(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
On Tuesday Night, Rick Monday took the field at Phoenix Muni yet again.
Everything looked eerily similar to the way it did some 50 years ago– an Arizona State team sporting the same uniform as 1965’s College World Series winning team, a packed crowd in the same stadium awaiting a Territorial Cup showdown, and Monday strolling onto the diamond.
This time, though, Monday, with his famous American Flag in tow, was in attendance as a legend, tasked with throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
Monday headlined ASU’s 1965 National Championship team, batting .359 with 34 extra-base hits before being named the College Player of the Year as a sophomore. That same year, Monday had garnered the interest of Major League clubs, in particular the Kansas City Athletics.
“I had an idea because I had talked very closely with the scout with the Kansas City A’s by the name of Art Lilly,” Monday said. “I was told I was going to be number one, but in our lives we’re told many things.”
As the story goes, Monday was the first player selected in the 1965 draft and went on to play for the Athletics until 1972. It wasn’t until he was traded to the Chicago Cubs, however, that he would become known for something that would transcend baseball, something now known as “The Greatest Play in Baseball History.”
It was April 25, 1976, the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers were in the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium. It was America’s bicentennial, and Vin Scully narrated as two protestors began covering an American flag in lighter fluid, ready to set it ablaze.
Enter Monday, who ran up and snatched it away before the flag could be incinerated.
“I never did anything that was extraordinary that Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles,” Monday said. “I happened to be chosen to be close enough to do something about it. I’ve always believed it does not take a long thought process to decide between right and wrong, and what those two people were attempting to do that day, in my mind, in 1976 and as we sit here and talk today, is wrong.”
It has been 40 years since Monday did what he did, yet, the flag that he rescued remains and still smells of lighter fluid.
“It was not a new flag in 1976, it was doused in lighter fluid,” Monday said. “I had no idea what the chemical reaction on a flag for 40 years does, but I did know, this lady back here [Barbaralee Monday], six years ago approximately was going through 29 Palms, California, in the Marine base, it was 126 degrees outside.
“She could smell the lighter fluid 40 years later.”
The home of Arizona State baseball has changed in ways Monday couldn’t even imagine since his matchups with the University of Arizona in 1965. From the facilities, to head coach Tracy Smith, Monday says the the program is on the verge of getting back on the right track.
“To come back here and see what Arizona State has done to this stadium, to the facilities, is mind-boggling,” Monday said. “This is absolutely first class area from I think a training standpoint, locker room to facilities, to a study room. This is from A to Z, this is the way that many of us have envisioned the Arizona State baseball program to evolving into.”
Before Tuesday’s game, Monday was able to address the team, alongside his former teammates from 1965 in what was a special moment for the former Sun Devil.
“It was powerful for me, because immediately behind me were some former teammates that together in 1965 we were able to win the College World Series,” Monday said. “It was important for me.”
Monday also stressed to the team that the place they were in, meaning Arizona State, and the place they’re at in their lives, is special. He made sure they knew that everything from the teammates, to the lessons they will learn, were something to be treasured.
“I asked them to look from one side to the other and kind of look at their teammates and hold onto those relationships,” Monday said. “I knew that behind me were some teammates and some people that I knew had played here that I had not seen in a number of years and it tugs at your heart. Those are important relationships that you have that last for a lifetime, it’s not just for nine innings of a game, it’s not just for a schedule that particular year.”
“It lasts for a lifetime.”
When his visit with the team was all said and done, Monday had been convinced that Arizona State baseball couldn’t be in a better set of hands.
“To say I had been impressed with Coach Smith and his staff is an understatement,” Monday said. “I think that was reiterated tonight by some of my former teammates and other players who had very good careers here at Arizona State tonight.”