(Note: This article is
part of a series, by Jeff Dahn, that highlights specific collegiate baseball
programs going into the 2011 season. To
view the articles on other schools in this series please click here.)
Maybe this one simple factoid, passed on to Perfect Game in a telephone conversation by Cal State Fullerton baseball coach Dave Serrano, is really the only thing anyone needs to know about the Titans’ national powerhouse program.
Since it was established in 1975, there has never been a player who enrolled at Cal State Fullerton as a freshman and stayed in the program for four years who didn’t make at least one trip to Omaha, Neb., to play in the College World Series.
“When you can go into a kid’s home and say that the program has been in existence for 36 years and this program has been to Omaha 16 times, and in those 16 times, 25 percent of the time (its) won the national championship, it’s a huge selling point,” Serrano said. “When people think of Omaha, they’re surprised when they don’t see the ‘F’ on the hat in the College World Series.”
The words Serrano spoke are true. In the 36 baseball seasons since Augie Garrido started the program, Titan teams have been to 16 CWS and won four national championships, the most recent in 2004. The program’s very first team – in 1975 – advanced to the CWS.
CS Fullerton has failed to earn a spot in an NCAA Regional only four times in the previous 36 seasons. The Titans’ own an all-time NCAA postseason record of 134-68 (.663).
It’s pretty heady stuff for a commuter university with an enrollment of over 35,500 students (fall, 2010). Serrano, who is beginning his fourth season as head coach, won’t accept anything less.
“The expectations of this program each and every year are to play for the national championship, and when we don’t – even with other accolades that we may have accomplished throughout the journey together – if you’re not playing in Omaha and playing for the national championship you kind of feel like you didn’t succeed as a team,” he said.
Serrano’s first head coaching job was at the University of California Irvine, where he served from 2005-07 and took the Anteaters to the CWS in 2007. He then moved back to Fullerton, where he had been an assistant coach before taking the Irvine job.
Serrano, who play at CSF in 1986, followed in some big footsteps when he took over the Titans’ program before the 2008 season.
Garrido started it all in 1975, coached through 1987, left for three years and returned for a second stint from 1991-96. The Titans were coached by Larry Cochell for three seasons from 1988-90, and led them to the CWS in his first and third years.
Garrido compiled an overall record of 875-341 (.719 percent) and won three CWS titles (1979, ’84, ’95) in his combined 19 years at CSF, but left after the 1996 season to take the job at the University of Texas.
When Garrido left that second time, CSF turned to George Horton, who had been an assistant to Garrido since 1990. Horton didn’t miss a beat, guiding the Titans to six CWS appearances and one national championship (2004) in 11 seasons, while winning nearly 70 percent (490-212-1) of the games he coached at Fullerton.
Horton left after the 2007 season to resurrect the program at the University of Oregon.
In three seasons at Fullerton, Serrano is 134-56 (.705), with three NCAA Regional berths (2008, ’09, 10), two Super Regional berths (2009, ’10) and one CWS berth (2009).
“The thing about running a program like this is that if there’s any pressure, it’s from the fact of what Coach Garrido and Coach Horton had established, and continued in this program year in and year out excellence … and winning at the highest level and making it to Omaha,” Serrano said. “A lot of people would be gun-shy (of the high expectations) but I think that’s why players come here and that’s why coaches want to coach here.”
Serrano has been on both sides of the coaching fence, in that while he may have walked into a winning and established environment at CS Fullerton, he had to rebuild the program at UC Irvine. That program had been defunct from 1993-2001 before being resurrected by Coach John Savage, who then moved on to UCLA.
“You start from the ground up and you have expectations and any program that I’ve ever been part of or my coaching staff has ever been part of, we’re always going to have the mentality that we’re playing for the big prize,” Serrano said. “Now I’m at a place where that’s expected year in and year out, and I’m not sure which one is more rewarding.”
Serrano acknowledges that CS Fullerton’s location in Southern California, an area teeming with some of the nation’s top baseball talent, is beneficial to the program. He also acknowledges the fact that CSF is a commuter school and is relatively inexpensive to attend.
