They swarmed the mound at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha on Sunday night: the opposite-field, opposite-coast freshman cleanup hitter; the pitching ace who had fulfilled a birthday toast; the outspoken sons of major leaguers; indeed, the entire well-tuned, double-play-dealing, come-from-behind Stanford team that had just beaten Oklahoma State to win the College World Series. And as the players embraced in celebration, their intense coach, Mark Marquess, tucked his lineup lists and pitching charts in his briefcase, shook an assistant's hand and crossed the field to console losing coach Gary Ward.
"Rest when you get there," Marquess often tells his players while running them into the ground. Now, by beating the ball-bashers from OSU 9-5, the Cardinal had seized its first NCAA baseball title. As a first baseman 20 years ago, Marquess had batted .404 to lead Stanford to its then-best CWS finish, third place. "I never really let myself think about the title, I didn't want to," said the 39-year-old Marquess. "It was too much of a dream."
Marquess took over the Cardinal in 1977. He had played an undistinguished five years in the minors but quickly instilled in the Cardinal the type of frenetic perfectionism that marked his days on the Farm as a baseball and football star. The results: four trips to the CWS in the past six years, after two in the previous 35. So breakneck are Marquess's workouts that his players actually rehearse running on and off the field. "Stop walking, you're killing my grass," the coach forever chimes. His idea of relaxation? "Playing an intense game of tennis," says his wife, Susan.
At Omaha the Cardinal was clearly an extension of its coach. For three days Stanford lived with one foot out the door after losing to Oklahoma State 6-2 on Thursday in the double-elimination tournament. But heroes emerged.
On Friday, Paul Carey, a freshman outfielder from Weymouth, Mass., blasted a game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the 10th to turn a 5-2 deficit to LSU into a 6-5 win, sending the Tigers back to Baton Rouge. The 6'4" left-handed slugger had struggled early on under the demanding Marquess. "He was toughening me up. I can see that now," says Carey, who was tough enough before that he could have played hockey at Boston College. Carey honed an opposite-field stroke that brought him each of his eight hits and a series-high seven RBIs.
The next night the Cardinal trailed top-rated Texas 3-0 after the first six Longhorns had batted in the top of the first. Ed Sprague Jr., the son of the former big league pitcher, got things rolling for the Cardinal with a solo homer in the bottom of the inning. "When I got to Stanford my game plan totally changed," says Sprague. "I grew up in a professional, laid-back atmosphere and I just relied on my talent. This has been the best thing for me." Six different players drove in runs, the infield turned four double plays, Al Osuna hurled 8⅖ innings of shutout relief, and the Cardinal sent the Longhorns home, 9-3.
Sunday night's final, a rematch of Thursday's game, offered sharp contrasts. Under Ward the Cowboys have reached the CWS each of the past seven years. The low-key Ward prefers an intellectual approach to preparation, then lets his players play. He is known for cloning hitters; his most famous product is Texas Rangers slugger Pete Incaviglia. Some of Ward's instructional phraseology—"muscle memory," "kinesthetic awareness," "spiritualizing the body"—and lectures on Zen, aikido and yoga have zipped right past his players like split-fingered fastballs. Still, Ward's wall-bangers have led the nation in runs scored for three seasons. "It's like taking another class," said OSU's top batsman, Robin Ventura. "I'm still remembering what he said in the fall."
On the field Stanford places heavy emphasis on rump-patting and cheer-leading; the Cowboys don't bother with that stuff. A year ago, after OSU beat the Cardinal 16-8 in the Midwest regional, Cowboy pitching coach Tom Holliday said on a postgame radio show, "The next time we play them, I'm sure they'll have their skirts on." Listening on car radios in the stadium parking lot were the Cardinal players. Said leftfielder Ruben Amaro Jr., whose dad played infield for four big league clubs, "We decided somewhere along the line we'd show them on the field." So obsessed were some of the Stanford vets that, when the team celebrated the 21st birthday of junior pitcher Jack McDowell in January, a toast was made not only to winning the national championship but also to tromping Oklahoma State for the title.
McDowell, a 6'5" righthander and the No. 5 pick (by the White Sox) in last week's major league draft, had been the loser on Thursday to the Cowboys' Pat Hope. At least McDowell's sliders stifled Ventura, whose NCAA-record 58-game hitting streak came to an end. Asked if stopping Ventura was any consolation for losing, McDowell snapped and said, "No."
By Sunday, Stanford's back-to-back comebacks had restored McDowell's confidence even though Hope, who would be starting for OSU, had been the hottest pitcher in the tournament; his knuckle curve had baffled Stanford the first time around, and his ERA for 18 CWS innings was 1.00. "He's become something of a magic act," Holliday said. "The kids can almost see the headlines: COWBOYS RIDE HOPE."
But Hope had trouble with his slider, and Stanford jumped ahead 2-0 in the first. McDowell, too, was pitching from behind in the count and without much oomph. In the fourth, consecutive homers by OSU's No. 8 and No. 9 hitters, Benny Castillo and Brad Beanblossom, put the Cowboys ahead 3-2.
For Stanford, it was rally time once again, and in the fifth the Cardinal scored four times to take a 6-3 lead. Centerfielder Toi Cook, one of four football players on the baseball roster, drove in Amaro with a double and Sprague later hit a sacrifice fly to put Stanford up for good. McDowell lasted seven innings, gave up 12 hits and got the win; Hope took the loss. Ventura went 4 for 5, but Stanford rubbed him off the bases with three of its four double plays. In all, the Cardinal made 12 double plays in its 6 games, to tie a CWS record.
Carey, who along with Cook and Sprague had three hits, was voted the Series MVP. "I'm buzzing," he said. "I'm numb. My head's spinning. I feel like I'm up in the air right now." And how did Marquess feel? "I'm happy," he said, clutching the championship plaque. But... "I never really have had the specific goal of winning the national championship. I spend more time getting them to play to the level I want them to. I'm hard, I'm demanding, maybe I'm too much of a perfectionist."
Can the coach rest now? Nah. Maybe one perfect ending isn't enough.