by Annaliese Leon
PHOENIX – Milwaukee Brewer infielder Eric Sogard owes his first big success in collegiate baseball to a Diet Dr. Pepper.
The Arizona State Sun Devil baseball team was in Fullerton, California, on June 11, 2005, to face Cal State Fullerton, defending national champions, in the super regional.
Leading 2-1 in the eighth, ASU had the opportunity to break the game wide open with the bases loaded.
Sogard, a freshman back-up, got the call to pinch-hit for his first career postseason at-bat. He smashed a two-run double to center field, his first career extra-base hit, to accent ASU’s 6-2 win. The Sun Devils won the next day to advance to the College World Series in Omaha.
How did a Diet Dr. Pepper give a freshman his first postseason at-bat in such a crucial game?
ASU coach Pat Murphy had a huge addiction to diet soda. At the beginning of each season, the team would assign a freshman player to the position of Soda Boy.
“Some players like (Dustin) Pedroia, (Andre) Ethier, and some other good people had that title of Soda Boy, so they gave this position to Sogard and he was Soda Boy for the whole year,” Murphy said.
Before the game began, Murphy had a massive migraine headache — one he thought was due to the amount of sodas he had already consumed. The only cure that came to mind was the consumption of more diet soda. Unfortunately, the facility had run out.
So Murphy had a message for Sogard:
“Soggy, before this game starts, if you get me a Diet Dr. Pepper, you’ll get an at-bat in the game.”
Sogard to left the stadium to search for a store that carried Murphy’s desired soda.
“Sure enough, he went outside the stadium and went to a store and found the Diet Dr. Pepper,” Murphy said. “He brought it back in right before the game started, almost didn’t get back into the stadium, and gives me a diet soda.”
Murphy had no intention of actually giving Sogard an at-bat in the game unless a situation presented itself. Sure enough, one arose.
“We win, and move on to Omaha, and that was the key hit,” Murphy said. “I always note him as Soda Boy, and he went on the next year to be a star, the next year a second-round draft pick.”
(Video by Megan Plain/Cronkite News)
Murphy coached Sogard from 2005 to 2007 at ASU.
During 2006, his sophomore year, Sogard appeared in 55 games and batted .353 with 50 RBIs. He hit nine home runs, tied with Ike Davis for the team lead.
He increased his appearances during his junior year to 61 games and batted .394 with 11 homers and 58 RBIs. Sogard won the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year award that year.
The relationship between the two did not end in ASU’s maroon and gold uniforms.
We fast-forward to June 18, 2015, when Murphy, as the San Diego Padres new manager, earned his first win as a big-league manager.
The opponent: Sogard and the Oakland Athletics.
Sogard went 0 for 3 in the game.
Murphy recounted what happened afterward in the clubhouse:
“I come back in, they give me a cold shower, you know, all the things they do, and then sure enough on my desk was a 12-pack of Diet Dr. Pepper, and it said: ‘Couldn’t have done it without you. Congratulations on your first win, signed Soda Boy,’” Murphy said.
It’s been 10 years since Murphy, 58, and Sogard have worn the same uniform. Now the two are reunited with the Brewers. Murphy became the Brewers bench coach last season; Sogard signed with the team in the off-season as a free agent.
“He taught me a lot throughout the game, and I’ve matured that way, so I’m excited to see what he has to offer up here,” Sogard said of Murphy. “I’ve heard nothing but good things from other guys.”
Seeing Sogard, 30, develop from the collegiate level to the professional level has been an honor for Murphy.
“It makes you proud anytime you’ve had the privilege to be part of anyone’s career,” Murphy said.“When he was young, and to see him go on and be a major leaguer and a true professional, affecting people the way he has, Soggy is special to me, there’s no doubt about it. It’s not something you can describe, there’s a love between us that is real.”