- Mitch Sherman, College Football
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OMAHA, Neb. -- Dave Peterson turns 80 in December. He runs marathons. Started when he was 65.
On Saturday, Peterson, a retired insurance agent from Council Bluffs, Iowa, walked the concourse at TD Ameritrade Park with his 4-year-old great-grandson, Broxton, as two fellow septuagenarians led their teams below in the opening game of this College World Series.
"I am so proud," Peterson said of 75-year-old Texas coach Augie Garrido and UC Irvine's 74-year-old Mike Gillespie, "seeing them with the enthusiasm that they still have."
Peterson pointed to his heart.
"They have it here," he said. "When I see those guys, it does something for me, too."
The average age of the other six coaches here is 45. Garrido got his first job as a college head coach at San Francisco State 45 years ago. Five national championships in 15 visits to this event and more than 1,900 wins later, he's still full of spunk.
After Irvine struck for three runs in the eighth inning to beat Garrido's Longhorns 3-1, the coach stopped short -- though just barely -- of predicting that Texas would romp through the bracket and leave Omaha with a national championship 11 days from now.
He reminded a reporter of the 1979 Cal State Fullerton team that lost its first game in Omaha en route to the crown and how nobody gave that group of Garrido-coached kids a shot after its opener.
Forgive us for the lapse in memory.
The point is, Gillespie and Garrido bring an energy, despite their age, that the upstart 40-somethings with whom they'll match wits this week (Vanderbilt's Tim Corbin is 52) just can't duplicate. When Garrido and Gillespie call it quits, the game will lose something more than their long list of accomplishments.
College baseball will miss their spirit and commitment to a team-first approach. As the sport underwent a metamorphosis over the past decade to reach its place as a small-ball haven, Garrido and Gillespie stuck to the styles that now serve them better than ever in the cavernous 3-year-old home of the CWS.
Mind you, Gillespie coached USC in 1998 when it beat Arizona State 21-14 for the national title at Rosenblatt Stadium, but his approach at UC Irvine since taking over in 2008, has veered sharply toward what was seen Saturday.
Gillespie raved before the series about Garrido's 1995 title team at Fullerton that featured superstar Mark Kotsay -- how Kotsay would sacrifice for the team. True to form, Garrido called on Saturday for his top hitter, Mark Payton, to bunt in the first inning after Irvine pitcher Andrew Morales walked the first two Texas batters.
Payton, in the end, failed to reach base for the first time in 102 games, snapping a remarkable streak.
"So what," the senior center fielder said after the game. "We lost."
Exactly how Garrido would say it.
So what keeps them young at heart?
"It ain't money," said 71-year-old Milan Ray, a retired accountant from Superior, Nebraska, also among the crowd on Saturday. "It's pride. They take pride in their work. It's a job for them. They ain't gonna give it up."
The setting on Saturday, with the style of both teams and the wind howling in from right field, demanded a chess match. As expected, Gillespie took more chances. He called a hit-and-run in the fifth inning and watched Justin Castro line out to Payton, playing not far behind second base. The Longhorns doubled Adam Alcantara off first base.
When Alcantara singled again to open the eighth, Castro bunted the runner into scoring position. After Taylor Sparks tripled to score Alcantara and tie the game, Texas pulled starting pitcher Nathan Thornhill. Gillespie again took a chance. Instead of calling a squeeze bunt with Chris Rabago at the plate, the coach asked his shortstop to swing away. He bounced a single through Texas' drawn-in defense and the lead belonged to the Anteaters for good.
Call it wisdom, maybe luck. Whatever, it worked, in part because Gillespie feels no pressure to adhere to the norm. Sparks, the Anteaters' best hitter, bats in the leadoff spot. Without the unconventional lineup, who knows if Irvine would have executed as well as in the eighth inning.
Behind the press-box windows on Saturday sat Gene Stephenson, the former Wichita State coaching legend in Omaha to celebrate his induction this month to College Baseball Hall of Fame.
Stephenson won more than 1,800 games and the 1989 national title in seven CWS trips.
He was fired a year ago after the Shockers' 28th postseason appearance in 36 years. And Stephenson, 68, was a bit envious of his elders on Saturday.
"For the people who think the [older] coaches can't coach today because today's player is different," he said, "today's player is starving for discipline and team unity. The world is focusing on 'I,' 'me' and 'my.' If you trying to win at the highest level, it's all 'we' and 'us.'"
Stephenson said he recognized that Garrido and Gillespie fit well in the modern game. In fact, Stephenson wants to coach again, he said, preferably at a major-conference school with a struggling program and strong resources.
Garrido and Gillespie make him want it even more. They give Stephenson hope. Same for so many others of their generation who watch the CWS.
The small-ball style that UC Irvine coach Mike Gillespie, 74, and Texas head man Augie Garrido, 75, subscribe to is a welcomed sight to veteran College World Series fans.