Corky Simpson: Memories of the College World Seriesby tcguestblogger on Jun. 12, 2012, under Sports
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Corky Simpson, a former sports columnist for the Tucson Citizen, covered four College World Series for the newspaper.)
By Corky Simpson
Dwight Taylor had never seen snow.
And it was the last thing the Los Angeles Fremont High School product and his University of Arizona baseball teammates expected to see, and feel, on their way to the 1980 College World Series.
But on the tarmac at the old Stapleton International Airport in Denver, as they walked a short distance to the terminal after deplaning for a flight-change, down came the flakes. Taylor, “DT” to his teammates, reveled in the unexpected snowfall.
It was a fitting touch to one of the most improbable seasons by one of the most improbable teams in college baseball history.
The Wildcats had been dead-last in the old Six-Pac, the Southern Division of the Pacific-10 Conference, at semester break.
But they battled back to win the division, went to Pullman, Wash., and defeated Northern Division foe Washington State and then captured their own regional tournament to earn a second straight trip to Omaha.
The Cats lost the opening game of the ’80 College World Series to St. John’s University and its talented pitcher, Frank Viola.
Then, true to form, Arizona battled back through the losers’ bracket and won the NCAA championship, the second under Coach Jerry Kindall. The Cats had won in 1976, in Kindall’s third season.
I was fortunate enough to make four trips with the Wildcats to Omaha, as a writer for the Tucson Citizen.
My first was in 1979 when the Cats (42-23, 17-13) hung around for three games. They defeated Miami, 5-3, in the ’79 opener but lost 10-3 to Arkansas, and 16-3 to eventual champion Cal State-Fullerton.
In 1980 after losing that first game to St. John’s, 6-1, the Cats went on to win the next five: 5-3 over Florida State, 8-0 over Michigan, 6-4 over Hawaii, 10-9 over California and 5-3 in the finals against Hawaii.
Terry Francona, who’d go on to enjoy a 10-year playing career in the major leagues, then manage the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox before becoming an ESPN baseball analyst, his present job, led the 1980 Wildcats. He was the College World Series outstanding player and won the Golden Spikes Award as the top collegiate performer before signing with the Montreal Expos.
Also making major contributions to the Cats that year were All-CWS performers Greg Barger, Craig Lefferts and Wes Clements, as well as Casey Candaele, Ed Vosberg, John Moses and Kevin Ward.
After a five-year absence, the Cats returned to Omaha in 1985 behind such standouts as Chip Hale, Joe Magrane, Tommy Hinzo and Dave Rohde. But UA was bounced after two games, losing 2-1 to Texas in a great pitching duel between the Longhorn’s Greg Swindell and Magrane, and 9-2 to Stanford.
But a year later, the Cardinal and Navy would capture the school’s third national championship, all under Kindall. Arizona got to Omaha in 1986 with a 45-18 record, 18-12 in the conference.
It didn’t look like the Cats would hang around long when Maine, an outstanding team, jumped out to a 7-0 lead. UA finally scored in the seventh when shortstop Dave Rohde doubled in the first run. A pair of two-run homers in the eighth, by Gar Millay and Gary Alexander, cut the deficit to 7-5.
Then in the ninth, a walk, a wild pitch and Mike Senne’s single made it 7-6 and set the stage for one of the all-time magic moments in College World Series history.
Dave Shermet’s two-run, two-out homer not only won the game for the Cats but gave the team the momentum for its run to the CWS championship.
Arizona defeated Loyola Marymount, 7-5, in Game 2. Next came a 9-5 win over Florida State. Miami knocked off the Wildcats, 4-2, but the Hurricanes were eliminated in the semifinals by Florida State.
In the title game, the Cats beat the Seminoles for the second time, to wrap up the title, 10-2.
If there is a proprietary feeling in Arizona toward the College World Series, it’s for good reason. The state’s two major college teams, Arizona and Arizona State, have made 37 appearances and brought home eight championships.
The Sun Devils from Tempe have won five times.
One moment that stands out above all the others in the many Wildcat trips to Omaha came after the championship game in ’86. On the field sharing the spotlight with her husband was Georgia Kindall, waving a small Wildcat flag. The coach’s wife, unable to cheer, or speak, made the trip despite suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which would soon take her life.