The State Pastime

April 16, 2006

(at UA 4, UCLA 3)
(UCLA 13, at UA 8)
(UCLA 8, at UA 5)

Basketball is done. Spring football has only a few days left. You want to get into the UA baseball team but you're a little uncomfortable about your knowledge of Wildcat history in the sport. Fear not, fellow Cat fans, your confidence is about to soar.

But first an update on this year's team. One of the Wildcats' biggest problems has been coming through with a big hit with runners on base late in a close ballgame. We've played lots of close games but have been coming up short all year. Last Thursday was a different story as freshman Jon Gaston provided the late-inning heroics in one-run victory over UCLA. It was enough to make one break into song!

No…one…bats like Gaston, helps the Cats like Gaston
No one hits without visible tats like Gaston
For a freshman his play is extraordinary
Let's hear if for Jon Gaston!

(Yes, I have a young daughter and, yes, that's my excuse.)


I now present a Beginner's Guide to University of Arizona Baseball.

We haven't got all day. Give us the short version.
Historically, Arizona has one of the greatest programs in college baseball, winning 3 National Championships.

3 National Championships? Now we're intrigued. Tell us more.
The Wildcats won the College World Series in 1976, 1980 and 1986, all under Coach Jerry Kindall. The '76 squad was Arizona's first National Championship in any team sport.

What is this College World Series of which you speak?
The CWS is the 8-team tournament that decides the championship. It is played in Omaha, Nebraska, each year.

How often has the UA been there?
15 times. To make a basketball comparison, Arizona has made the "final four" in baseball 8 times, with 3 second-place finishes to go with the 3 titles. In other words, our baseball history puts our hoops history to shame.

Them's fightin' words.
To give Lute Olson's program credit, Arizona has only won the Pac-"10" 3 times: 1980, 1989 and 1992.

You use quotation marks as if to signify something strange or peculiar.
When it comes to baseball, the Pac-10 is like a certain conference in the Midwest in that the name is misleading. There are only 9 teams because Oregon does not play baseball.

Why is that?
Nike must only have enough money to design hideous uniforms for two men's teams.

Good one. Speaking of ugly uniforms, how has the UA done against Those Guys from Tempe?
We lead the all-time head-to-head series with ASU 224-183-1, but they have more National Championships (5) and Pac-10 titles (6).

Arizona State is really good at something? And it's legal? This is hard to believe.
Sadly, it's true. The Sun Devils' championships came in 1965, 1967, 1969, 1977 and 1981. That means from '76 to '81 the Cats and Devils won four of the six CWS crowns. Now that's a rivalry.

We still can't comprehend ASU winning it all 5 times. That sounds like a lot.
5 championships is in fact very good, tied for third all-time. The list of CWS championships by school looks like this:

USC 12
Texas 6
Cal State Fullerton 4
Miami 4
Arizona 3
Minnesota 3

Wait, USC is great at baseball, too? So UCLA dominates basketball history and USC has double-digit championships in football and baseball? I hate L.A.
You'll get no argument from me.

Who is the Sean Elliot of Arizona Baseball?
Football has the Heisman Trophy, basketball has the Wooden Award, and baseball has the Golden Spikes Award. Just like in hoops, the UA has had exactly one winner: Terry Francona in 1980. You may also know him as the manager who ended an 86-year World Series drought for the Red Sox. You may also know him as the guy who will never again pay a parking ticket in Boston.

Have any Wildcats gone on to Big League stardom as players?
The biggest active name is relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman of the San Diego Padres who is second in Major League history in career saves. The interesting part is he wasn't even a pitcher at the UA. Hoffman played shortstop for the Cats.

Wow us with a crazy good fact.
Arizona had 48 consecutive winning seasons from 1933 to 1982.

Whoa. How do you pull off something like that?
From 1922 to 1996, a period of 75 years, Arizona had a total of 3 head baseball coaches: Pop McKale, Frank Sancet, and Jerry Kindall.

And all three guys have something named after them?
Yep. The baseball facility is called Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium, and I think we've all heard of McKale's place.

Seriously though, who cares about the past? What have you done for me lately?
I care, Janet. And the past is making a comeback. We hit a rough stretch after Coach Kindall retired but Andy Lopez is an elite-level coach who has put the Cats back on the map quickly.

What makes this Lopez guy "elite-level"?
He won the National Championship at Pepperdine in 1992 making him one of only nine active coaches with a title to his credit. When he led Arizona to the College World Series in 2004 he became just the third coach in history to take three teams to Omaha (Florida was his second).

But wait, there's more. Coach Lopez has won 8 conference championships: 2 at Cal State Dominguez Hills, 4 at Pepperdine, and 2 at Florida. He was the National Coach of the Year in 1992 and 1996.

OK, OK, we get it. He's good.
Told you.

Why the poor record this year then?
Last year's team lost a ton of talent to the pro draft and this year's team is very young. Next year should be another good year and the 2008 Cats could be exceptional.

That's all fine and dandy, but I only have time for sports that get major media coverage.
All of Arizona's conference games are broadcast on the UA's flagship radio station. Play-by-play is done by none other than Brian Jeffries, The Voice of the Wildcats™.

We're sold. When's the next home game?
The Cats open a three-game series against Stanford this Friday night. The good news is they're actually behind us in the Pac-10 standings.

The other good news is there's a football game this weekend!
That's right, the annual spring game is this Saturday at Arizona Stadium at 1 p.m.

We'll see you there.
Bear Down.

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