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Under the Radar

Fullerton's World Series team is blue-collar, not blue-chip

June 19, 2004|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

OMAHA — Great college baseball teams come in different packages.

Some have rosters packed with all-state players who were high-round draft picks out of high school. Others have grinders who have made themselves into valued contributors. Often, a great team will have some of each.

Cal State Fullerton has had many types in its 13 appearances in the College World Series, but the Titans tend to be blue-collar teams, and the one taking a 42-21 record into today's opening-round game against South Carolina is that type.

"I don't think it really matters if we get a lot of honors or not," second baseman Justin Turner said. "It's just a bunch of guys who go out every day, stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, and play as a team."

The Titans don't have a lot of power -- they have hit only 46 home runs in 63 games -- and they are not dominating on the mound.

What they do have, third baseman Ronnie Prettyman says, are players who know how to take advantage of opportunities.

"It's the kind of kids the coaches recruit," said Prettyman, who is hitting .329 with 34 runs batted in. "They're the kind of kids that always want the ball. They may not get as many opportunities, but when they do, they make the best of them.

"Everybody is confident in their abilities when they do get a chance."

The Titans' postseason run offers some compelling examples of that:

* Senior pitcher Mike Martinez, who struggled as a position player for three years, pitched his first shutout against Arizona State in the regional.

* Junior left-hander Scott Sarver threw a complete game in his first start against Pepperdine after not having pitched for nearly a month.

Even their top two stars, junior Kurt Suzuki and senior Jason Windsor, fit the classic Titan mold.

Suzuki went to Fullerton as a walk-on player who didn't play full time until this season. Windsor had to talk his way into the program after a poor sophomore season at a junior college and started last year as a long reliever.

Both have simply performed, even though pro scouts haven't been impressed by their physical gifts.

Suzuki, a 6-foot catcher, is batting .437 with 16 home runs and 86 RBIs. Windsor, with a fastball that rarely reaches 90 mph, has a 1.84 earned-run average and has won his last 10 starts.

Looking harder at the figures than the physiques, the Oakland A's took Suzuki in the second round and Windsor in the third.

Rick Vanderhook, the Titans' longtime hitting coach, said their recruiting philosophy often excluded going after the region's elite prep prospects, knowing that they probably would be drafted in a high round and wouldn't make it to campus.

"I wouldn't want kids to turn down that kind of [first-round] money," Vanderhook said. "We've had guys like that in Dante Powell. Jon Ward was a high-round draft choice. [Phil] Nevin was a second-rounder.

"Everybody gets some, but they just learn how they're supposed to play. This group took longer to come together as a group, but they've got it going pretty good right now."

Fullerton Coach George Horton said the progression of players like Suzuki and Windsor was typical of many Fullerton players over the years.

"We get more satisfaction from taking the guy who might be a low draft pick but we like him and think that maybe we can help pave the way for him to be drafted higher when he's a junior," Horton said. "That's the kind of development that our program is about."

Windsor readily embraced the Fullerton work ethic. He got his stout 6-foot-2, 220-pound physique into top condition and maintains it by running for eight miles through the hills near the university after each start.

He says he's not alone in that regard.

"The coaches go out and recruit the guys that work hard," Windsor said. "They can see how they'll develop. And then it's about how long we practice and how hard we practice.

"You might not be a high-round draft pick, but you're bound to be a better player when you leave."

Texas Coach Augie Garrido relied on that type of player when he created a national power in 19 years at Fullerton against programs with bigger recruiting budgets and better facilities.

In Garrido's mind, talent and pro potential don't always make for a great collegian.

Garrido, for instance, started 5-foot-6, 133-pound pitcher Eddie Delzer in the 1984 title game against Texas. Delzer gave up two hits over seven innings in a 3-1 victory.

"You don't have the best team because you have the best prospects," Garrido said. "You don't have to be 6 foot 5 to put the ball in play with a metal bat. You have to have the heart and the spirit to play, because, many times, it doesn't come in a professional package."

Vanderhook said a player's attitude often made up for athletic limitations.

"Maybe they're a little hungrier," he said. "There's probably 25 guys on every team here that weren't drafted very high who will probably play in the big leagues.

"You can't judge on what guys can do athletically like you can in football or basketball. We just try to get baseball players."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Titans at the World Series

Previous College World Series appearances by Cal State Fullerton, with record and title-game appearances:

*--* 1975 0-2 1979 5-1 1st 1982 0-2 1984 5-1 1st 1988 2-2 1990 0-2 1992 4-2 2nd 1994 2-2 1995 4-0 1st 1999 1-2 2001 2-2 2003 2-2 Totals 27-20

*--*

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CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES

* 1979: Cal State Fullerton 2, Arizona 1

* 1984: Cal State Fullerton 3, Texas 1

* 1992: Pepperdine 3, Cal State Fullerton 2

* 1995: Cal State Fullerton 11, USC 5

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