June 15, 2011
(OMAHA) -The Cal baseball team's bus took a little detour on its way from the airport to its hotel in Omaha on Wednesday afternoon. Head coach David Esquer asked members of the team to close their eyes as he began to recount their season that started so shockingly with the announcement last September that the 2011 campaign would be the program's last.
After several minutes, Esquer finally began to wrap up ... "and with all that hard work you did and as close of friends that you guys are, what that comes back to is that what you can do with your best friends is to get yourself and your baseball program ... here."
Esquer then instructed his players to look to their right and with their own two eyes see the sparkling new TD Ameritrade Park Omaha that will host its first College World Series in 2011.
"That's what it's all about right there, guys," said Esquer, who won a CWS title as Stanford's starting shortstop in 1987. "That's what it's all about."
The Bears got off the team bus, took a few photos and generally checked out the place where they will meet national top seed Virginia in their first CWS appearance in 19 years on Sunday at 1 p.m. CT/11 a.m. PT. The game will be televised live on ESPN and ESPN3. Radio broadcast information is expected to be announced soon.
Before making it back to the hotel, Esquer had one more thing to show his guys, taking them by the historic Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium that opened in 1950 and hosted the CWS for 61 seasons.
Wednesday's journey was symbolic of the trip the Bears have taken in 2011 to return to college baseball's promised land.
Well before the sun rose, a bus arrived outside the front gate of Evans Diamond in Berkeley to take a group of players to Omaha just over nine months after they had been told the 2011 campaign would be their last because of budget cuts within the Cal athletic department. Not only have the Bears reached the CWS, the program has since been reinstated.
"We've gone thru some hard times and I think we represent and are symbolic of a program that went thru some adversity and made it thru to the other side," Esquer told a local Omaha television station that greeted the Bears upon their arrival. "We've stayed positive and the kids have done a great job staying focused."
"It feels great," said sophomore infielder Tony Renda when asked the inevitable question about the team's existence. "The boosters, alumni and baseball fans around the nation raised money to bring us back. We're all so grateful for it. To reward them with a trip to the College World Series is pretty amazing. We're really proud of it."
"It's been a rollercoaster ride with lots of ups and downs," added Renda. "But the team never lost focus."
The same television reporter asked senior outfielder Austin Booker what he thought about the Bears being the Cinderella team of the CWS and possibly being adopted by Omaha as its home club.
"It will be fun to have a lot of extra fans supporting us," said Booker. "We'll need all the extra help we can get."
Junior shortstop Marcus Semien chimed in and was confident about the team's chances. "We're pitching and playing defense really well, and the offense is doing its part also," said Semien. "I think if we continue to play complete ball games we're tough to beat."
Cal reached the CWS by sweeping Dallas Baptist, 7-0 and 6-2, in two games last Saturday and Sunday at the NCAA Santa Clara Super Regional.
The last time the Bears were in the CWS they also played the national No. 1 seed, falling 4-3 in 13 innings to Miami, Fla. Cal's last victory in the CWS came on June 4, 1980, when the Bears were a 4-3 winner over Miami, Fla. The Bears, who are making its sixth all-time appearance at the CWS in 2011, won the inaugural event played in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1947, beating a Yale team, 8-7, that had future President George H.W. Bush. Cal also won the CWS in 1957, before finishing third in 1980 and tying for seventh in both 1988 and 1992. The Bears have an all-time 10-6 CWS record.
Cal started its current postseason run by winning the NCAA Houston Regional in dramatic fashion. The Bears lost their Regional opener against Baylor, 6-4, before coming back with four consecutive victories. Cal capped its regional run with a dramatic come-from-behind 9-8 victory over Baylor in an elimination championship game, scoring four times in the bottom of the ninth inning, with sophomore first baseman Devon Rodriguez' two-out, two-strike single plating the tying and winning runs.
The other half of Cal's CWS bracket two features defending champion South Carolina and Texas A&M.
The Bears' second CWS game is scheduled for Tuesday, June 21. A Cal victory over Virginia would match the Bears against the winner of the South Carolina/Texas A&M contest at 6 p.m. CT/4 p.m. PT. A loss would pit Cal in an elimination game against the South Carolina/Texas loser at 1 p.m. CT/11 a.m. PT.
Action in the College World Series begins with bracket one play on Saturday, June 18. North Carolina squares off with Vanderbilt at 1 p.m. CT/11 a.m. PT and Florida meets Texas at 6 p.m. CT/4 p.m. PT.
Tickets for Cal's first two CWS games are now on sale over the phone only at (800) GO BEARS. The Cal Athletic Ticket Office is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. PT.
All tickets are reserved and are $28 per game with a limit of four tickets per account. There will also be a $7 handling fee. Seating will be reserved in Cal sections and tickets will be allocated based on Bear Backer priority points.
Visit NCAA.com for more information about the College World Series.