June 12, 2009
Omaha, NE - Most of the pre-tournament talking is over and Saturday it's time to Play Ball at the 60th College World Series, the Greatest Show on Dirt, weather permitting. Hopefully, the play on the field will live up to the story lines that focus primarily on the head coaches.
Take your pick of the most compelling:
Two teams are new this year to the College World Series. Southern Mississippi Coach Corky Palmer is retiring after this season. Virginia is the other neophyte and it's coached by Brian O'Connor, who played at hometown Creighton and was a model for the celebrated status outside Rosenblatt Stadium.
Both had tough roads to Omaha - Southern Miss as a No. 3 seed at Georgia Tech and at Florida and Virginia at UC Irvine through San Diego State's Stephen Strasburg and then at Ole Miss.
Four of the head coaches have brought multiple teams to Omaha - Dave Serrano, UCI and CSF; Dave Van Horn, Nebraska and Arkansas; Paul Mainieri, Notre Dame and LSU; and Augie Garrido, CSF and Texas.
O'Connor was associate coach for Mainieri at Notre Dame before getting the Virginia job. Mainieri teared up at today's press conference as O'Connor was thanking him for taking a gamble on his home as a young assistant and longtime friend. Serrano, of course, played for Garrido at Fullerton in 1986. And Van Horn has a following in Omaha after taking Nebraska to the CWS a couple of times before bolting to Arkansas. Mike Fox has brought four North Carolina to Omaha four years in a row. Garrido has Texas here for the first time since winning the 2005 title. And Pat Murphy of Arizona State is Pat Murphy, always a little bit different. Plus he was the head coach at Notre Dame before Mainieri.
Here are a sampling of coaches' quotes:
Pat Murphy, Arizona State - "Look forward to competition... I'm a big Springsteen fan... "Land of hopes and dreams," whenever I hear it I think of Omaha. Only two of our players have ever been here before. To see some old friends and enemies, it's a beautiful thing."
On probable starter: "Until ESPN starts doing games during year, we have to rely on videos we get late. It's ESPN's fault we don't know who we are starting yet."
On Notre Dame connection - "It's a thrill for me to see some of the old friends... kind of neat and a unique situation when there are so many connections to a certain school. I'm proud to be part of that university for the short time I was. It did more for me than I did for it."
Augie Garrido, Texas - "In 1975 was the first time I brought a team to Omaha... and Texas Coach Cliff Gustafson said (in a Texas drawl): `You know, we started out pretty good, then we hit a rough spot. ...went into a hitting slump... pitching struggled... now we're playing pretty good ball.' They were 60-5 that year. Water mark is pretty high at the University of Texas."
"Most consistent part of our team has been the pitching staff.... We've played pretty good defense behind them.... Last five games to get to Omaha we have shown some versatility... and hit the ball with power when we needed it."
"The beauty of this tournament is some teams will get momentum and start growing with each inning."
On no big names on his Texas team: "The main thing is we've concentrated on having a baseball team with baseball players on it... the game rewards teams who play it best... rewards the players for playing the hardest and never giving up."
On his Fullerton roots: "I take an enormous amount of pride... tremendous respect for the Fullerton program and what George (Horton) and Dave did with the program."
On Dave Serrano as a pitcher: "He had a little slider and cut his fastball. He hated losing, that's why he's a great coach. He understands the details of the game and he had to work hard to be successful. He was talented enough... But he had the courage to throw a slider on a 3-2 pitch to try to get a ground ball."
Dave Van Horn, Arkansas -- "It's an honor and privilege to be back in Omaha... feel fortunate to be back... looking forward to getting out on the field tomorrow.
"Proud to bring these guys up here... they earned it. We went on the road to a Regional in Norman and a Super Regional to Tallahassee... fun watching these kids experiencing Omaha. They think it's a million miles away... we'd tell them it's five wins away... now that they are here they have the experience and will continue to play well."
On turning point: "Regular season ended and we got to start over. Started out 8-0 in the SEC and feeling good about ourselves. Finished 0-8... we kind of limped home but once it was over... we told them we thought they were good and we weren't quitting on them... beginning of a new season.
