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ASU’s Torkelson honors Barry Bonds by breaking his freshman HR record

ASU infielder Spencer Torkelson set a freshman home run record against Washington State on March 29, passing Barry Bonds with his 12th home run of the season. (Photo Courtesy Andrew Palla)

PHOENIXIt’s no secret that Arizona State infielder Spencer Torkelson is a freshman phenom, and he is likely to be yet another product of the program nicknamed “MLB U.”

Thursday night, Torkelson belted his 12th home run of the season against Washington State to pass Barry Bonds for the ASU all-time freshman home run record … and it’s only March.

Needless to say, Bonds went on to do all right after he left ASU, becoming Major League Baseball’s home run king over the course of a 21-year career.

“I can’t really put it into words,” said Torkelson of being in the same conversation as Bonds. “My mom sent me this picture of the TV screen of my picture next to Barry Bonds’ picture (after he tied Bonds’ record last weekend). … It gave me goosebumps and chills a little bit. I was so excited and it felt so unreal.”

For Torkelson, the discussion of being next to Bonds hit close to home.

Torkelson grew up about an hour outside of San Francisco in the city of Petaluma, Calif. Residing in the Bay Area, Torkelson was raised in the orange and black, and he often watched Bonds roam the outfield at AT&T Park.

“Growing up, I went to a couple of games before he stopped playing. I remember going to games and everyone was like, ‘Barry is going to hit one out. Barry is going to hit one out,’ ” Torkelson said. “It was just so much fun watching him play.”

After hitting a career .430 with 99 RBIs at Casa Grande High School, Torkelson had to decide whether to declare for the MLB Draft or to continue going to school at ASU.

The decision to attend ASU rather than going to the big leagues was tough, but he had some insightful friends and family to help him make his decision, including ASU sophomore outfielder Hunter Bishop.

Similar to Torkelson, Bishop grew up in Northern California, and he attended Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, which just happens to be the same high school that Bonds went to before he went on to become an ASU and MLB superstar.

Bishop and Torkelson were never really close, but they did happen to play in the same travel ball program just before their freshman years of high school, with Bishop noting that he had heard of Torkelson, but he had “never really put a face to the name.”

Rising through the high school ranks in the same area, Bishop kept on hearing about Torkelson, and last spring when the freshman was coming down to a decision on whether to enter the draft or attend ASU, Bishop had a chance to sit down and have breakfast with Torkelson’s parents.

“We wanted him to come to school and not go to the draft,” Bishop said. “I was trying to see where he was at with things, and just getting a feel for what he was thinking at the time, and luckily, we got him here.”

Now in the maroon and gold, Torkelson is making the most of his decision by hitting .295 in the middle of the ASU lineup, and with each at-bat the freshman takes, his draft stock only seems to be rising.

“You don’t just wake up one day and miraculously have that talent,” ASU coach Tracy Smith said of Torkelson. “He’s had it in there. … Hitting a home run is also getting in counts where you get something favorable to hit. You have an idea of how a guy’s pitching, and I think the mental part of it, he’s a very smart hitter.”

With Torkelson’s ever-dangerous approach at the plate, Pac-12 opponents might even begin pitching around the slugger, and he will be a name that opposing coaches circle in their lineup card.

And while Torkelson might not yet be at the same level as Bonds with rubber chickens, which were used to symbolize when the home run king was intentionally walked with the Giants, the freshman is one to remember.

Maybe one day, Torkelson will even have his name next to Bonds on the ASU Wall of Honor in left-center field. But for now, the freshman is focused on just one thing, and that is helping his team while creating home run history in the process.

“The kid speaks for himself. He is a special player and a special kid, and he is one of the best teammates we got,” Bishop said of Torkelson. “I love being around him. … He’s an unbelievable player and has some signs to be a top big-leaguer. It’s day-by-day, but he’s a stud.”

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