Ariz.'s CWS title brings tears to fan
When South Carolina's Grayson Greiner flew out to Arizona right fielder Robert Refnsyder to clinch the Wildcats' fourth College World Series title and the first in 26 years, it brought tears to the eyes of this passionate, long-time fan and proud alumnus.
I've been a fan of the program since moving to the state. A fan who witnessed countless games and incurred plenty of sunburns on those Sunday spring afternoon start times at Sancet Stadium on the campus of the University of Arizona.
A passionate fan who became even more passionate as a student, by becoming a member of the notorious "Hot Corner" - a group of students who shared two things in common, the love of baseball and a passion for Arizona baseball.
Yes, those were the days of witnessing a program slowly transform from a program that was left for dead 11 years ago, and didn't even resemble the once proud program that won the CWS in 1976, 1980 and again in 1986 under Jerry Kindall and produced such MLB stars as J.T. Snow, Terry Francona and future hall of famer Trevor Hoffman.
In 2001, the program was in such a decline that it had one postseason appearance in eight years and crowds numbered around 100. It was so bad that the local paper didn't even bother to send a reporter to cover the team's home games.
Meanwhile, a few hundred feet across campus, the Arizona softball program had replaced the baseball team as the dominant spring sport. Hillenbrand Stadium was attracting crowds of 2,000 or more and a ticket to a UA softball game was just as hard to come by as a ticket to see Lute Olson's Men's basketball team. Jennie Finch was there and lead the Wildcats to what would be the program's sixth national title in 10 years.
The apathy towards Arizona baseball was like a scene from the movie "Major League" when Tom Berenger's character, Jake Taylor, is asked what team he plays for.
"I play for the Indians," Taylor said.
"Here in Cleveland? I didn't know they still had a team," the lady responds.
But in 2002 things started to change for the Wildcats when Andy Lopez was hired. By his second year, Arizona was back in the postseason for the first time since 1999. The next year, they were back in Omaha where I begged my Mom to buy me an Arizona Wildcat CWS T-shirt at the Omaha Airport, just before my flight back to Tucson after attending the funeral of my great-grandmother in South Dakota - a shirt that I dug out of the closet and wore proudly Monday night.
Arizona baseball has gone from a program with just two postseason appearances in 10 years to a program that has seen the postseason eight times over the last 10 years. It's program that was once lost, but now is back to being one of college baseball's elite - ranking seventh in terms of CWS appearances with 16 and fifth in terms of championships with four.
It's been a long journey for the Wildcats to return to college baseball's promise land, and now my neighbors downstairs can rest easy knowing they won't have to hear me jump up and down in celebration. Or better yet, my fellow reporters in the newsroom won't have to worry about my loud cheers that almost got the best of me when UA rallied for two-runs in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 1 of the Super Regionals against St. John.
Yes, there were tears of joy shed Monday night for a remarkable run on a remarkable season. The only disappointment for this fan was I didn't get a chance to make it back to Tucson this year to take in a game at their new digs at Hi Corbett Field. But there is always next year and maybe another trip to Omaha awaits.