Making it to the College World Series is every college baseball player’s dream.
Even though Astros’ pitcher Hector Ambriz didn’t get to go when he played at UCLA from 2003-06, his Bruins are making their fifth appearance – their third in the last four years – but they have never won a national championship. Surprising, as UCLA is the most decorated athletic program in NCAA history, with 108 NCAA team championships.
“It’s amazing with all the major leaguers they’ve produced,” Ambriz said. “The program has been great for the last 40-50 years – I mean we had Jackie Robinson – but with zero national championship. It’s kind of weird but hopefully they pull it off this year.”
With an off day on Monday, Ambriz was able to watch his Bruins beat Mississippi State, 3-1, in Game 1 of a best-of-three championship series with Game 2 on Tuesday night and Game 3 on Wednesday night, if necessary.
“A lot of the guys here have played college baseball,” Ambriz said. “Everybody’s dream was to go play in Omaha, so when the College World Series starts, we’re watching these kids play in Omaha, and it’s really cool .”
Fellow Astros’ relief pitcher, Josh Fields, made the trip to Omaha with his Georgia Bulldogs twice – in 2006 and 2008 -- when games were still played at the famed Rosenblatt Stadium (the last game played there was June 29, 2010).
And it was an atmosphere like no other.
“There were 20,000-plus fans there for every game, and of course you had people cheering for their own teams, but whenever either team did anything good, the crowd went crazy and that was just a lot of fun,” Fields said. “There was a lot of electricity in the air just from the fans. Obviously, that’s the biggest stage for college baseball.”
Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel also got to experience Rosenblatt Stadium when his Arkansas Razorbacks made it to the College World Series in 2009.
“The fans are college fanatics and they know the game of baseball,” Keuchel said. “We were a good SEC school, so we packed 5,000-7,000 people a game, so just to have that many people there for a single game was tremendous and a lot of fun.”
When Astros catcher Jason Castro was a freshman at Stanford, his team came close to the College World Series but lost to Oregon State in a Super Regional. They failed to make it to the postseason his sophomore year.
“That was a real motivating factor for us, my junior year to really strive to make it to Omaha and that was a goal of everybody’s that year, so it was pretty special to be able to go and be a part of that,” Castro said.
Castro and the Cardinal finally made it to Omaha in 2008, and no surprise, their first game there was his favorite memory.
“The first game we played in Rosenblatt Stadium, we beat Florida State,” Castro said. “We ended up scoring nine runs late in the game and we won by a large margin. So, finally getting there and playing in front of all those fans and in that stadium – that was pretty cool.”
Castro’s friend and current Astros teammate, Brett Wallace, also played in Omaha. Although he was named the Pac-10 Player of the Year in both 2007 and 2008, his Arizona State team only made it to the College World Series his sophomore year in 2007.
And of course the guys have always and will always enjoy watching the College World Series.
“It’s fun to watch and relive those memories,” Castro said.