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Gillespie feels at home again

Two years after 'retiring' from USC, the UC Irvine coach once more finds himself a step away from the College World Series.

June 06, 2008|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

Mike Gillespie still loves coaching baseball, so the more he gets to do it the happier he seems.

His team at UC Irvine was happy to oblige, having swept an NCAA regional last week at Nebraska to advance to a best-of-three super regional beginning Saturday at Louisiana State (46-16-1).

Two years ago, Gillespie wasn't sure if he'd ever again coach the game he loves.

The official word was that he retired from USC at age 65 after 20 seasons. But a glance at his career since then indicates that retirement wasn't his plan.

Within a year of leaving USC, he was coaching a minor league team in the New York Yankees organization. And when the Irvine job became available, Gillespie jumped at the opportunity to be a candidate.

Now 67, he has the Anteaters two victories away from the College World Series.

"I'm not oblivious to the year I was born," Gillespie said. "But I really never felt that I had lacked the motivation to coach or the energy to coach or the ability to coach. I really never wanted to not be coaching."

That the Irvine job became available is a story in itself. The Anteaters were the talk of college baseball last season when they made it to the College World Series and advanced to the semifinals.

But then coach Dave Serrano left to take the job at Cal State Fullerton, his alma mater, where he would guide the Titans (41-20) to a super regional beginning tonight at Fullerton's Goodwin Stadium against Stanford (37-22-2).

"At first we were caught off guard by the whole coaching change," Irvine center fielder Ollie Linton said. "But I think we handled it pretty well, and when we found out we were getting a coaching legend we were OK with it."

During his 20 years at USC, Gillespie's Trojans won 10 Pacific 10 Conference titles, advanced to the College World Series four times and won the 1998 national championship. He has 804 victories, including 41 this season with the Anteaters.

And even though he's approaching 70, his players say that's more of an advantage than a disadvantage.

"He's seen it all before," shortstop Ben Orloff said. "Every day, he's got some story. We'll pow wow and he'll talk and he'll give us some story and everybody is better off for it."

Gillespie is a bit more of a disciplinarian in the dugout than was Serrano, 43, but their coaching philosophies are similar. Both rely on pitching and defense while playing a "small ball" brand of offense that relies on speed and sacrifice bunts.

Linton calls Gillespie's style "a little more old school" than Serrano's, but added that Gillespie is "opening up to the new-school ways."

"He's been adapting to our style and we've been adapting to his," Linton said.

The success Gillespie had in his first year at Irvine would seem to provide a perfect opportunity for him to gloat considering USC hasn't made the postseason since he left, but the coach doesn't.

"This opportunity came up and I didn't know this was going to happen," Gillespie said. "I couldn't have anticipated this; it was too good to be true. I think the thing I probably missed the most was the people that I dealt with over the years."

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The Fullerton-Stanford series begins tonight at 7:30. Saturday's game is at 4:30, and Sunday's, if needed, will be at 4 p.m. . . . Fullerton is in a super regional for the sixth consecutive year. . . . If Serrano gets Fullerton to Omaha, he will be the first coach to take different teams in consecutive years.

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peter.yoon@latimes.com

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COLLEGE BASEBALL

Super regional, best of three

Saturday: Irvine at LSU, 3 p.m., ESPNU

Sunday: Irvine at LSU, 1 p.m., ESPN

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