Esmay Is Back In The Big Leagues

Jan. 26, 2005

SCOTTSDALE -- Don't expect a well-executed slide from Scottsdale resident Tim Esmay every time he takes the third-base box at Arizona State University's Packard Stadium.

Esmay isn't trying to fill the shoes of former Sun Devils third-base coach Mike Rooney, whose unorthodox slide became synonymous with his name. He wants to write his own legacy.

Just two days before ninth-ranked ASU opens the season against No. 22 Long Beach State, Esmay, 40, insists that there's no sense of urgency to make an immediate impression as an assistant coach, even in a program in which every move is scrutinized.

After all, Esmay already proved his worth during an eight-year stint as head coach at the University of Utah, where he led the Utes to their first Western Athletic Conference championship in 32 seasons in 1997.

He also spent four years as an assistant under the late coach Jim Brock at ASU after playing infield for Scottsdale Community College and the Sun Devils.

'It's like I've got nine lives, because I keep coming back,' Esmay said. 'You could have watched this team in the 1970s, '80s, '90s or right now, and you would have said the same thing. These kids play hard, they're respectful and they carry themselves. It's fun to be around.'

Under coach Pat Murphy, Esmay will coach third base and assist in the instruction of the team's infielders and hitters. He'll also help longtime assistant Jay J. Sferra in recruiting.

Developing talent shouldn't be a problem for Esmay. That's because most of ASU's players already are developed by the time they set foot in Packard Stadium.

Esmay took a much different approach at Utah, where his recruits were molded into minor-league-caliber players. The players Esmay coaches now are minor-league-caliber players.

'I went from the penthouse to the outhouse,' Esmay said of his decision to leave ASU for Utah eight years ago. 'From a career standpoint, that was great because I learned. It gave me a chance to really fend for myself.

'Some of those (Utah) kids weren't as experienced. They weren't as polished, so you really had to spend a lot more time breaking the game down. They made me a better coach because I had to think about the game more.'

Returning to ASU was a no-brainer for Esmay, who insists that he didn't mind trading control of a program for a chance to make the College World Series. None of Esmay's Utah teams advanced to the postseason.

Esmay likened his decision to leave Utah to that of former Utes football coach Urban Meyer, now the head coach at the University of Florida. There was only a small number of schools Esmay would consider. ASU was at the top of his list.

'Being at Utah wasn't the type of baseball that I was used to, and it wasn't the type of commitment that I was used to,' said Esmay, who contends that Utah's baseball team didn't receive as much attention as other high-profile teams, such as football, men's basketball and gymnastics. 'Utah is like coaching in the minor leagues. This (ASU) is coaching in the big leagues.'

Most of Esmay's efforts have been focused on creating chemistry among a revamped infield that's without heralded shortstop Dustin Pedroia, who left ASU early for last year's Major League Baseball amateur draft.

Senior third baseman Jeff Larish serves as the cornerstone, with touted freshman Andrew Romine at shortstop and University of Miami transfer Joey Hooft slated for second base. Sophomores Zechry Zinicola and Joe Persichina will see time at first base. Sophomore Seth Dhaenens and freshman Vinny Biancamano will figure in the infield rotation.

Esmay insists that his return to ASU isn't a building block to something bigger. He already has been down that road.

'This (job) was not taken for me to look to build something,' Esmay said. 'Arizona State has always been No. 1. There's no other place to be.'

Brian Gomez is the sports editor of ASU's State Press and is a a correspondent for the Scottsdale Republic.

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