He had heard a few stories of what it was like to be in Omaha, Neb., in late-June, but nothing could prepare Beau Amaral for what he was to about to experience.
Even when it was all over, two days removed from competing at the baseball College World Series, and on a campout July 1 with his family down in San Clemente, Amaral found it difficult to find the words to describe it all.
A year ago, he was playing in a CIF prep baseball final for Huntington Beach High.
For the past two weeks, at age 19, he had played on college baseball's ultimate stage, Rosenblatt Stadium, where he was a integral part of the UCLA Bruins' runner-up finish to the national title.
South Carolina won its first major national championship June 29 by rallying to edge the Bruins, 2-1, in 11 innings in the second game of the CWS Championship Series.
"The entire experience blew my mind," Amaral said of Omaha. "It is really hard to explain it all. I didn't know what to expect but everything went beyond my wildest expectations. It was the best two weeks of my life."
The police escorts from the airport and to-and-from the stadium, the VIP treatment from the citizens of Omaha, ESPN coverage, college baseball's best teams converging at Rosenblatt, all eying a national championship, left Amaral in awe. And he left his mark at the series, as well, by ripping it up at Rosenblatt.
A center-fielder, Amaral started the CWS red-hot, going six for seven in wins over No. 3 Florida (11-3) and TCU (6-3). He ended the series nine for 20 with three doubles, two RBI, two walks and twice was hit by pitch.
"I was super-excited when we started the tournament," he said. "There were 20,000-plus for those first two games and it was packed again for the finals. The fans are so great and supportive and they really get into the game, but they really didn't root for us. They have a history of adopting a team in the tournament each year and this year, it was TCU. Every time we played them, we felt like we were playing on the road."
Despite not being the chosen team, No. 6 UCLA won two of three games from TCU, to advance to the CWS finals.
For all his successes during the course of the season, Amaral said the start to the 2010 campaign was a "a far cry" from how it ended with him being named to the CWS all-tournament team..
"Before the season started, I went 0-for-15 with 10 strikeouts in inter-squad play," he recalled. "That was tough. We have one of the best pitching staffs and I was going up against these first-rounders. I was going up against the likes of Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, Rob Rasmussen, Dan Klein, and I dealt with a lot of failure in the fall. I had to be able to handle that and work hard to adjust to the college game. Facing those guys really helped me.
"A lot of my hitting success during the season and at the College World Series had to do with my coaching staff. Coach (Rick) Vanderhook and Coach (Steve) Pearse worked hard, long, countless hours, with me and the other freshman in the (batting) cages, preparing us for the season. They were great."
That hard worked paid off big-time: Amaral, who batted in the top of the UCLA line-up, went on to hit .354 for the year, the best average by a UCLA freshman since 1998. He had a team-high 79 hits.
He also turned in some stellar defensive play during the year.
In UCLA's CWS opener June 19, Amaral came up with a defensive gem in the bottom of the first inning against No. 3 Florida when he sprinted back to his right and extended his body in left-center field to make a diving catch of a deep shot by the Gators' Mike Zunino. The catch was the third out of the inning, prevented the Gators from scoring their third run and taking a 3-1 lead, and drew a roar of approval from the Rosenblatt crowd.
It also made ESPN's Top 10 plays for the night.
"I knew he would make an impact, just not as quickly as he did," Huntington Beach High baseball coach Benji Medure said of his former player. "I don't think anyone thought Beau would do as well as he has. The only person who believed that he could do well right away, was Beau. He has incredible confidence. He has a swagger that carries him to a higher level. He believes in himself, and that is something that can't be taught.
"I watched Beau patrol the outfield last year at Angel Stadium in the CIF finals and I could tell that he belonged on a major league field. I realize that playing in the College World Series in Omaha is a huge accomplishment, but it won't be the biggest thing that Beau does in his baseball career. He will be playing on a biggest stage in the future, I promise you."
Amaral, who left this week for the East Coast to play summer ball with the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod Baseball League, said he received offers out of Huntington Beach High from UCLA, UC Irvine and two-time CWS winner Oregon St.
There was no doubt, he said, where he would be heading.
"I wanted to play where my dad played, and it's exciting to be in a Bruin uniform," he said.
His father, Rich, played second base for the Bruins in the 1982-83 seasons. He was a second-round pick by the Chicago Cubs.
Dad, mom, Michelle, and younger siblings Jessica, Joseph and Daniel, were in Omaha to watch Beau play.
The 2010 season ended with Beau Amaral being a part of history: UCLA's opening win over Florida was the first CWS win in the program's history and by winning their bracket, the Bruins also achieved another first by reaching the championship series final. The Bruins also won a school-record 51 games (51-17). What's more, this was the final CWS to be played at Rosenblatt Stadium, and Amaral and the Bruins were one of the final two teams to play on the hallowed field.
"It's just unbelievable to be part of all that history," he said. "Our school has a record 106 national championships and we had a shot to add to that number. Although we didn't pull through, we gave it our best. This team worked so hard. We have a great coaching staff and great team chemistry, not to mention one of the best pitching staffs in college baseball."
The College World Series will be back again in Omaha next June but for the first time, the tournament will be played in its new, downtown digs. On the team bus ride back to the airport on June 30, Amaral looked at the new stadium sitting in the distance.
He said he and his teammates talked about making it back.
"We visualized coming back, but as we found out this year, you don't get to Omaha by just wishing it," he said. "It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of luck, and so many things have to go right for a team. We were one out away from not even making it to Omaha this year. That's how the game of baseball is. But, we will be working hard to get back there next year. This is something you never forget. These last two weeks were just awesome."