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ANALYSIS

Maintaining Titans' High Standards Is Horton's Biggest Challenge

September 05, 1996|LON EUBANKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FULLERTON — The changing of the guard for Cal State Fullerton's baseball program Wednesday went exactly as anticipated, meaning there should be very little change at all.

From the time Augie Garrido accepted the $1.68-million deal to coach at Texas, George Horton was the obvious choice to succeed him, and it was only a matter of time until it became official.

Horton's title has been associate head coach since he joined Garrido's staff in 1991, but he has had a prominent role. He has coached the pitchers, been a key figure in recruiting and scouting, and took care of many administrative details.

Garrido called Horton his "partner," which is more appropriate, considering his effect on the program.

"All that has happened in the last six years is a reflection of that partnership," Garrido said. "We'd bounce ideas off each other and then come to agreements. Our philosophies were much the same, but we managed to turn any differences we had into pluses. And all the important decisions we made were shared ones."

During that time, the Titans reached the College World Series three times, won the title in 1995 and finished second in 1992. And in the last three years, Fullerton won 149 of 190 games.

"I think we've established a commitment to see baseball reach its full potential at Fullerton, and I think that will happen with George as head coach," Garrido said.

"I'd like to see the mission accomplished. And that's to have a playing facility capable of hosting a regional tournament in the near future. The upper administration and the city of Fullerton are communicating about how they can share in accomplishing that, and that's good."

About 2,000 more permanent seats will be needed to bring Titan Field up to standards for regional-site consideration.

Attendance the last two seasons, however, justifies expansion. Additional revenue potential also exists with an expanded stadium after the Big West Conference went to a postseason tournament two years ago. The tournament will expand from four to six teams next season, and probably will continue to be hosted by Fullerton and Long Beach State in alternate years.

"I feel confident now that the stadium improvements are going to happen," Garrido said. "And the fact that we are so close to seeing it all come together made it easier for me to leave, not more difficult."

It will be up to Horton to carry on, but the transition already has been smooth.

Assistant Rick Vanderhook's decision to remain on Horton's staff provides more continuity.

All four of the top high school recruits who committed to Fullerton started classes at the university last week despite major league scouts' continued efforts to sign them.

Pitcher Michael Garner of Fullerton High, catcher Craig Patterson of El Dorado High, infielders Ryan Owens of Sonora High and Danny Phillips of Chatsworth should be key players in the program for at least the next three years.

But Horton will be facing a challenge in trying to keep the Titans in the national picture this coming season after the departure of Mark Kotsay, the 1995 college player of the year, catcher Brian Loyd, outfielder Jeremy Giambi and pitcher Brent Billingsley, among others.

Horton had showed his head coaching potential at Cerritos College, where his teams were 226-53 (.810).

The time spent working with Garrido, however, has enhanced that reputation.

Former Titan players give Horton high marks as a teacher and game strategist.

He's also highly respected by fellow coaches. The best evidence might be that so few turned in an application once they learned Horton would be a candidate.

It won't be quite the same without Garrido. His three national championships in three decades brought a special charisma to the program.

But, under Horton, the results could be every bit as good.

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