Before John Fishel wrapped his glove around the fly ball to leftfield in Omaha Sunday night, catcher Bob Caffrey had discarded his mask and was racing to wrap a bear hug around pitcher Scott Wright. The catch sealed Cal State-Fullerton's 3-1 victory over Texas in the championship game of the College World Series, and also set off the usual midfield pandemonium. In centerfield, amid all the hurrah, Fullerton pitching hero Eddie Delzer stood with his hands on his knees and sobbed. The senior southpaw had had complete control throughout the two weeks in Omaha, picking up two wins and one save, but now he had none.
The 5'6" Delzer had held Texas, the defending champs, to one run on two hits through seven innings, but then had to leave the game with a cramped hamstring. Delzer would have liked to share the win with his father, Edwin, but his father is dead, murdered at a Christmas party in Lennox, Calif., in 1982. Edwin Delzer was the cornerstone of his son's existence, and with no one to guide him, Eddie suddenly became a changed person. He had trouble with the law and spent time in jail. His baseball career was on the decline. But Eddie came back, and on Sunday he not only enjoyed a great personal triumph, but also inspired a great team victory.
Fullerton State is a commuter school in Orange County. Many people call it Cal State-Disneyland. In baseball, though, it's strictly Tomorrowland. Entering this season the Titans had won 10 straight league titles and the 1979 World Series and had sent 13 players to the pros. But this year's prospects were dimmed by questionable pitching. Fullerton's top three pitching recruits all signed pro contracts in the 10 days before school started. "We had to develop the pitching that hadn't developed in '83," says Augie Garrido, the Titan coach for 12 years. "Most of the people in our league were chuckling, 'It's about time. We've finally got them.' "
So who's laughing now? Fullerton State won another conference title, made its fourth trip to Omaha, won the Series with a 4-1 record—and all seven of its Series pitchers were drafted last week by major league teams.
"Our Achilles' heel carried us the first third of the season," says Garrido. Meanwhile, the rest of the team was making adjustments. Until midseason, Garrido had to continually shuffle his infield in order to cope with injuries, and Caffrey was still learning the catcher's position. Before this year, Caffrey, Fullerton's quarterback for three years, had skipped one college baseball season, played just part of another and spent a third shifting among three positions, none of them catcher. In 1984 he hit a school record 28 homers and was the No. 1 pick of the Montreal Expos.
Fullerton State beat Michigan 8-4 to open the tournament, then lost to Texas, 6-4, as the Longhorns beat All-America Todd Simmons. So, it was win or go home for the Titans in the double-elimination tournament. Meanwhile, the rest of the tournament was going hitting crazy. No. 1-ranked Arizona State beat No. 2 Oklahoma State 23-12, and by series end, games had averaged a record 15.2 runs. But Fullerton was quietly showing that pitching could still win. Against Miami, Delzer came on in the fourth with the Hurricanes ahead 3-2 and pitched 2‚Öî innings, giving up one hit (and two unearned runs), striking out five and picking up the win. Delzer, in turn, was replaced by relief ace Wright, who pitched 3‚Öì innings of scoreless ball to preserve the Titans' 13-5 victory with his NCAA-record 21st save.
For Friday's game with Arizona State, the Titans, as the visiting club, were assigned the first base dugout, which hadn't produced a winning team the entire series. New Orleans had tried sprinkling holy water in the dugout but still lost to Oklahoma State 8-7. "We just waited for the holy water to settle in," Garrido said. The Titans beat the Devils 6-1 as southpaw Jack Reinholtz and Delzer combined to check the Sun Devils on eight hits.
Simmons, a sidearming righthander, halted Oklahoma State in Saturday's semifinal, striking out seven and allowing six hits in a 10-2 win. Teammates call the 6'4", 210-pound Simmons the Big Fella, for his size and Ruthian appetite. "We have one guy on the team who has a V-shaped body," Wright says. "Todd has an A-frame." As he walked into the ball park before the game, Simmons calmly grabbed a hot dog and wolfed it down.
Afterward, Garrido said righthander Steve Rousey would start the final against Texas, but later that night Garrido and pitching coach Dave Snow decided to switch to Delzer, figuring he would be tougher on the Longhorns' lefthanded hitters. They also decided to tell Delzer only half an hour before game time.
Garrido says Delzer is "133 pounds when he has weights in his pockets." Delzer says that when he was in junior high in Lennox, he would throw against a lumberyard wall every weekend, often under his father's eyes. He learned to throw low because the bottom part of the wall was solid and the ball would come back to him.
Delzer was 21-2 in two years at Sacramento City College. He had a terrific fall season for Fullerton in 1982, but he was devastated by his father's death. "He had a lot of off-the-field problems, a lot of emotional problems," Garrido says. Delzer was 8-4 for the Titans in '83, but didn't show his best stuff. Back in Sacramento, he stole a moped and did 45 days in jail. "I handle it a lot better now," Delzer says of his father's death. "I know that he's still with me." In fact, Delzer keeps a card his father once gave him in his uniform pants pocket.
On Sunday, Texas scored in the top half of the first on an infield hit, a sacrifice and another infield hit. Delzer then struck out two to get out of the inning. "Even in the first inning, I was beating them," Delzer said. He struck out five more, didn't give up another hit and lowered his ERA in Omaha to 1.29.
Fullerton scored one in the second, then two in the fourth when Caffrey singled. John Bryant tripled him home and George Sarkissian scored Bryant on a sacrifice fly. The Titans took no shortcuts to the title. In three days they beat the defending champ (Texas) and the two top-ranked teams (Arizona State and Oklahoma State), giving up just four runs.
Delzer's performance put him on the all-tournament team, but his thoughts were with his father. "I wish he were here," he said. "I know he would've been right here in the stands. He would've been the first one on the field. But I know he's happy wherever he is. I can see his face smiling."
With tears in his eyes, Eddie Delzer smiled, too.