“With the tradition that was established … it’s a place that’s attractive to that high school student-athlete that wants to succeed in baseball,” Serrano said. “They’ll not only play at a high level (in college) but also move on to Major League Baseball and have success at the Major League level.”
CS Fullerton does not have a football program or massive dormitory complexes, and Serrano said he will lose prospective recruits who desire a “bigger college atmosphere.”
“We do have an atmosphere here but it’s not nearly on the level of some of the other universities that are able to offer football and big-time basketball,” Serrano said. “All that being said, it just goes to show how impressive the resume is that has been established by former coaches and former players in this program.”
The 2010 Titans finished 46-18 and one win shy of the CWS (they lost to UCLA in game 3 of the Super Regional), and the 2011 Titans look well-suited to carry on the program’s winning ways.
Two Titans were 1st round selections in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft, the first time CSF had two 1st-rounders in the same Draft. Shortstop Christian Colon was taken fourth overall by the Kansas City Royals and center fielder Gary Brown was taken 24th overall by the San Francisco Giants.
Colon batted .358 with 17 homeruns and 68 RBIs in 2010 while Brown hit an amazing .438 (92 for 210) with 20 doubles, eight triples and six home runs to go with 32 stolen bases in 37 attempts.
But the Titans have plenty of returning talent, including 2011 Preseason All-Americans Noe Ramirez and Nick Ramirez.
Noe Ramirez, a junior right-hander, was 12-1 with a 2.54 ERA and 119 strikeouts and only 19 walks in 106.1 innings. Nick Ramirez, a junior left-hander and first baseman, hit .346 with 16 HRs and 75 RBIs,and 1-3 with a 3.50 ERA and a team-high 11 saves from the mound.
The Titans welcomed back another two-way player in junior right-hander/outfielder Tyler Pill. He hit .354 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs, and was 4-4 with a 3.36 ERA on the mound.
Serrano was also able to bring in another highly ranked recruiting class in the fall. Among the players who are on campus are outfielder Michael Lorenzen, drafted in the 7th round by the Tampa Bay Rays in last June’s MLB Draft, and second baseman Joe Terry, selected in the 8thround by the Chicago White Sox.
“It is a challenge, but we take a lot of pride in finding the right kid who is the right fit for Cal State Fullerton,” Serrano said. “They might not be on someone’s top-100 Draft pick list, but that’s OK, because that’s not how this program has been built.
“We’ll get the guy that develops with the program and I’m more proud of that than getting the blue-chipper who you know the expectations are already there,” he continued. “You get the guy maybe somebody else didn’t want, but you saw something special in him and he ends up being a great player that leads your team to many victories and many championships.”
At programs such as the one at Cal State Fullerton, it’s always satisfying to look back at past successes and feel a sense of pride about those accomplishments. Serrano can certainly look back with admiration at what Garrido, Cochell and Horton achieved, while also looking back at his three seasons at CSF with a sense of pride.
But he prefers to look ahead to 2011.
“We go into every year feeling we have a shot but we think that this team is definitely built to be a national champion,” Serrano said. “There’s a lot of luck (required) along the way and we’ll battle-test these guys. This team will be more prepared as we go into the part of the season when it really matters.”
What follows is a list of players on the 2011 Cal State Fullerton roster who either participated in Perfect Game events or created a PG profile while still in high school. Click on the player’s name to view his complete PG Profile:
Christian Coronado – PG National Upperclass
Keegan Dale – PG National Upperclass/PG showcases
Jake Floethe – PG WWBA/PG showcases
Dylan Floro – PG National Showcase/PG WWBA World
Raymond Hernandez – PG WWBA/PG California Underclass
David Hurlbut – PG WWBA
Anthony Hutting – PG WWBA World/PG BCS
Derek Legg – PG WWBA/PG showcases
Michael Lorenzen – Aflac AA Classic/PG National/PG WWBA
Matt Orloff – PG BCS
Bijan Rademacher – PG National/PG WWBA/PG showcases
Nick Ramirez – PG National Showcase/PG WWBA
Ivory Thomas – PG WWBA/PG BCS
Chad Wallach – PG WWBA/PG BCS
Casey Watkins – PG WWBA
Cody Webster – PG National Upperclass
Grahamm Wiest – PG BCS
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