El Paso hits road as Tucson says bye to baseball for now

2014-04-15T00:00:00Z El Paso hits road as Tucson says bye to baseball for nowBy Daniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

It reads like a West Coast swing for a bar band’s nationwide tour.

Phoenix to Reno to Tacoma to Tucson to Albuquerque to Las Vegas to Sacramento to El Paso.

Eight cities over 27 days with minimal sleep, frequent stops at fast-food joints and daily wake-up calls from friendly front-desk staffers.

But instead of groupies waiting for them in hotel lobbies, Pat Murphy and the El Paso Chihuahuas have opposing teams awaiting their arrival in the opposite dugout.

“You can make it worse than it really is,” Murphy said. “It’s certainly not an easy task to be away from your family for that many days in a row and going to city to city. But you’re still playing baseball every night and getting to do what you love. So how bad can it really be?”

That’s what life is like these days for the team formerly known as the Tucson Padres.

The Chihuahuas have been forced to play their first 23 games of the season away from El Paso because their stadium is still being built and wasn’t ready for the start of the season. That’s what brought them to Tucson this past weekend for a four-game set against the Reno Aces.

El Paso won the final game of the series Monday night 5-3 at Kino Stadium, likely the last Triple-A game in Tucson for a long time.

The Chihuahuas left town early today with Albuquerque as their next step after a bus ride to Phoenix. They will finally open their new ballpark in less than two weeks on April 28 against the Fresno Grizzlies.

The home opener sold out at the still-being-built Southwest University Park in less than 30 minutes.

“I think the time away has been good for us in terms of the guys being able to bond and build some chemistry,” Murphy said. “We play 144 games, so 23 of 144 really isn’t that many. It just means we’ll be at our new park a lot over the second half of the season.”

Murphy is in his second season with the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A affiliate after managing the Tucson Padres last season. The former Arizona State head coach led Tucson to a 77-67 record in his first campaign last year.

He was a candidate for a few different major league assistant coaching jobs, but returned to the Padres organization. He’s not sure what his future holds, but does miss his days as the Sun Devils boss.

Murphy won 629 games in 15 seasons with ASU.

“I miss parts of the college game,” Murphy said. “I miss the other coach, the competition, the passion. I loved those battles that we had with Arizona over the years. You can’t replicate that stuff.”

The manager said when he exited Kino Stadium last year after the team’s final game of the season, he had a feeling he might be back for a few games this season because of the schedule of construction in El Paso.

He was more than happy to give Tucson one final look at Triple-A baseball.

“I really like Tucson,” Murphy said. “I really like the people. Considering I’m a Sun Devil, they’re really nice to me.”

After this weekend though, it doesn’t look like Murphy will be making any return trips to Tucson anytime soon.

Former Padres general manager Mike Feder, who helped run the four-game series between the ex-Tucson Padres and the ex-Tucson Sidewinders, said he doesn’t see Triple-A baseball returning to Tucson for awhile.

“It’s hard to see a short-term scenario for Triple-A baseball in Tucson,” Feder said.

“You certainly never know what can happen in the future, but for right now, there’s not much happening.”

Feder said he was hoping to draw 10,000 fans total for the four games. After having an announced crowd of 2,631 on Monday night, he achieved that with a four-day total of more than 12,060.

“For me, that final game last year was very emotional,” Feder said. “It really was an end of an era. These four games were a much different feeling. It was just a lot of fun. There wasn’t as much stress.

“I think it was a good last stand and I think the fans really enjoyed it, which is good.”

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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