Ask Dave: The CWS and Beyond

Cal State Fullerton is back from the College World Series and has gotten together with assistant coach Dave Serrano to discuss the Titans 11th visit to Omaha and what's in store for the future. Yes, it wasn't the result you wanted but the coaching staff and players gave everything they had. Some highlights include the pitching performances of Saarloos, Smith and Merrell as well as the hitting and fielding of David Bacani. Talk about the College World Series experience as well as this past season.

Coach Dave Serrano: There is nothing to be ashamed of. We won the Kia tournament. We won the Big West championship. We won the first regional, we won the Super Regional and we finished tied for third in the College World Series. Obviously not the end result of what our dreams were back in August but there's nothing to be ashamed of with this team.

This team was everything we had hoped it would be. They were close, they worked hard to the very last couple innings. Bacani's last at-bat as a Titan, he fouled off eight or nine pitches and then he walked. Corapci, before he struck out, battled and kept fouling it off. It's sad when you see a team split up but there's nothing but good things to look back on and think about this team. Not just the way the performed as a team but how they were as people. That's a credit to them and the families they came from.

This group was very special to be around on a daily basis and made it easier on the coaching staff and fun for the coaching staff to go out on the field every day and work. Winning the College World Series is difficult when everything does go your way but did it seem like the Titans just weren't destined to be NCAA Champs the way the ball bounced or didn't bounce? For example, Mike Rouse hit the ball extremely well but didn't have much to show for it, including the potential game-winning home run in game two.

Coach Serrano: You're right. A lot of times championships are because teams are good but sometimes there has to be a lot of luck involved. The ball Rouse hit, at any other moment in the College World Series, the wind was blowing in some direction and most of the time the direction was out and just at that moment the wind was dead. If there was just a little wind who knows what could have happened. We could have been sitting in the drivers seat for that Wednesday game. The way Merrell performed against Tulane who's to say he wouldn't have done the same with whoever came through the [losers] bracket. Then we would have had our pitching set for Saturday with Saarloos and Smith and Cordero.

You're right. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. And it wasn't just Rouse. It seemed liked all the Titans hit it hard right at people against Stanford in that second game. They must have had one heck of a scouting report.

Coach Serrano: Our coaching staff, behind closed doors, gave Stanford a lot of credit. They seemed to always be in the right place at the right time and it worked for them against us.

It was kind of ironic. I talked to coach Horton before the national championship and said, "Isn't it just going to kill you if they don't make every play and if every ground ball isn't hit right where they're at?" And sure enough that's what happened. Miami took advantage of that and made it look easy.

Stanford's pitchers were phenomenal against us. I was very happy and satisfied even though the end result wasn't good for the team. When I looked across the field at what their pitchers were doing it was phenomenal. From Gosling to Guthrie, they made every pitch they had to make at the right time. I really felt it took that kind of performance to out duel what some of our guys were doing. On's Top 10 moments in 2001 we listed the game against Nebraska as the number one moment. Can you tell us what that game was really like?

Coach Serrano: I read that. I went back and watched the tape of that game, last night in fact, and the television sound gave no justice to what the stadium was like. It was something I'll always remember and I think our players will always remember. It was special. And we told the team going in, "You're going to be playing in front of something no one else has ever done in Omaha and that's a hostile crowd." It was and it was fun.

Our team kind of performed off of that. I think it was exciting for them. To be quite honest with you, and coach even mentioned this to the team after the loss to Stanford in our second game, it was almost like we were a little flat coming off that win against Nebraska. If you remember, Tulane had just eliminated Nebraska in the afternoon game and we had the night game and a lot of those Nebraska fans went home. For that stadium which holds 20, 24 thousand there wasn't that many people and it was a quiet, subdued crowd.

However, there's no excuse for that. We should have been up because we're in the College World Series and we're three steps away from a National Championship but I think it kind of took a little bit of the momentum out of us just because the excitement wasn't there like it was the first night. Hopefully you don't take the negative comments from a couple folks who post on our message boards too seriously because I know most Titan fans thought this team had a great year we appreciate everything the players and coached have accomplished. Is this your experience as well?

Coach Serrano: I think we generated a lot more fan base on what the team did this year. I think the comments the ESPN announcers made throughout the College World Series about our program and the style of play we have and what we do as a program, I think it's good for Cal State Fullerton. It's the truth.

We work hard and we try to think we work hard as anybody. I'm not saying we are the best coaches in the world or we have the best players in the world, but what Cal State Fullerton does on a yearly basis compared to what some of these other schools have, it's remarkable.

I've seen the other side of the street. I've been at the University of Tennessee where their recruiting budget is 70 to $80,000 and ours here at Cal State Fullerton is 7 to $8,000. It's remarkable what from Augie Garrido through all the coaches now to coach Horton have done year in and year out to put Fullerton on the map and in the College World Series.

If you look at it, our program has been there 11 times and we've won three National Championships. You compare that with say Miami who just won their forth and they're supposed to be one of the best in the country and they've got everything. They've got a big-time football program, a big-time basketball program, a big-time athletic department.

We don't have all those things but it's not what gets you to Omaha. It's the hard work, the sweat and the tears that get you there. Tell us about Shane Waroff and Wes Littleton and why they were left off the 25-man roster in Omaha. How tough of a decision is this for the coaching staff?

Coach Serrano: It's a very tough decision and a lot of people probably don't think it is tough on us. They way I like to describe it is, it would be like a family of five and only being able to take three to Disneyland.

It's a hard decision on the coaches. It's a part of the job which I like the least. You're leaving part of your family at home who have worked just as hard as anybody and sometimes worked harder than other people but it comes down to a coach's decision.