"First game of the "Regional vs. Washington State, we're down 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth... scored 7 runs with two outs... we were on a little bit of a roll... scored 17 runs the next day... got better inning by inning."
Dave Serrano, Cal State Fullerton -- "The Titans are excited about being back in Omaha. I'm privileged to be running this program... and proud of our players. There's been a lot said about our easy road, so on and so forth. There is no easy road to Omaha."
On tough schedule: "We wanted to challenge this team... go to some hostile environments. We have a balance of a team... some leadership that has been to Omaha... some juniors, some fabulous sophomores and some exciting freshmen."
On seeing Southern Mississippi in the field: "I'm not surprised... you go through ups and downs. We got Southern Miss when they were on the downslide and we were on the upslide. Our guys relished in the hostile environment. It's great Corky got here in his last year.
Corky Palmer, Southern Mississippi - "It's an honor and privilege to bring a team to Omaha for the first time.
"It sure was a tale of a bunch of seasons for us... at the end we put everything together... it took a while for some of our new players to mesh with our returning players.
On this week's activity: "It's been time consuming. Greatest thing is 6 o'clock Sunday night. Worst thing is the media... it's been busy for me. People will be surprised how many fans from Southern Mississippi will be represented in the stands."
Can they win it?: "We can't get in a losers' bracket deal... our pitching is not deep. But we beat the ACC pitcher of year at Georgia Tech... we hit the closer that was drafted in the second or third round for Florida. They've done what they need to do but won't surprise me. We're gonna have to swing it, no question about that."
Why retire so young: "Everybody has a different approach. I never was a guy that wanted to coach into my sixties... wanted to do some other things. Coached 32 years... seems like 42... not the best loser in the world... I've done everything I wanted to do and program is in good shape... I'll be fine.... these guys (other 7 coaches) will have all the worries."
Paul Manieri, LSU -- "Corky has no idea of how jealous we are of him."
"Humbling to be sitting up here. For us to be here for the second year in a row is a moving thing... proud and happy for someone (Coach O'Connor of Virginia) so special to me. To know that we have to play him... if we ever had to play each other, if it happened in Omaha, we knew we could handle it.
On returning second year in a row: "Seemed a little more comfortable coming in here today... don't know if it will translate into more success on the field or not."
Brian O'Connor, Virginia -- "It's a great day for me personally and more importantly for our players and our university. Our road to Omaha was very challenging one to say the least.... Players are ecstatic to be here. This is a very big step for us... we have a very young team... 95 percent back in 2010... it was best that we had to go on the road and then go to Ole Miss to get here.
"I have a sneaking suspicion they will handle the CWS very well. They have handled everything thrown at them all year long. Lot of question marks coming in and so many got answered. Figured out our bullpen and the right lineup combination.... It's about getting hot at the right time... played our best baseball the last three weeks.
"Very special for me to be back here... it's been a dream to bring the University of Virginia back here and to coach in the College World Series. Paul (Manieri) took a chance on me with one year of experience and gave me a ton of autonomy in my job there. I wouldn't be sitting on this podium without the opportunity he gave to me.
"It will be emotional for me... we'll shake hands and the players will decide the game. We will be friends before, during and after."
"There's so much attention to me coming home, I don't want it to overshadow the players' experience. This is their first CWS ... for our seniors, it's their only College World Series."
Mike Fox, North Carolina- "I told Brian in the ACC Tournament he had a team to get to Omaha. I feel so blessed to be up here again. Give a lot of credit to our four seniors, they've provided some unbelievable leadership to our teams... they haven't known anything but Omaha in their four years.
"This is the greatest place ever.
"This is a little bit of a surprise... our journey was a good one and we jelled together at the right time."
On what separates winners here: "You can't put it on one quality. Look at the last three years, Oregon States and Fresno State... the best thing about this event is the unexpected. Everyone tries to guess and no one, including us up here, know how our teams are going to play. It's a fine line between winning and losing."