On the eve of the Major League baseball draft, Trevor Bauer sat alone in the back row of the empty stands at Jackie Robinson, gazing out into the nothingness of a chilly night with a blank stare that masked the swirl of emotion running through his head.
Moments earlier, UC Irvine had eliminated UCLA from the NCAA playoffs with a walk-off win, delivering a shocking and sudden end to Bauer's UCLA career.
Down the left field line in a tent set up near the UCLA clubhouse, Bruins Coach John Savage had his own moment of reflection. He, too, looked off into the distance with a contemplative stare, shocked and stunned about the loss, yes, but also by the realization that the end of an era had befallen UCLA.
Less than 24 hours later, the Arizona Diamondbacks made Bauer the No. 3 pick in the Major League Baseball draft. Just before that, the Pittsburgh Pirates made Gerrit Cole the No. 1 overall pick and just like that, the premier pitching tandem in UCLA history was history.
Bauer and Cole rewrote the pitching record books at UCLA, took the Bruins to unprecedented heights by leading them to the College World Series final last year and left an indelible mark on the program by raising the standards of excellence.
Now, both are head to the professional circuit and will almost certainly be in the big leagues before long.
"I think UCLA saw two of the best pitchers they’ve ever seen pitch in this program," Savage said during his moment of reflection. "They made an unbelievable footprint for younger guys and for the future. They’re special guys."
We found out Monday just how special.
The last time the same college team had two players selected in the top three picks of the MLB draft was in 1978 when Arizona State's Bob Horner and Hubie Brooks went first and third, respectively.
Before Cole, UCLA never had a player selected No. 1 in the June draft. In the history of UCLA baseball, only two other Bruins--Tim Leary in 1979 and Troy Glaus in 1997--have been selected among the top three picks.
Bauer ends his career as UCLA's career leader in strikeouts (460), wins (34) and innings pitched (373.1). Cole is second in strikeouts (376), third in games started (49) and fourth in innings pitched (322.1).
Losing players of that caliber is enough to set back even the best of programs, but Bauer and Cole aren't leaving the Bruins empty-handed. They've set new standards of pitching at UCLA, a quality control mark for future Bruins to emulate and their legacy should live on for quite some time.
"Their presence, just being there, helped everyone on our staff," said freshman pitcher Adam Plutko, who developed into a front-line starter over the course of the season. "I mean those are two of the best guys in the country so when they pitch, you pay attention to what they do every day, how they approach the game and how they pitch."
Plutko wasn't the only one paying attention. Every time Cole and Bauer took the mound, dozens of scouts armed with radar guns and note pads would fill the stands to get a look.
Clearly, they liked what they saw. Cole is a 6-4, 220-pound right-handed flame thrower. He throws his fastball in the 95-97 range on a regular basis and hit over 100 several times this season. He also has a sharp slider and a devastating changeup.
"There’s a lot of things to like," said Neal Huntington, the Pirates general manager. "As a player he’s big, he’s physical--which you love in pitching. He’s got a great arm. His slider and his changeup have developed into quality major league pitches."
Bauer, 6-2, 185, isn't quite the physical specimen, but he still hits 95 or 96 with his fastball and can throw six different pitches for strikes. He's got a brilliant pitching mind, having studied the art and nuances of pitching and has a work ethic that's second to none.
"He's the most complete pitcher that I've had," Savage said. "He knows his delivery, he knows how to sequence pitches. This guy is as good as I've seen."
Now Savage must learn to deal with life without his pair of aces. Plutko and fellow freshmen Zack Weiss and Nick Vander Tuig give the Bruins a strong nucleus of young arms. Each has been groomed, directly or indirectly, by Cole and Bauer. UCLA has never been a power in college baseball, having been to the College World Series only three times since 1969, but Cole and Bauer raised expectations.
"The past few years we’ve established this hard mentality, this grinding mentality that we’ve instilled in the program and I feel like those are going to be our core values for quite some time," Cole said.
Cole was originally drafted by the New York Yankees out of Orange Lutheran High School, but chose to attend UCLA in part because he wanted to help build the Bruins into a better program.
"I wanted to be a Bruin and I wanted to pitch for the Bruins and win the Pac-10 and start something new with that program up there," Cole said. "A new tradition, a winning tradition because the Bruins have been on and off the past few years and we really wanted to instill a new way."
The fact that UCLA produced two of the top three picks in this year's draft is an indication that UCLA is on its way, according to Greg Smith, the director of scouting for the Pittsburgh Pirates who had someone from his staff at every one of Cole's starts this season.
"I think a lot of credit goes to John Savage at UCLA," Smith said. "The program that he’s got going there with those young men, it’s indicative. Look where Gerrit was drafted, look where Trevor was drafted. Obviously he’s done a quality developing young men. It’s a credit to the UCLA Bruins for what those guys are doing out there."
Bauer is a prime example. When Cole and Bauer arrived at UCLA, Cole was the more advanced prospect and Bauer was considered a project because of his quirky delivery and odd throwing routines. But Bauer has skyrocketed into an elite prospect as he's improved his numbers ever year.
He was 9-3 with a 2.99 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 105.1 innings as a freshman; 12-3 with a 3.02 ERA and 165 strikeouts in 131.1 innings as a sophomore and 13-2 with a 1.25 ERA and 203 strikeouts in 136.2 innings this year.
"It’s really a credit to coach Savage and his recruiting and his knowledge about pitching," Bauer said. "Without him, I don’t think either of us would have been drafted that high. He’s helped me and Gerrit a lot in the three years we spent with him and pick up countless amounts of knowledge."
Cole has been an elite prospect since high school because of his physical stature and his pure "stuff" as a pitcher. The knock on him, however, was that he wasn't a team player. He had a temper and wasn't afraid to show it. That all changed at UCLA, where he would play the role of ball boy during games when he wasn't pitching.
"You just learn how to be a better person and grow up," Cole said of playing college ball. "You can go about things the right way."
Cole and Bauer say they hope they have passed that knowledge of to to things the right way down to some of the pitchers who remain behind at UCLA, those who are left to try and live up to the lofty standards they set.
"There are plenty of pitchers there right now to carry the program on and I couldn’t be happier for where the program is," Bauer said. "I feel like we’ve done a good job of taking a program that was building momentum and continuing that on. Hopefully the players that are there now will do the same thing."
Savage's mind again wanders as he savors the idea of his current pitchers getting to the level of Cole and Bauer.
"I was thinking of Plutko and Weiss and Vander Tuig and the future," he said. "Those are the new Coles and Bauers."
Later, however, the daydream turns back to reality as Savage has a who-am-I-kidding? moment.
"The Cole and Bauer combination is as good a combination as you’ll see in college," he says. "Maybe ever."