This has all been like a dream for Cal State Fullerton's Tim Dixon.
A year ago, he was pitching in obscurity at Arkansas Little Rock. The team was struggling, and so was he.
"I didn't have much support when I pitched, and, as a team, we lost something like 10 or more games by one run," he said. Dixon finished the season with a 4-4 record.
Today it's the College World Series. He's scheduled to start for the nation's top-ranked team (55-9) against Tennessee (54-15) at 12:35 p.m. (PDT) in Rosenblatt Stadium. ESPN will televise the game.
Bright lights, big game.
Tennessee, which lost to Fullerton Monday, battled back into the semifinal round of the double-elimination tournament by eliminating Stanford, 6-2, Tuesday.
One more victory would vault Fullerton into Saturday's championship game, where the Titans would be seeking their third national title. A Fullerton loss would bring the same teams back Friday at 4:35 p.m. for another semifinal-round game.
Dixon is looking forward to it, but . . .
"Maybe somebody should pinch me, to make sure it's real," he said. "If anyone had told me a year ago that I'd have a 12-0 record and be pitching in the World Series for Fullerton, I wouldn't have believed them."
His college career started at Long Beach State, but he said Coach Dave Snow told him after his freshman season that his scholarship wouldn't be renewed. After that, he said, "I got on the phone and called just about every school in the country, but none of them offered me any scholarship money."
Dixon returned home and spent a year at San Jose City College. He had some offers after that, but Arkansas Little Rock was the only school that promised anything approaching a full scholarship. But, after the disappointment of his junior season there, Dixon looked again to California when he heard that Fullerton's pitching staff had been hit hard by pro signings and by the NCAA-imposed ineligibility of Matt Wagner.
"My coach at Arkansas gave me permission to talk to Fullerton, and then he gave me my release," Dixon said. "Fullerton said they needed left-handed pitching, and I felt sure I could help. After being 3,000 miles away from home, I was really happy to be back closer to home. It had really been hard on my parents because they couldn't see me play."
Fullerton associate head coach George Horton, who handles the pitchers for Coach Augie Garrido, said they had scouted Dixon when he was in high school and liked him but lacked a scholarship to sign him.
"It was a gamble on his part to transfer with only one year of eligibility left, but it's worked out well for him, as well as us," Horton said. "We thought he could help us, but we certainly didn't envision that he'd give us a 12-0 season."
Dixon said he has gained by working with Horton.
"He's by far the best pitching coach I've been around," Dixon said. "He's a much more personal kind of coach. It's incredible to watch him during a game. He calls all the pitches and he's on top of the game all the time. It's amazing how often he's right when he calls a pitchout."
Dixon also has benefited from pitching for a team that is hitting .334 with 82 home runs and averaging 8.5 runs. If Little Rock was a dry well from that standpoint, Fullerton has been a gusher.
Control and consistency have been Dixon's chief concerns. He has walked 58 in 101 innings. "I never used to walk people," he said. "It's not out of control now, but it's not where I'd like it to be."
Dixon gave up four runs, three of them earned, in five innings in his last start against Northeast Louisiana in the NCAA South Regional in Baton Rouge, La. Ted Silva got the victory in relief.
Against Tennessee, Dixon probably will be matched against Scott Schroeffel (7-2).
"I'm just happy to be here and hope I can pitch well," Dixon said.
"This has been a great year for me. Winning the Big West, winning the regional, getting drafted [in the 14th round] by the Expos, and now being in the World Series. It's been a perfect senior year."