Cal State Fullerton's 1979 national championship baseball team receives their trophy. (Courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)
Nearly half a century later, prophetic words from legendary former Cal State Fullerton baseball Coach Augie Garrido still ring true.
It was late 1978, four seasons after the university in Southern California had moved up from NCAA Division II to Division I, and the Titans were in the midst of going through an unofficial 60-game fall schedule undefeated. They were playing mostly Division II and community college opponents but, still, baseball teams simply don’t go 60 games without losing.
“Augie told us something during that fall, and he believed it,” then-Cal State Fullerton sophomore third baseman Dan Hanggie relayed to The Epoch Times. “He told us, ‘You guys have a chance to do something that you’ll never forget. It’ll be something that will live with you forever.’ And it happened. It changed a lot of our lives.”
Mr. Garrido’s premonition came true in 1979 when, in just their fifth season competing in Division I, the Titans captured the first of Cal State Fullerton’s four College World Series championships. They beat Arkansas 2–1 in the national-title game at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska to cap a 60–14–1 season.
The historic accomplishment will be celebrated Nov. 3 when the trail-blazing team is inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Embassy Suites hotel in Brea.
“Think about that,” current Titans Coach Jason Dietrich told The Epoch Times. “Going from being in Division II to Division I and winning a national championship four years later. Augie was obviously a Hall of Fame coach, but a Hall of Fame person as well. To do what he did and get those guys to believe in a vision, it’s just really special.”
Cal State Fullerton teammates celebrate with Dan Hanggie (R) after his grand slam home run. (Courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)
Considering that Mr. Garrido had taken Cal State Fullerton to the College World Series in its initial Division 1 season, 1975, and the Titans had reached the NCAA Tournament each succeeding year, maybe the 1979 national championship shouldn’t have been totally unexpected.
Mr. Garrido, who also led Cal State Fullerton to College World Series titles in 1984 and 1995, and won two more at Texas later in his career, died at age 79 in 2018.
“The only thing that’s going to be kind of sad is Augie won’t be there,” Mr. Hanggie said, looking ahead to the induction ceremony. “We’ll miss him, obviously, but he’ll be there in mind and heart. That’s for sure.”
An overwhelming majority of players, and assistant coaches Jody Robinson and Bill Kernen, are expected to attend. They will no doubt share amazing memories, not the least of which was the Titans winning nine consecutive elimination games.
After bowing to UCLA 5–4 in the opener of the double-elimination West Regional in Fresno, Cal State Fullerton came back to rout Portland and Fresno State, and then defeated UCLA twice in the championship round. The same pattern held true in Omaha, where the Titans fell 6–1 to Mississippi State in their initial game but bounced back to earn one-sided victories over Connecticut and Arizona, and then sandwiched two wins over Arkansas around another victory over then-conference rival Pepperdine.
Mr. Hanggie slugged a grand slam in the first game against Arkansas, a 13–10 slugfest, and then sophomore right-hander Dave Weatherman threw a complete-game four-hitter to win a pitchers’ duel in the finale.
Pitcher Dave Weatherman of Cal State Fullerton's 1979 national championship baseball team. (Courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)
“I think what we’ve always felt, being the first team, is we didn’t know it could be done,” Mr. Weatherman told The Epoch Times. “We had been told it could be done, that we could win this national championship, but Cal State Fullerton was five years into it, young and building a program. To do it, it validated everything we worked for, No. 1, and No. 2, I think it showed the next 10, 20 years of Cal State Fullerton teams that it most definitely can be done.”
George Horton, a Garrido protégé, coached the Titans to their most recent national championship in 2004, and now Mr. Dietrich is trying to get the program back to that level.
As has always been the case, Cal State Fullerton simply does not have the financial resources that “big-time” baseball schools pour into the sport. In 1979, the Titans had neither a lighted field nor locker-room facilities.
“We couldn’t even afford a second set of uniforms,” Mr. Weatherman said. “Augie was beating the bushes to make sure we had enough travel money to go play those other teams that we would beat when we played them. It’s crazy to look back and think that a state school, a true state school that has very little funding, has enjoyed the success that we have.”
What Mr. Weatherman called “obviously the pinnacle” of his baseball career, which included two more years in Fullerton and a couple of seasons in minor-league ball, capped a sophomore campaign in which he posted a 15–2 record. Fellow starters Larry Navilhon and Jim Sutton went 14–1 and 10–2, respectively, while starter-turned-reliever Tony Hudson finished 10–4 and won the most valuable player award at the College World Series.
Led by then-first baseman Tim Wallach, who had a team-leading 23 home runs and 102 RBIs in 75 games before going on to a standout 17-year big-league career, 10 Titans from the 1979 team eventually heard their names called in the Major League Baseball draft.
In addition to Mr. Hudson and Mr. Wallach, who won the 1979 Golden Spikes and Sporting News national player of the year awards, Mr. Hanggie, catcher Kurt Kingsolver, and outfielder Matt Vejar were all-tournament selections in Omaha.
“We had a pretty damn good team,” said Mr. Hanggie, who later spent six seasons in the minor leagues. “We knew we were never out of a game. We had a quiet confidence. We just knew if we still had a chance to hit, the other team still had a chance to lose. It was a lot of fun, and like Augie said, it’s a lifetime of memories.”
Cal State Fullerton's 1979 national championship baseball team holds their trophy. (Courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)