Tough Task Awaiting Garrido

Augie Garrido has been in this situation before, most recently in 1985, with a team that featured seven players who went on to play in the major leagues.

To the best of his recollection, it was not a happy experience.

“I don’t remember much about that team,” Garrido claims, “which probably means I don’t want to remember it.”

It was the best of teams, it was the worst of teams. The 1985 Cal State Fullerton Titans were defending national champions, glutted with big-league prospects--including the 1984 College World Series MVP and a future first-round draft selection--that did not repeat, did not return to Omaha, did not qualify for the regionals, did not even win its own conference.

The 1985 Cal State Fullerton Titans finished a mere four games over .500, 36-32, with a roster that included:


--Mike Schooler, future single-season saves leader for the Seattle Mariners.

--Mike Harkey, 1987 first-round draft choice of the Chicago Cubs.

--Kevin Reimer, power-hitting first baseman who became a regular outfielder and designated hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers.

--John Fishel, 1984 College World Series MVP, all-time Titan leader in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs and total bases, and a member of the 1988 Houston Astros.

--Jose Mota, 1985 first-team All-American second baseman who had a cup of espresso with the Kansas City Royals last season.

--Shane Turner, .406-hitting shortstop who later played for the Seattle Mariners, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees.

--Larry Casian, who had a 1.93 earned-run average in 42 relief appearances with the Chicago Cubs last season.

--Damon Allen, a lanky right-hander who never pitched in the majors, unless you’re counting the touchdown passes he has thrown in the Canadian Football League during the last decade.

On paper, it looked to be a team that couldn’t lose, but on paper, there it is:

Thirty-two losses, including two in the PCAA Championship Series to Fresno State, which sent the Bulldogs to the regionals instead of the Titans. That year, Fullerton sat out the NCAA postseason tournament--one of only three misses in 18 seasons under Garrido.

Eleven years later, Garrido has another defending NCAA champion, another defending College World Series MVP and another roster stocked with eventual major league draftees. The Titans, 57-9 in 1995, are ranked No. 1 in two preseason polls, No. 3 in another, have five players who could wind up on the U.S. Olympic team, should return to the World Series and could very well become college baseball’s first back-to-back titlists since the Stanford teams of 1987 and 1988.

Or, they could slash their wrists on their diamond championship rings, lose the conference title to Long Beach and force Garrido to feign amnesia when asked about them in January of 2007.

It has happened before, as Garrido will probably remind his players three or four thousand times between now and June.

Seven big league players and zero postseason innings--how is such a feat possible?

“It can happen,” Garrido says, “because this is a team sport.

“When you win a national championship, everything becomes exaggerated. The term itself gets to be a problem. ‘Defending national champion'--that’s how we will be referred to all season. We’re No. 1 in the country going in, we have all these players back from last year, we have five players projected to be on the Olympic team, or at least part of the tryout system. Those are all distractions . . .

“What I know about 1985 is that we had good enough players to win and we didn’t. Why? Because we were distracted and I was unable to give them the information they needed to end up with a strong feeling of confidence and comfort.

“If anybody let the team down that year, it was the head coach. It certainly is a good example of damn poor coaching and leadership.”

According to Garrido, the washout of ’85 was a “team effort” and “I was probably the poorest team player of them all. I was afraid of losing. On a day-to-day basis, I was miserable. We’d get behind and I’d overreact to everything. I’d get depressed and I lost focus. And that was my job--to keep the players focused.”

Early in his coaching career, especially after the titles of 1979 and 1984, Garrido believes he “took too much credit for our success. I thought I could control the results.

“What I had to learn is that you can’t. You can’t control this game. You’re only a participant . . . I’ve been humbled by this game, man, to the point of reality and then some.

“What I know now that I didn’t know then is to ask for help. From the players. Don’t give them too much responsibility, but also don’t be unrealistic about what they can contribute to the success and enjoyment of things.

“What I offer them is experience. What they offer is the ability to react and perform. I just don’t want them to be cheated.”

Garrido’s gut feeling about ’96?

So far, so little need for an antacid.

“In ’80 and ’85, it was gnawing on me all the time,” Garrido says. “It was like, ‘Oh man, are we going to be able to do this?’

“Now, I wake up like a kid about to go on a fishing trip. I’m excited. I’m excited to be going through this with these guys.”

And in case the feeling subsides, in case of emergency, he can always break out 1985 again. No further words of inspiration ought to be required.