For a few brief yet gloriously memorable summer weeks, the Nebraska town is the epicenter of collegiate athletics and this year, perhaps more so than any season since the team's last championship in 1981; the Sun Devils are the odds on favorite to persist from the eight-team pack as National Champions.
In the words that ‘90s pro wrestling fans can recall Jim Ross blurting with his Oklahoma drawl—business, my friends, is about to pick up.
After a two-game gut check versus Arkansas last week, ASU arrives in Omaha with dirt on their jerseys that they do not figure to soon dust off; after sliding through the Tempe region with relative ease, the Super Regional matchup against the Razorbacks sharpened the Devils' forks.
During 24 knock-down, drag-out innings ASU's pride was tested, its resolve was pushed to the limit and the team's collective intestinal fortitude was called out on the carpet—but at the end of the series it was the Razorbacks that stood speechless and shell-shocked in their dug out at Winkles-Packard-Brock, mystified by the relentless resilience of the nation's top overall seed.
Perhaps not since Luis Gonzalez blooped his legendary game-winning hit in the 2001 World Series has a postseason baseball series in the state of Arizona been played with such drama and emotion, giving the Sun Devils a momentous advantage in Omaha as the club arrives self-confident and battle-tested.
However, as is common in the sports world regardless the level of play, recent memories essentially are meaningless if the ultimate goal remains unattained. The standard of the Arizona State baseball program is, has been and always will be to compete for the College World Series crown; the memories of the pat on the backside for hosting a Regional round, the television exposure for advancing to the Super Regional series and the all-expenses paid trip to the state of Nebraska quickly lose their luster if the championship objective is still unaccomplished at the season's end.
The culture of Sun Devil baseball has changed dramatically in recent years, as after a CWS gap from after ASU's 1998 Championship Game appearance against USC through the conclusion of the 2004 season, the Maroon and Gold has since been represented in Omaha four times over the past six years, instituting not just a local expectation but a national reputation that the Devils are among the final teams standing each college baseball season.
This season has been both brutal and poetic for the Sun Devils, which began with program-altering controversy but continued with what has seemingly grown to be routine for ASU baseball, as the squad persisted through adversity to claim a fourth consecutive Pac-10 Championship and the program's third College World Series trip in four years.
The undertone of ‘why not this year?' has resonated since the Devils began the year in booming fashion with a 24-game win streak to open the 2010 season. Though all the early odds were stacked against the Sun Devils—an unceremonious departure by the previous head coach merely two months before the season's start, the loss of two All-America pitchers and the hovering concern of impending NCAA sanctions—the individuals seemingly least concerned with all the headline-making hoopla have been the men in the Sun Devil clubhouse as the squad from the start has been unfazed and ultra-focused, and if a college baseball team ever existed that had an unavoidable chip on its shoulder, it is definitely the men from Tempe.
Thus far, the Devils have answered the call of duty on the diamond every time they have been summoned and starting Sunday, the stadium gets bigger, the stakes get greater and the pressure peaks to a level as yet unseen by this Sun Devil team.
These qualities likely are enough to make ASU fans chew fingernails to the cuticles, anxiously pace a divot into the living room floor or perhaps even mutter a few expletives.
But the team?
After the way this season has gone, there's no challenge grand enough to rattle these Devils.