solen

Dubuque Hempstead junior catcher Solen Munson visited Pac-12 baseball powerhouse Arizona State University this weekend and verbally committed on Sunday.

Solen Munson could feel a sense of home when he stepped onto the campus of Arizona State University this weekend.

His original home.

So, Dubuque Hempstead’s left-handed hitting junior catcher/outfielder wasted no time in verbally committing to play baseball for the Sun Devils. Munson informed first-year head coach Willie Bloomquist of his decision on Sunday morning, a day before returning to Dubuque with his family.

“I lived in this part of Arizona until I was 7, so it really did feel like I was coming home this weekend,” said the 17-year-old Munson, the son of former Major League Baseball catcher Eric Munson and actress Shanda (Besler) Munson. “I had to trust my gut, and it just felt right. The coaching staff, the facilities, everything … it’s a dream come true.

“I’ve always been a fan of Arizona State baseball. It was definitely one of my dream schools, so now that it’s coming true, it’s kind of crazy.”

Even if it puts his father in somewhat of an awkward position.

Eric Munson led Pac-12 rival Southern California to the NCAA Division I championship in 1998, earning all-tournament accolades at catcher after the Trojans defeated Arizona State, 21-14, in the championship game. Since then, Munson and his college teammates have used unflattering terms when discussing the Sun Devils.

“We still text each other all the time, talk smack and mess around with each other, and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to tell them that my son is going to be a ‘Scum Devil,’” Eric Munson said with a laugh. “But, honestly, I couldn’t be more excited for Solen.

“I played with or against pretty much everyone on their coaching staff, and I know it’s going to be a great fit for him. They’re going to do a great job of establishing a culture, and they’re going to do a great job of teaching this kid how to become a man.”

Eric Munson reached the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers in 2000 and played for three other teams before retiring in 2009 and eventually relocating to Shanda’s hometown. They currently operate the highly successful Gold Standard Athletics baseball and softball training academy in Dubuque’s Kennedy Mall.

Bloomquist, an Arizona State graduate, played 14 seasons in the big leagues and has more than 20 years of experience in professional baseball. The school regards him as one of the most accomplished alumni in program history because he remains so entrenched in all levels of the game.

“It means a lot to me that my dad really likes the coaching staff and trusts them,” said Solen Munson, who also considered the University of Iowa and the University of Arizona. “They’ve had a lot of success, not just at the collegiate level but also professionally, so I know they’re going to do a great job of developing me as a player and as a person.

“They’re not going to take it easy on me because they know my dad, and that’s a good thing. You can tell how much they care about you as a person and not just as a baseball player. I’m really looking forward to working with them and them helping me get better.”

In addition to being a perennial Pac-12 and NCAA tournament contender, the Sun Devils have sent 55 players to the MLB Draft in the past 10 seasons. Arizona State went 33-22 this spring and reached the NCAA regional tournament.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Munson made a name for himself this summer as one of the top 130 players in his high school graduating class and earning a spot in the Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games in San Diego. He also received an invitation to play in the Prep Baseball Report Future Games in Georgia but declined because it conflicted with Hempstead playing in the Iowa Class 4A state tournament in Iowa City in late July.

“His calling card right now is his left-handed bat, and he’s shown higher-end ability as a prospect with his ability to hit and projectable power,” said Rob Allison, Prep Baseball Report’s state director for Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. “He certainly has the bloodlines, and the apple doesn’t usually fall too far from the tree. It helps that he’s been in a baseball environment his entire life.

“What’s intriguing about Solen is he hasn’t hit that growth spurt yet. He still has that 16- or 17-year-old frame. But he works extremely hard, so it’s going to be interesting to see how he develops and progresses the next few years.”

Munson worked his way into a spot on a veteran laden Hempstead team that reached the state tournament for the second consecutive season. He earned second-team all-Mississippi Valley Conference accolades this summer while playing catcher, right field and designated hitter.

“Solen’s such a competitive kid, first and foremost,” Hempstead coach Jeff Rapp said. “Obviously, he has the physical tools, but his No. 1 goal is to win. He works very hard at everything he does so he can be a better player and a better teammate.

“He’s a very dangerous hitter with good pop from gap to gap. And he plays multiple positions, which is something Eric instilled in him growing up, so he can play anywhere the team needs him. You can do a lot with players like Solen.”

Munson continues a recent string of Dubuque-trained players committing to strong Division I programs. Wahlert senior Tommy Specht signed his national letter of intent with the University of Kentucky on Monday morning, and Wahlert’s Aaron Savary and Hempstead’s Kellen Strohmeyer signed with Iowa last week.

Wahlert grad Ian Moller would have been a freshman at Louisiana State this year, but he instead signed a pro contract after being selected by the Texas Rangers in the fourth round of the MLB Draft this summer. Western Dubuque grad Calvin Harris last week completed his second year of fall baseball at the University of Mississippi, and Senior grad Sam Link is in his third season at Iowa.

“We’re just starting to scratch the surface as far as getting kids from Dubuque, from Iowa and from the Mississippi Valley Conference exposed on a national level,” Rapp said. “There is a whole bunch of talent around here that has been largely missed for decades.

“It’s great for our community, it’s great for our schools, and it’s great in this case for Solen. It’s a great opportunity, but it shows how you can reach your goals if you work for them.”

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