Forty years of future Major Leaguers, Pac-12 Championships and National Championships saw it’s final baseball game played at the tradition rich Packard Stadium in Tempe on Tuesday night. Arizona State defeated Abilene Christian 4-2 in a come from behind effort to send the fans, players and alumni away from this era of Sun Devil Baseball on a high note.
While that was the result of the game, the emotions that ran through everyone in attendance was the biggest story as closer Ryan Burr struck out a Wildcat (fittingly enough) to put an exclamation point on the historic night.
“I’m telling you man, this was a heavy game,” ASU Head Coach Tim Esmay said after the game. “A lot heavier than if there is a regional here or a super regional here just because we knew for a fact that this was the last regular season game.”
“This place is special,” added senior pitcher Josh McAlister. “You look at the atmosphere here and the energy. It’s special and it means a lot to a lot of people.”
The night started off with very few dry eyes in the stands as ASU’s student coach, Cory Hahn came out to throw the first pitch. Hahn was a prized recruit out of California four years ago but just weeks into his career with the Sun Devils, was paralyzed from the waist down after colliding with a player sliding into second base. He has since been an inspiration to all the Sun Devil nation and for the first time since the accident, he threw a baseball to fellow senior McAlister making him the final person to throw out a first pitch at Packard.
“Probably the most nervous I’ve been since not playing anymore,” Hahn stated. “Usually I am pretty good with that stuff and being in front of crowds but tonight, it was a little nerve-wracking to say the least with the standing ovation and everything that has gone on.”
“Being it the first time that I have thrown a baseball since the injury it was pretty crazy,” he mentioned. “It was an honor to be the last one to throw out the first pitch. I think it is something that embodies what the Sun Devils are like and I am so happy to be a part of it.”
For what Hahn has done in his four years since the injury, he has become one of the most proud faces in Sun Devil history. Leaving behind a legacy of perseverance that far proceeds being the last person to throw out the first pitch.
“What he has meant to us and what he has done in the program and to have that young man come out and actually throw a baseball after watching him after the accident first happened,” Esmay explained. “I am having a tough time with him and having a tough time not having him around in the program anymore..What a great inspiration he has been for me. He has changed my life.”
The game itself had some special things occur which were special to those close to the program and it’s long time fans. Coach Esmay admitted that this was a tough game not just because Abilene played well, but because of how much pressure they had on themselves to send Packard away with a win. The Sun Devils trailed late until redshirt junior Trever Allen stepped to the plate in the seventh and roped a triple which lead to him scoring the tying run. Then broke the tie in the 8th in with a two-run single.
Allen grew up around ASU baseball has his father, Jamie Allen, who was a pitcher and infielder for ASU and was a member of their 1977 National Championship team.
“Honestly, it is exactly how I wanted to end this game,” Allen said. “I wanted to be the guy to win it tonight. It was an extremely emotional night for myself, my family and for everyone on the team. I got the opportunity and it went my way and I am happy about that.”
The game ended with fireworks for the fans in the stands and for the players who stayed out on the field to watch. Standing by himself in the dugout during the fireworks was Coach Esmay who was taking in a moment as not just the coach but as a life long Sun Devil fan.
“I am not going to lie to you, there were some tears,” Esmay said. “I’ve grown up in the place. I grew up as a fan just the little one’s were out there doing today and I thought ‘that was me!’ To be able to play here which was my dream to play at Arizona State, then to coach and then to be the head coach.”
“I think the responsibility of being the last one there just kind of wowed me,” he added. “It made my knees weak.”
ASU finishes their 2014 season up in Pullman for a three game set with Washington State. Then it will be on to the post season where ASU as of now is projected to be a two-seed with it being a bit of a long shot at this point for them to host a regional. It is a definite possibility that Wednesday was not the last ever game played at Packard as the Sun Devils, even if they don’t host a regional, could host a super regional in Tempe if the seedings play out as such.
If that scenario does not play out, the ASU baseball program shuts it’s doors on Packard Stadium after forty years and will begin a new era next year at Phoenix Muni.