June 17, 2011
By Dean Caparaz '90
BERKELEY - California baseball is riding a wave of euphoria to Omaha for the College World Series in the Golden Bears' first trip to the NCAA championship since 1992. The successes of that 1992 squad and of past teams have provided the foundation for the current Bears, whose recent highlights included a sweep of Dallas Baptist in the NCAA Super Regional, a dramatic, come-from-behind win over Baylor to clinch their NCAA Regional and a six-game winning streak.
As in 1992 and 1988, eighth-seeded Cal will open the College World Series against top-seeded Virginia on Sunday, June 19. In 1992, the Bears opened with No. 1 Seed Miami (Fla.), while Cal started with top-seeded Arizona State in 1988.
The Cal program has now reached the College World Series six times and won two titles - the inaugural CWS played in 1947 and the 1957 crown. Under head coach Clint Evans in 1947, the Bears (31-10 overall record) defeated a Yale team that featured future U.S. President George H.W. Bush. Cal swept Yale, 17-4, and 8-7, in Kalamazoo, Mich. Ten years later in Nebraska under head coach George Wolfman, Cal (35-10) upended Penn State in the national championship game, 1-0.
In 1992, the Bears (35-28) tied for seventh place after losing its CWS opening game to Miami (Fla.), 4-3, in 13 innings and then falling to Florida State, 5-4. That Cal squad included current Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Geoff Blum, former Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Cather, and Chris Clapinski, a former infielder for the Florida Marlins, Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds.
"Probably the thing I remember the most is the amount of fans," said Clapinski, who entered this year as Cal's single-season record holder in runs scored with 71 and in walks with 57. "That was the first time for us playing in front of such a large crowd and with that kind atmosphere. There were certain pockets rooting for certain teams, but they're all there just to see good baseball. I remember the amount of hype and amount of attention that's paid to the athletes, particularly in baseball when you don't get that amount of attention paid to you. It becomes an experience that you can't replicate anywhere until you get to the big leagues."
"I just remember how we defeated Texas A&M to go to the College World Series," Blum said. "That celebration and Jon Zuber, Matt Luke and Chris Clapinski. Andy Tarpley and I were the youngest guys on the team. The veterans took us under their wing and let us be a part of something they had been building for four or five years. The elation of playing in Omaha was absolutely unbelievable."
Blum later produced his own professional postseason highlight when he hit the winning homerun in Game 3 of the 2005 World Series for the Chicago White Sox, which ultimately swept the Houston Astros, 4-0.
The 1988 Cal team (40-25) also tied for seventh place, after an opening 4-2 loss to Arizona State and another one-run setback - 6-5 to Florida. In 1980, Cal (44-23) produced its next best result after the two titles by placing third, producing a 3-2 record in Omaha. One of the members of the latter team was Rod Booker, the father of current Bear Austin Booker who was an All-American and the Co-Pac-10 Player of the Year in 1980. Entering this season, Rod Booker held Cal's single-season record for most games played with 68.
"After the fight we had in Midwest regional - we came out of the loser's bracket - when we made it to the World Series, it was icing on the cake," said Rod Booker, the Cal Hall of Famer who played for the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies after Cal. "We didn't know if we were going to make it through the Regionals. Making to the World Series was payment for all the hard work that we put in."
The alumni had similar advice for the current Bears ahead of their games with Virginia in Omaha. The elder Booker told his son, "Just enjoy it. Give it everything you've got and have a great time doing it." Cather would tell them to not "be happy with just being there. Any team can beat any team on any given night. Don't hold back. Empty the tank, do anything and everything you have to do to push runs across and keep them from scoring."
Blum added, "A lot of people who get in situations like the College World Series or playoffs tend to focus on the pressure of it all instead of sitting back, seeing the people in stands and enjoying the moment. It doesn't happen too often, not only at Cal but at other schools. Sitting back, recognizing the moment, recognizing what they did through the year and embracing that - hopefully that'll propel them far."