A '50s Flavor
How fitting that there was talk of an earlier era in college baseball before the championship game of this year's College World Series. After all, Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium is a charming throwback to another time, a comebacker, if you will, with an organist who plays catchy ditties such as Doggie in the Window and a chatty P.A. announcer who encourages fans to "Shake hands. It's get-acquainted time. And when it's over, don't say goodbye. Say, 'See you next year.' "
Before a record-setting crowd of 21,503 would say their so-longs on Saturday, either Georgia Tech or Oklahoma would do something that hadn't been done since way back in the '50s. If Georgia Tech prevailed, the Yellow Jackets would be not only the first team since 1956 to win the NCAA title in its first trip to the series, but also the first ACC school to win since '55. If Oklahoma won, the victory would be the first for the Sooners since 1951 and the first for a Big Eight school since '59.
With its 13-5 victory Oklahoma became only the fifth team since the College World Series moved to Omaha in 1950 to go undefeated in both the regional tournament and the eight-team, double-elimination world series. So it wasn't surprising that the Sooners were led by a kid with a name, Chip, straight out of the '50s and a coach, Larry Cochell, who is a bit of a relic himself.
This was Cochell's first NCAA title in a 28-year career, after having taken three schools to the series. All told, he has headed up seven programs, including a brief stopover at Omaha's Creighton University in 1970 and 71. Last week he told stories of the days when he lived in America's biggest small town: buying his first house with his wife, Fran, behind the old Brandeis store on 72nd Street and purchasing their first furniture at Nebraska Furniture Market from Louie Blumkin.
Oklahoma's Chip Glass, a senior centerfielder who batted .389 with three home runs, four RBIs and three stolen bases in four games in the series, was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. Glass hit only three homers in 227 at bats during the regular season, and he had two the year before. "Chip is not a home run hitter, and I've been on him all year about this," said Cochell. "His nickname is Pop-Up Chip, and I would always tell him, 'Chip, quit hitting the ball in the air. Get the ball down on the ground and use your speed.' "
Glass poked all three of his world series dingers after choking up Little League-style on the bat. "People think when you choke high up that you're not going to have as much power," said Glass, who singled and homered against Georgia Tech. "But it doesn't matter as long as you hit the sweet spot."
A transfer from Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College two years ago, Glass wasn't a regular at the start of the season, but he took over in center when injuries sidelined Jerry Whittaker. The Sooners were fortunate that Glass was in the lineup for a first-round game against Arizona State. In the bottom of the sixth, with the bases loaded, the score knotted 3-3 and two outs, Glass made the best catch of the series, doing a belly flop in left center to rob Sean Tyler of an extra-base hit. Oklahoma went on to beat the Sun Devils 4-3 in 11 innings.
Marco the Magnificent
Marco Martelli, the batboy for Cal State-Fullerton, handled the team's aluminum Eastons efficiently enough, but he was a much bigger hit with his uncanny predictions. The Titans hung on every prescient word from the mouth of Marco, the seven-year-old son of Joe Martelli, the team's batting instructor.
Fullerton will win big and score 20 runs. That's what Marco told Titan coach Augie Garrido and several players before their game against LSU. Fullerton won 20-6.
Mark Kotsay will hit a home run against Florida State. That's what Marco said two days before that game. Then Kotsay, a freshman leftfielder, belted a grand slam in the eighth inning as Fullerton defeated the Seminoles 10-3. "I told you," said Marco as Kotsay crossed home plate.
Dante Powell will break out of a world series slump and get a hit against Honda State. Sure enough, Marco the Mystic's prediction came true when Powell, a junior centerfielder who had been hitless in 22 career at bats in Omaha, lined a single to center in the third. "The kid is scary," said Powell.
The team's batboy for 3½ seasons, Marco played hooky from his second-grade class to attend the series, and he quickly became a fan favorite in Omaha, obliging autograph requests with his neat script signature. He also became a media darling, though he did not acquiesce when ESPN first approached him for an interview. "I turned them down," said Marco, sounding much like a big leaguer and also looking the part with a wad of bubble gum in his cheek and sporting grass-stained pants, hightop cleats and a batting glove.
The elder Martelli resisted the suggestion that he spend an off day with his son at the local racetrack. "They're not really predictions," said Joe of his son's pronouncements. "It's more that he just says what's on his mind. For every time he's been right, he's certainly been wrong many more times."
On June 8, when the Titans played Georgia Tech, Marco was at it again, saying that Fullerton would win it all. But Marco's magic went poof, as did the Titans, who were sent packing with the 3-2 loss to the Yellow Jackets. Marco didn't leave town, though, without making one final forecast: He predicted that he would someday play for Fullerton—just like his dad, who was a member of the 1979 team that won the series.