The only thing I can say is it's something we've talked to the team about from day one. We tell them there's a lot of good players around you and you don't want it to come down to a coach's decision on the road. You want to separate yourself. A lot of people out there might not agree with me but I know as a coach I can look in the mirror each and every day and know we've given every kid a fair shake. It basically comes down to what they do when given those opportunities.

We just didn't feel that Wes was in a situation where we were going to need pitching. He had been inconsistent but then you could look down the line and say that our seventh or eighth guy wasn't consistent either.

Shane, early on in the season, yes, he was one of our top guys and we gave him the ball and he never performed to the level he performed at in the fall. That happens sometimes. That's the part of athletics that's tough on coaches and on players. You never know how someone's going to perform when it's the real game situation. Some performances go up and some go down. I'm not commenting on that's what happened to Shane because it happened to many other guys on this pitching staff.

We decided to go with only eight pitchers and as you can see we only ended up using five. With the College World Series format you're not going to use nine pitchers so we decided to take other members. It's not an easy decision but we have to make those hard-line decisions.

One thing I want t o make clear is this is no means a sign of punishment and we never want it to be looked upon as that. It's just a sign of coaches having to make a decision. It's just like coach Serrano having to make a decision between throwing a fastball and a slider or coach Horton have to make a decision between a sac-bunt or hit-and-run. It's our decision and you have to go with your gut and we did. People are hurt by it and we understand that.

If it were up to us we would have taken every member of this team. They are part of our family and deserved to be there. Let's talk about next year. You've confirmed the list of recruits for the 2002 season (See 2001 Recruits story) and it looks like another great class. But first let's focus on who may come back next year. What's the story with Brett Kay and Mike Rouse and what are their chances in returning for us next season?

Coach Serrano: I think they are both going to be tough to keep but I think they both have good heads on their shoulders and they realize it's not going to hurt them to come back. Right now it's probably 50-50 for both of them. How tough is it when you don't know for sure how many current players and recruits will

Coach Serrano: It's very difficult. When you look at the guys we've signed we feel we've got some good baseball players just like in the past. The normal fan might think, "Well this guys not drafted so he must not be very good." Well that's part of my job and our job as coaches of realizing which guys in development are going to be good a year or two from now.

Anyone can go out and see the guy who's going to be a first or second round draft pick. Nowadays those guys don't end up on campuses. You have to be able to pick the guys you think are going to be good players and there might be just something missing in their arsenal. Maybe they're not big enough. Maybe they don't run fast enough but they're still good baseball players and you have to weed through to those guys.

I think that's where we haven't been as devastated as other programs by the draft because we go for the complete baseball player instead of the guy who has all the tools. It would be great to have a 6'5" third baseman who projects to hit 40 homeruns but what are your chances of getting that guy on campus? How does this recruiting class compare to the great class we just had (Merrell, Chief, Costa, et al)?

Coach Serrano: It's different in a lot of ways. There wasn't as much need this year. A lot of times recruiting classes are a result of how much money and scholarships you have available to get guys. I wouldn't say this is going to rank in the top five in the country or be number one like it was last year but I think it will address some of our needs.

If we're able to build off of that recruiting class... now Kyle Boyer will be able to step forward and show what he can do. Pitchers Littleton, Esquibel and Ingle can step forward and with the class we have coming in I think it's going to mix well together.

Just looking at the depth chart today, I think the strength of this team again next year starts out to be on the mound. Hopefully we will be able to find some guys to hit the ball over the fence. That will always surface but I think the strength right off the bat will be the pitching staff. Any chance of getting hold of that depth chart?

Coach Serrano: Uhhh, No. [Laughs] Well, we tried. Now when you go to the CWS, has this historically been an immediate boost for recruiting?

Coach Serrano: Yes it does. It makes my job a lot easier. If you remember in 1999 we went to the College World Series and the recruiting class in 2000 right after that season was ranked number one in Collegiate Baseball and number two in Baseball America so obviously it does help.

When you make a phone call the kids are more excited about it. It's seen by so many people around the country that it does make recruiting a lot easier. Any Div. I transfers, ala Mike Rouse, who we expect to come knocking on our door?

Coach Serrano: No, none that we know of right now. We'll have our ears open. We're still looking for a left-handed hitter. We're going to have to back ourselves in case Mike signs or if Brett signs. It will probably take some time for them to come to some agreement. We have some guys on line right now who are on hold where if we are unfortunate to lose those guys we'll go in another direction. Lastly, there are many Division I baseball jobs opening up across the country. Are you looking at these or would you consider them if they came your way?

Coach Serrano: I am very happy at Cal State Fullerton and I would be flattered if there are programs out there with interest in me. But I have no problem in being the assistant coach as long as I'm under the leadership of coach Horton. We have a very good relationship. Myself, Rick [Vanderhook] and coach work very well together. The reason I say just the three of us is because we've been together for five years now and I think we feed off of each other. We all come from the same background and coach Horton has done a great job of taking care of me financially.

I don't need to be a head coach to continue to motivate me. I love what I do. I like the position I'm in. It's more of a one-on-one dealing with families and players and that's more my personality. I see some of the headaches coach Horton goes through, of dealing with non-baseball issues, and I'm not so sure I'm ready to get involved in something like that. I like where I'm at.

I think a lot of times guys want to be head coaches because it's an ego thing. They're not all like that but I think guys what to have their name on top of the list and get all the wins and losses and that isn't what Dave Serrano's about. I love being around kids every year. It's a new adventure in meeting new people, having a new team. And as long as I'm working for someone I respect I have no problem being the assistant coach. Any offers come your way yet?

Coach Serrano: No, I haven't thrown my name into the hat for some of these things. With having my son living here in southern California it would have to be an unbelievable thing for me to even consider going out of the area and leaving my son. In fact, I know I would never do that.