By Alex Caprariello
With Cactus League spring training in full swing Valley residents find joy in the return of “America’s pastime” to their daily lives.
But no joy comes greater than seeing one of your own return for another season of big league baseball. For Eric Sogard, he can feel the love emanating from the community that raised him.
The second baseman, who lives in the Valley during the offseason, is appreciative of the recognition he receives each year from friends and family who have followed him from the beginning.
“Everyone who has supported me coming up, I always see them out at the games,” Sogard said. “It’s neat to have that support and know the fans, know the ASU fans, know the high school fans that have known me along the way and given me that support along the way.”
It’s easy to see why Sogard has such a loyal fan base. It’s not necessarily due to his accomplishments on the diamond, but how he chooses to spend his time off the field.
Each year, Sogard remains involved with his high school alma mater. He volunteers as a guest instructor for the “Future Thunderbird Chiefs Camp,” a clinic that teaches basic fundamentals to youth baseball players in fourth through eighth grades.
On top of that, Sogard also donates equipment to the current varsity team.
“Every year he’s given us new cleats, new batting gloves, new bats, everything,” said Brett Budde, a current Thunderbird varsity player. “He really likes to give back to us and we greatly appreciate that.”
When varsity coach Clay Klavitter was first hired at Thunderbird, he made it a point to reach out to Sogard to renew the relationship between school and star. Klavitter also played a hand in a recent ceremony that officially retired Sogard’s high school number.
To Klavitter, it was only right to properly honor a player deserving of such respect.
“He’s just about as regular guy as you can be and super humble and a great role model for the kids,” Klavitter said. “And obviously him being the one in the big leagues, we wanted to do that for him.”
With 162 games slated for each major league season, Sogard certainly has a busy schedule. But the Thunderbird alumnus enjoys taking time to work with the school and its next hopeful generation of baseball players.
“I just wanted to give back. They helped me a lot while I was there,” Sogard said. “It’s neat to go back out there and be a part with them.”
On the first day of March, Sogard stepped to the plate for an inter-squad scrimmage at Hohokam Stadium. As he approached the batter’s box, one fan clapped a little more enthusiastically than he did for the other Athletics’ players.
His name is Dick Merkel. He once was a member of the faculty at Arizona State and has been an avid ASU baseball fan since 1967. He remembers Sogard’s time in the valley school system, which eventually led to his playing days at ASU.
To him, it’s obvious why Sogard is so admired by the people of the Grand Canyon State.
“He is one of us. He went to high school, college, lives here and he’s a Sun Devil alum. Yeah, he is one of us.”