Battle for the Big West: One Fan's Retrospective

David Negrette, from a fan's perspective, takes a look at Cal State Fullerton's Big West clinching win on Friday.

FRIDAY, May 21, 2004

Ira and I pulled up to Blair Field a little after 3:30. From the corner, we could see the Fullerton flags flying high down toward the golf course, serving notice that the pre-game tailgate party was open for business. Two Daves were already there stoking the coals and preparing for the wave of Titan fans that would soon be congregating at their small outpost in the heart of Dirtbag territory. Dave Rodriguez is a die-hard Titan baseball fan who in the last few years has been building these tailgate parties into the best thing this side of Baton Rouge. Dave Windsor is the father of that night's starting pitcher, Jason, and has become a tailgate regular. They'd already broken into the "apple juice", so I joined them while Ira popped open a Pepsi.

As ribs, chicken and sausage sizzled on the grill, our conversation focused on the much-anticipated Windsor-Weaver match-up and how it almost didn't happen.

Earlier in the week, the coaches had told the players that they were going evade Long Beach's Jered Weaver, the consensus #1 college baseball pitcher in the country, by saving our top two pitchers for Saturday and Sunday. It seemed a sound plan to them, giving the Titans their best chance to win at least one game and the Big West title. However, the players were clearly unhappy with the strategy and let it be known that they felt they could beat Weaver and wanted to send our best against their best. Titan baseball is not a democracy, but the coaches realized that the players were right. No Titan team had ever backed down to any team or anybody. Why start now? The pitching rotation would remain unchanged.

There seemed to be no doubt among the Titan faithful as they began to gather under the waving blue-and-orange "F" flags to munch at the growing smorgasbord. If the Titans played like they had been since the conference games had started, and if Jason pitched the way he'd been pitching as he mowed down the every other team on the conference schedule, they'd have a good chance of beating Weaver and the Dirtbags.

The game had been sold out for two days and some procrastinating Titan fans found themselves at the stadium without tickets. Fortunately, there were others who were more forward-thinking and I don't know of any Titan fans who didn't get a ticket if they stopped by the tailgater and asked. Titan fans take care of their own.

A few yards away, on the other side of the parking lot fence, a Dirtbag tailgater had formed. They were having wine and cheese with a tray of finger sandwiches. Obviously, that crowd was NOT Titan material!

It was with an air of confidence and quiet optimism that the Titan fans, many well-fortified with apple juice, gathered up their belongings and headed into the stadium. Ira and I were part of a large group who took over the third-base picnic area to mingle and consume more apple juice together. We watched while the Titans had Weaver walking on a tightrope for three innings while Windsor set down nine Dirtbags in a row. Things appeared to be going well for the Titans, and it seemed like it'd only be a matter of time before they got to Weaver and put a run on the scoreboard.

With two out in the Dirtbag 4th, John Bowker hit a ball over the right field fence. Ouch!

Still, it seemed like one run wouldn't be so much against Weaver that night. The 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th innings came and went. Titan fans were still buzzing about a throw from Clark Hardman in center field that saved a run by nailing Troy Tulowitzki at the plate after he tried to score from second on a Jason Vargas single in the Long Beach 7th. Windsor was doing a good job keeping a lid on the Dirtbags, but while the Titans were getting men on base, they couldn't get them home. By the 9th inning, we were facing our first shutout in two years at the hands of the pitcher who'd done it the last time.

Sergio Pedroza struck out swinging and P.J. Pilittere popped up to second base to start the Titan 9th. Titan fans were content, knowing that their team had given Weaver all he could handle. It had been a great game, another Fullerton-Long Beach classic. When Brett Pill walked to the plate, pinch-hitting for Blake Davis, Titan fans thought it was a nice gesture by the coaches to let the kid get a few hacks against Weaver.

Pill worked the count to 2-2 with 2 out. "Oh no," I thought, "they're going to do that annoying ‘deucez' thing again." I expected to hear dice rolling over the speakers and see the slot machine reels spinning on the scoreboard as the Long Beach players in the dugout shook their caps. The Dirtbag fans were on their feet and cheering, but no deucez! They'd missed it, I realized! Baseball is a sport fraught with superstitions and I latched onto that one. They'd missed their deucez! Bad luck for them!

PING! The baseball flies off of Pill's bat and heads for the gap in left center! Suddenly, Pill's standing on second and it's the Titan fans who are cheering! Next it was Prettyman's turn to ruin Weaver's night by working him to a 3-1 count and then knocking a single to right field to score pinch-runner Brandon Tripp. There's a conference on the mound and Weaver heads for the dugout, giving way to Neil Jamison. In moments, the entire game has changed.

The rest is history. Prettyman was caught stealing to end the Titan 9th, and Windsor pitched perfect 9th and 10th innings while the Titans made him a winner by getting a run across in their half of the 10th.

When the final out was recorded, amazed Titan fans shot off party poppers and exchanged high-fives and camel toes. We may not have technically beaten Weaver, but this was almost as sweet. Winning the Big West Championship at their house was icing on the cake and sweet payback for last year. Our mission was accomplished and we knew the team could just relax and play for fun the rest of the weekend.

When the players emerged from their dressing room, they appeared tired but extremely satisfied. They took their time getting on the bus, mingling with the fans, signing baseballs, and hugging loved ones.

I'd driven 400 miles that morning and experienced an evening that made the whole trip worthwhile -- many times over.