A Tough Loss
The tears seeped out from under the Oakleys and ran into the eye black. Senior second baseman Todd Delnoce's Arizona State team had just been eliminated by Oklahoma, and the memories ran together. "It's like a blur," said Delnoce, as he sat in the dugout last Thursday, a few minutes after the last out. "Friendships like this never end. I just wish we could have won it for Coach."
A year ago, shortly after the Sun Devils had been eliminated from the world series in just two games, Arizona State coach Jim Brock had cancer diagnosed in his liver and colon. Brock returned to coach the Sun Devils this season, and last month Delnoce wrote Brock a long letter, telling him how inspirational his battle with cancer was to the team. "He didn't want to thank me for the letter," said Delnoce. "He just told me not to write him any more stupid letters—which is a thank you, in his own way." Delnoce smiled at the memory. Typical Brock.
However, when Brock felt ill after arriving at Rosenblatt Stadium on June 6, he heeded his doctors' instructions and flew home to be hospitalized. Brock, 57, died at Desert Samaritan Hospital in Mesa on Sunday night.
He had 22 winning seasons in a 23-year career at Arizona State, compiling a 1,100-440 record. His teams made 13 trips to the College World Series, advanced to the title game six times and won two national championships. He is the only coach with national titles on the Division I, junior college and American Legion levels.
This year, in which the Sun Devils went 43-16 during the regular season, a blue-cushioned theater chair was installed in the dugout at Packard Stadium to help ease Brock's discomfort. On the road he coached from a lawn chair. After Brock returned to Tempe from Omaha, the Sun Devils set up his lawn chair in the dugout for each game.
One day at practice last month Brock told a reporter from The Arizona Republic, "The thing that scares the living hell out of me is what will happen to me if I can't coach." He stopped talking in the middle of the emotional interview when he noticed two Sun Devil players lollygagging when they were supposed to be running laps. He sent the two players home. Typical Brock.
Ask any of his 64 players who went on to play in the major leagues—ask Barry Bonds or Hubie Brooks or Pat Listach—or any of the hundreds of other players he coached, and the stories will be the same. There was the time he got so mad after one loss that he walked home, a four-mile trip, still in his uniform. And the time at practice when he stood on home plate with a scowl and a stopwatch, ready to run his team after a disappointing game the day before.
"Baseball is what kept him going," said Delnoce.
In the sixth inning of Saturday's title game, Oklahoma DH Damon Minor, the twin brother of Sooner first baseman Ryan Minor, hit a home run that cleared Rosenblatt's rightfield bleachers. Just beyond the bleachers is the Henry Doorly Zoo, and unreliable sources said the 400-foot shot landed between the cages of the pygmy hippos and the spider monkeys. "I think I might have killed a gorilla," quipped D. Minor of his King Kong blast....
Fourteen of the 22 runs Georgia Tech scored in Omaha came on home runs, with Nomar Garciaparra's game-winner against Fullerton being the most notable. Nomar also had the most notable name of the series, with Oklahoma reliever Bucky Buckles running a close second. Why Nomar? "It's my dad's name spelled backwards," he said....
If you're hanging on the edge of a cliff by a rope, whom would you want holding the other end? That's what Oklahoma coaches asked their players on the first day of the season. The correct answer: Any player on the team. "Twenty-five guys pulling on the same rope" became the Sooners' motto, and they kept a white rope with a splash of red paint in the middle in their dugout all season....
Just as a few coaches stole the spotlight from their players during the NCAA basketball tournament this spring, Florida State coach Mike Martin spoke out once too often at the series. "Nobody in Nebraska has ever yelled for us," Martin said after the Seminoles' first game. "I thought this was supposed to be a neutral site." After that comment the site was anything but neutral for FSU. Martin was roundly booed, and fans held up signs like the one that read WIN A FREE SHOPPING TRIP AT FOOT LOCKER, with a bull's-eye painted underneath. The sign referred to recent revelations that Seminole football players enjoyed a free shopping spree at a Tallahassee Foot Locker (SI, May 16), in violation of NCAA rules....
Under coach Jim Morris, Georgia Tech had earned NCAA regional berths in each of the previous nine seasons but had failed to advance to the world series. Morris left the Yellow Jackets in November to coach Miami, which he guided to Omaha. At the same time, rookie Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall led the Yellow Jackets to their first trip to the series. The teams stayed in the same hotel, but Morris's Hurricanes cheeked out earlier.