Out of the mist and gloom of a mid-morning rain, Augie Garrido stepped into the coffee shop dressed in a Cal State Fullerton uniform and wearing a National Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship ring the size of a baby's clutched fist. This was the same coffee shop, not more than a line drive or two from the Fullerton campus, in which Garrido first recruited the beginnings of a baseball power about 15 years ago. Now, during a break in his summer baseball camp, he sips on a cup of coffee, pokes at the collar of his warm-up jacket and sadly describes the end of an era at Fullerton, mainly his own.
Earlier this week, Garrido accepted a head coaching position at the University of Illinois, a fine school that has all the baseball tradition of say, the Eastern Bloc country of your choice. At Illinois, baseball isn't so much a sport as it is an afterthought, a place where you wear mitts for warmth, not right field.
But this is where Garrido is going, lured by a career challenge, a new stadium, a commitment to an artificial playing surface, an attractive salary package and an unspoken trust in his good friend Neale Stoner, the Illinois athletic director. It was Stoner, then in charge of Fullerton athletics, who hired Garrido from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1973 to nurture the infant baseball program. And if it had not been Stoner who extended the current invitation?
"I would have stayed," Garrido says.
Garrido arrived at Fullerton to find an unimposing roster and a playing facility without electricity, restrooms or the barest of ambiance. Your son's Little League field had more charm. Fittingly, the Titans finished the season with a 19-33-1 record.
The next year, Fullerton won the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship and qualified for regional competition at Tacoma, Wash. But the baseball budget, a tiny $4,500, had been stretched to the limit. Garrido had no choice, he says, but to try some creative financing.
"I took a second (mortgage) on my house, got the money and took the team," he says. "I didn't think we'd ever have a chance to make it as a program if, after the first championship, we failed to participate because we didn't have enough money. Now try to recruit with \o7 that\f7 on your record."
So off the Titans went, and they lost to UC Irvine. On the flight back from Tacoma, Garrido turned to assistant coach Dave Snow and said, "I really don't like this feeling at all. I don't ever want to have this feeling again."
Snow handed Garrido a sheet of paper. On it was a list of four names: Dan Boone, a left-handed pitcher; Andy Pasillas, a community college catcher; Mike Casarez, a shortstop, and Butch Black, a relief pitcher.
Get them, said Snow, and suffer no more.
"I recruited them in this very restaurant," says Garrido, barely audible over the clanging of dishes. "I remember saying to them, 'You can go to USC, Arizona State or any other established and terrific baseball program, where they have all the facilities and they have a long list of major league players and a long list of All-American players. All that's terrific. But if you come to Fullerton, you'll be a part of making history. That will be the difference.'
"Right now, I'm pleased to say that I fulfilled that commitment," Garrido says. "I think that we did make a little history around here. Fifteen years later, they were the reason. They were the cornerstones to this whole program. And I told them so."
In 1975, the Titans, newcomers to Division I competition, finished first in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. They played USC, five-time defending national champion, in the first game of the regional at Dedeaux Field. "Thank goodness," says Garrido, remembering that second mortgage.
A reporter approached Garrido for a story. How, asked the writer, did Garrido feel about playing USC?
"Well, I don't think it's a good thing to have happen," Garrido said. "I mean, you usually want the home team to be in the final."
The reporter stopped writing. "Pardon me?"
Garrido smiled. And Fullerton won, 3-1. Then it beat Pepperdine.
"After the second game, I said, honestly, 'Dear God, thank you. I don't know why we're going to win this thing, but we are.' "
Fullerton earned a place in the College World Series. "That's what got it started," Garrido says. "That's how we cracked through."
Four seasons later, Fullerton won its first national championship. This was a team that overcame opening losses in the regional tournament as well as the World Series. This was a team that Garrido allowed, in part, to be ruled by sportswriters--surely a first.
Unsure of a lineup change during the World Series, Garrido asked local writers covering the Titans to offer their suggestions. "Now's the time," he said. "You're not going to second-guess me. You have input into the decision."