PHOENIX -- As the first former Arizona State player to wear a D-backs uniform, veteran infielder Willie Bloomquist has become a fan favorite in the Valley for his life-long ties to the Phoenix area.
Hoping to show what being a Sun Devil can mean to the community, first-year ASU football coach Todd Graham invited the 34-year-old to make a return trip to the Tempe campus Thursday to watch the team practice, two days before it takes on Missouri this Saturday.
Arriving in a striped shirt with both Sedona Red and Sun Devil Maroon on it, Bloomquist exchanged personalized jerseys with Graham before chatting with several ASU players.
"He's a great Sun Devil, that's what I want our kids to see," Graham said. "Here is a guy that benefited from this great university, and he's coming back. I want our players to know that when they're done, they are still a part of this."
For Bloomquist, the chance to come back to the school that jump-started his career provided enough motivation to wake up early on the D-backs' off-day.
"It's a refreshing thing to do something like this," Bloomquist said. "It's where I chose to go to school, and as long as I'm breathing, I'll always be a Sun Devil."
With Thursday's practice taking place at Sun Devil Stadium, Bloomquist used the opportunity to walk onto the field through the Tillman Tunnel, named after the late Pat Tillman, whose time at ASU coincided with Bloomquist's Sun Devil baseball career. Tillman left his professional football career and joined the United States Army in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and he was killed in action in Afghanistan in April 2004.
Pat's brother, Kevin, played baseball with Bloomquist, and the D-backs shortstop became friends with both.
"Anytime you say the name 'Pat Tillman,' you can't help but get a few chills and goosebumps," Bloomquist said. "To be privileged to know him when he was here and to see the tunnel, it's great. The very first time I met him, he was sitting outside the tunnel before a game, just seeing him focus. That's kind of what I thought of when I was walking through it. He was obviously a very special human being."
Now in his 10th Major League season, Bloomquist once played football in high school, but he opted to give the sport up for baseball. Still, the infielder appreciates the job Graham has done with the program so far, winning his first two games this season.
"It's very noticeable from an outsider, they are playing the game a bit different than they did in the past," Bloomquist said. "It's fun to see they are playing the game the right way. It's not all about 'me.' It's about the team. They hand the ball to the official, it's fun to watch."
For the players who met Bloomquist, the experience was a special one. But for one Sun Devil in particular, Thursday meant a little more.
While excelling on the gridiron, ASU senior linebacker Brandon Magee also plays baseball at a high level. So well, in fact, that he signed a contract with the Boston Red Sox this summer after the club drafted him in the 23rd round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
Magee believes Bloomquist's success with the D-backs helps both the Major League franchise and the Sun Devils by keeping local players in town.
"It brings attention to Arizona," Magee said. "Especially Willie Bloomquist -- he never gets in trouble, he's a great role model and he makes big-time plays every game."