Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why I Love Titan Alumni Games

By Don Hudson

In one of the great annual baseball rites, the 2012 Cal State Fullerton varsity team faced off last Saturday against a strong squad of more than 80 Titans alumni legends before an estimated crowd of 750 at Goodwin Field. The varsity team banged out thirteen hits en route to a 3-2 (or 3-1, depending on how you viewed a dubious-but-thoroughly-entertaining ninth inning tally) win in a game that displayed effective pitching and some impressive defensive plays by both teams.

The Alumni posted a quick tally in the top of the first inning off starter Graham Wiest. After Michael Lorenzen made a superb catch of a deep shot by leadoff hitter Gary Brown, Justin "Red" Turner singled up the middle, advanced on an infield out and scored on an RBI single by Danny Dorn (pictured above). Titans fans, how many times have we seen that combination - Dorn driving in Turner brings back sweet memories.

The ageless southpaw Eddie Delzer, aptly wearing the same number 37 as legendary baseball iconoclasts Bill "Spaceman" Lee and Charles Dillon "Casey" Stengel, took the mound in the bottom of the first inning. (Delzer holds his place in pantheon of Titans legends for his performance in the 1984 championship drive, including winning the clinching game in Omaha, with a 3-1 win over University of Texas. For a great look back, see: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1122208/index.htm)

After completing his warmup pitches, Delzer innocently reached into his back pocket while the ball was being tossed around the infield. The surprised look on the face of leadoff hitter Lorenzen was priceless as Delzer went into his wind-up and two baseballs went sailing towards home plate - even home plate umpire Larry Randall wasn't sure what to call. But despite scattering a few hits, Delzer continued his streak of Alumni Game mastery with two shutout innings.

As Wiest and his successor, freshman Kenny Matthews (pictured right), continued to mow down a formidable Alumni line-up, the 2012 Titans consistently got runners aboard and into scoring position, but failed to plate a score until an unearned run off reliever Chris "Toph" Robinson" (pictured left below) in the bottom of the fifth inning tied the score, 1-1. Cory Arbiso had pitched scoreless third and fourth innings for the Alumni.

Junior catcher Casey Watkins (pictured left) scored the go-ahead run for the 2012 Varsity in the bottom of the sixth inning when he hit an opposite field double against Walker Moore (pictured right above) and scored on an Alumni error. Infielder-turned-pitcher-for-an-inning Mike Rouse allowed the final Varsity run in the bottom of the eighth on a double by Matt Orloff and an RBI single by freshman outfielder Austin Diemer.

Then things became surreal. We all learned a very valuable lesson that day: When the umpire hugs the batter on his way to the plate, as was the case with Titans icon Mark Kotsay when he went up to pinch-hit in the ninth inning, the pitcher should not expect to get a called third strike. When Kotsay took a couple of "close" pitches and ball four was called, Kotsay remained at the plate and Blake Davis re-entered the game as a pinch-runner. Davis stole second before the apparent game-ending strikeout of Kotsay, but reliever Jose Cardona was asked to get a fourth out to allow a courtesy at-bat to Jeff Nichols. Davis took off for third and when a pitch bounced to the backstop, he attempted to score from second base. Randall, by this time resembling a beleaguered referee at a Globetrotters vs. Washington Generals game, made a "safe" call to permit Nichols to complete his at-bat. It was a very funny but also human moment.


So why do I love Titan Alumni games?

1.) This is first and foremost a reunion of past generations of Titans to enjoy being together again, to relive old memories, to rekindle old friendships and to forge new relationships through the common bond of being Titans. The pre-game activity is great: you see players who played together busting each other's chops like they had never spent a day apart after leaving campus. You also see players that didn't play in the same era talking and laughing as though they had been road roomies in Omaha.

2.) It's a great day for the fans to be close to the players - the autograph seekers consider it the best day of the year to get past, present and future big leaguers to sign their baseball cards. (See below with Noe Ramirez and Gary Brown.)

3.) The Alumni game is a great reminder that baseball is truly a game that brings out the sandlot kid in all of us. It is not life or death and world peace does not depend on the game's outcome. The game started and ended with some very funny moments (the two baseball pitch by Delzer and Davis' baserunning odyssey.) In between, there was some very well-played baseball. It wouldn't bother me a bit to see a dog chasing a baseball all over the field between innings, as was the case with Ricky Romero's beautiful friend (below).

4.) It is very healthy for the "new" Titans to meet and become linked to the "old" Titans. In the months to come, we'll have a lot to talk about with the 2012 Titans - today's focus is on the Alumni game. But suffice it to say, this year's Titans have some players with outstanding talents that will take them far in the baseball world, as well as young men of character and intelligence that will bring them success in many other worldly endeavors. It might be typical to measure the success of an alumni event by the number of current or former pro ballplayers that turn out, but I find the life stories of the post-baseball lives of former Titans to be the most interesting and inspiring.

5.) Even though the game is quite relaxed, the Varsity pitchers do get pretty good game experience facing an Alumni line-up of players who are now professional hitters (current or recent). I've been very impressed with the young Titans staff under the tutelage of Kirk Saarloos throughout the spring scrimmages, but it is a great test to tame a batting order that includes Gary Brown, Justin Turner, Brett Pill, Danny Dorn, Sergio Pedroza, Corey Jones, Blake Davis, Erik Komatsu, Josh Fellhauer, Matt Wallach, Dustin Garneau, Billy Marcoe, Joel Weeks, Mark Kotsay, Tyler Pill and others.

6.) With great talent on both sides of the field, there are match-ups - both real and anticipated - that you don't often get to see. Last year, I remember the excitement of Brett Pill batting against brother Tyler - and how Brett tossed aside his wood bat when he fell behind in the count and picked up one of the old loaded metal bats. My "game within a game" moment this year was when Gary Brown was on second base -- anticipating a thrill if there was a base hit up the middle and we got to see Brown's speed against Lorenzen's arm. Pure baseball.

7.) It truly was a family affair: fathers in one dugout, sons in the other and brothers all over the place. Can you name these sets of brothers? (Sorry, but I didn't catch Richy and Sergio together, but see if you know the others. Make guesses in "Comments" field below.)


It's off to Gainesville for the start of a new season and the Hook Era in Titans baseball. The road ahead looks very challenging, but I know everybody I've spoken with recently is looking forward to it.

Go Titans!

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