Carter Aldrete, Hunter Bishop and Alec Marsh have heard it all over their first two years. The basic explantation that they are motivated by the haters, the doubters isn’t the extra fire the three use. Tweets, Facebook posts, radio, articles, none of it matters to them, nothing from it gets under their skin.
The 22-1 record Arizona State baseball holds, their junior seasons. They’re only trying to prove they can play to one group of people: themselves.
“There’s a lot of talk of what ASU baseball is and what it was or needs to be. I don’t think we’re trying to impress anyone else but ourselves,” Aldrete said. “We’re doing it the way we want to do it, and the way we want to do it is working right now and we all knew it was going to be like this when we stepped on campus as freshmen.
“Me, Hunter and Marsh, we’re not really trying to please anyone else. We’re not trying to please the coaches, not the fans, not the media. Within our locker room, within our team, our brotherhood that we have, it’s just proving it to ourselves all this hard work that we’re putting in, all the trust we have in each other will pay off. Two years later, here we are. It’s paying off and we’re just as excited for each other.”
The history is written behind the fences of Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Five National Championships, countless appearances to the College World Series, the numbers of greats such as Barry Bonds, Reggie Jackson and Rick Monday.
For Sun Devil freshmen, the standard of Arizona State baseball is known once they step on campus. In the case of Aldrete, Bishop and Marsh, their freshman year was vastly different than most ASU players’ first year.
In 2017, the trio’s first year in the program, the team had a losing record. At that point, it had only been the second time that’d ever happened to a baseball team from Tempe. A handful of players left the team and fans were starting to have their doubts about head coach Tracy Smith. A first-year student-athlete is hard enough, but the turmoil of their freshman year didn’t make it any easier.
“It was definitely tough freshman year,” Aldrete said. “I had no idea what college baseball was like and when I got here, that wasn’t a very good representation of what it should’ve been.”
“The losses just kept piling on. It sucked,” Bishop added.
The following season, ASU repeated its 23-32 record. Back-to-back losing seasons had never happened before. The Sun Devil faithful wanted changes, the outside noise started to gain volume. It was different. It wasn’t the ASU baseball people had grown to know.
Athletic director Ray Anderson kept Smith as the head coach of Sun Devil baseball for the 2019 season. A move criticized by many, but not his players.
“We’ve known the whole time that keeping Skip was the right decision,” Bishop said. “It’s hard man. People gave him a hard time, but at the end of the day not having your own guys is really tough. And this is the first time, as you can see, that every single guy here is one of his recruits. Obviously it’s a coach’s duty to get everyone on board but he’s done a phenomenal job this year.”
The decision has paid off. The Sun Devils are 22-1 thus far in 2019. They’ve pushed themselves into the top-10 of a handful of polls.
A win away from the amount they’ve obtained in each of their first two seasons, for the three juniors, it’s hard to express their feelings from the hot start.
“It’s just been fun man,” Aldrete said. “To see what we’ve had brewing for three years actually come to life. What me and my class has wanted this program to feel like and come together like this, [you] just enjoy every day of it. We knew it was going to be like this, but now that it’s here it feels surreal.”
“It feels like it didn’t happen, right now we’re thinking about the next game everyday and not looking back at all,” Marsh said. “I forget that we’re 22-1, even losing our first game the other day, it didn’t feel like it. We all got back into the hotel and alright tomorrow, can’t wait to play tomorrow. That’s been our mindset the whole time.”
The Devils started 21-0 before they dropped their first game of the season this past Saturday. In an extra-inning affair with the Oregon Ducks, ASU played far from its best, but continued to fight. Marsh attributed that mentality to the adversity they faced over the course of year one.
“It’s just what makes you, it builds character, it’s what made me the player I am today,” he said. “Going through adversity, going through the worst stuff, going through that, I just know I could get through anything else now. It was a blessing in disguise that it happened, the guys that are still here, it made us as tough as nails. It shows, the other day against Oregon, we’re walking 10, almost handing the game to them, but we’re still going to the 12th inning, we’re not losing. Bases loaded, no outs, we’re going to get out of it.
“It doesn’t matter what the situation, it doesn’t matter how bad we’re playing, our goal is to win. We don’t want that feeling of losing anymore, that’s always in the back of our minds. We’ll do everything to win.”
The three have had their fingerprints all over the tremendous start this season.
Marsh, the Friday night starter, has diced all season long. The Wisconsin-native possess a 0.65 ERA, the seventh best among all qualified pitchers across the nation. Of the top-10 in that category, Marsh has also tossed the most amount of innings. With only 12 pitchers on the roster, seven that are freshmen, Marsh has provided the trusted arm Smith needed.
Bishop roams center field behind Marsh. Although, his damage is done more at the plate. Bishop has found the keys to unlock the potential so many have talked about since he put on a Sun Devil uniform. Every night it appears the ASU baseball twitter is tweeting about a Bishop bomb. That’s because he leads the nation in home runs with 14.
Much like the team’s record, Marsh isn’t exactly shocked about what his teammate is doing:
“It’s awesome man, it motivates me, it motivates everyone on the team,” said Marsh on Bishop’s play. “That’s his standard, he’s a freak athlete. Even the last couple of years, he may have not had the best freshman, sophomore year, but we were always telling him, ‘You’re the best we’ve ever seen. You got to believe in that.’ He’s walking around with the swagger and confidence, he’s more humble than ever which is awesome. For other guys that want to play pro ball or be good, he just sets a standard.”
Then there’s Aldrete, a vocal leader that will do and play anything to help his team win. Most of this season, the natural infielder has played right field. Aldrete has also filled in at second base when starter Drew Swift missed time due to injury. He has loved watching his teammates and closest friends light up opponents on both ends of the the field.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I know how hard they both work and the sky’s the limit for them. Both of them, they’re great players.”
The team is on pace to accomplish their first winning season since Aldrete, Bishop and Marsh arrived in Tempe, but a winning season isn’t where they stop. The philosophy of win the next one, then the one after that is how they believe their class will be remembered for more than a few bad seasons. Sparked by themselves, they have their eyes on a much higher prize.
“We want to make Arizona State relevant again, especially with the history it has. For us, to put us back on the map, put us back in those rankings it just shows how much work we’ve put in,” Marsh said. “It doesn’t mean anything yet, we have one goal in mind, go to Omaha and win Omaha.”