27 March 2008

ASU Out For Blood

Cheered on the #1 ranked Devils against USC last night, in Packard Stadium, Tempe's jewelbox off the Rio Salado. Sellout crowd, an enthusiastic gold clad student section bopping to Sweet Caroline, gorgeous weather - and sixteen runs by the home team after five innings make for a good time.

Still not as eventful as the last 'SC game I witnessed at Packard. That was a cool April evening way back in 1990, when I lured my fiancee on campus to see the spirited college game. It's an assertive brand of baseball, and Pac 10 rivalries can be particularly intense, with lots of bench jockeying, aggressive baserunning etc. The late Jim Brock, who coached ASU, apparently didnt get along much with USC counterpart, Mike Gillsepie. I dont remember why.

Anyway, a couple guys got plunked, a USC batter (who played in the NFL months later) charged the mound, and it was on. Not a typical, self-policed baseball brawl, with three guys swinging and 47 peacemakers. Try a 35 minute melee requiring a battalion of DPS (Arizona State Police) in riot gear (helmets and batons) to reestablish the peace. Arrests in the stands, a dozen suspensions from the Pac-10, including both head coaches, and a considerable amount of blood.

Two things remain clear to me about the fight, nearly twenty years later. One is the fighting came and went in waves. A swinging duo would attract teammates from both squads, forming scrums, dotted across the infield. Just as one scrum settled down, another would explode with a roundhouse. This went on for half an hour (seemed much longer), and while we never truly feared for our own safety in the LF bleachers, the drawn out cycle of escalation, relative calm and re-escalation was pretty disturbing, as if no authority - moral or otherwise - was in the house.

The second thing I remember is a particularly agile ASU player, darting from one scrum to another, cheap shotting otherwise engaged Trojans from behind and then running away. That player was Fernando Vina. I dont mention it now to disparage Vina especially, although I do think it was cowardly and added fuel to the fire. It was a long time ago and I trust Vina's matured. It's just one of those things that sticks with you. The image of him, punching and running in that lawless half hour.

On the way home last night, we stopped at the IHOP near 44th and Thomas, which was a surprisingly cheerful late night stop. Good service and a relaxing spot to talk over the ballgame. ASU hit the ball like a slow pitch softball team. No homers, but they were on base all night. Seemed like half their lineup could win a Sliver Slugger someday. Speaking of batter awards, I captured this plaque overlooking our dinner table.
They must be very proud.

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