.