The Arizona State baseball team, winner of five straight games, arrived at Auburn on Thursday eager for another test but unsure when it will get to step into the classroom.
Heavy rains, lightning and tornado warnings shut down the Auburn campus. The weather is forecast to improve today, but the grounds crew at Plainsman Park could face a challenge in getting the field playable.
“It’s absolutely pouring rain,” coach Pat Murphy said via cell phone. “We don’t have any place to go.”
Any playing time at Auburn washed away would be a lost opportunity, and not just because the Tigers are 11-1 and ranked in the Top 25. Plainsman Park is one of the most picturesque facilities in college baseball, a potential blueprint for a future face-lift of ASU’s Packard Stadium.
In 1996, Plainsman Park underwent a $4.2 million renovation, and the result is a stadium that Baseball America labeled the best in the nation four years ago. Upgrading the Sun Devils’ home field is a project dear to Murphy, but he said he will not spend the weekend feeling envious.
“They have put a lot of money into the facility, and it’s beautiful,” Murphy said. “It’s a first-class park, something we can have, definitely.”
Murphy delayed in signing his most recent contract extension, primarily because he wanted assurances from ASU’s administration the program would be adequately funded, including facility improvements. He is confident that Packard Stadium, which was built in 1974, will get such upgrades as shaded seating and an enclosed press box.
“I’m not interested in a big price tag,” Murphy said. “We just need a ballpark that is friendly for the players, friendly for the fans, and a fun place to watch a game. What we have right now is antiquated.”
After a two-weekend lull, the Sun Devils (11-3) are back to spraying the ball to all fields. After scoring 36 runs in a three-game sweep of Alabama-Birmingham, ASU on Tuesday drilled archrival Arizona, 22-8, in a nonconference game in Tucson.
Heading into the week, the Sun Devils led the Pac-10 in eight offensive categories. Catcher Preston Paramore led the league in batting average, walks and on-base percentage, while outfielder Matt Spencer was tops in RBIs and slugging percentage.
If the pitching holds up, Murphy said, ASU is capable of big things.
“I think we’re playing with a lot more focus,” Murphy said. “The three games that we’ve lost, we ran out of pitching. That’s tough to win with when you are facing Top 25 teams a lot. But our guys will get better.
“They are capable, and more important, they’re starting to believe.”