I can’t help but be reminded this time of year about my own involvement with the NCAA Baseball Tournament. It’s one of the most entertaining of all college sports championships given its double-elimination nature and the regional, super-regional and College World Series format. It gives everyone an equal chance to win it all.
Four years after I sat at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium to call history for the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners, each season since brings back new memories — this year especially since UCLA was the No. 1 overall seed and once again hosting a Regional. There was so much to look back on from that 2015 season, starting with simply getting to the Regional for the Roadrunners, which included battling back from the loser’s bracket in the conference tournament. We were even down to our final pair of outs in Mesa, Ariz., before Seattle U started celebrating prematurely in their dugout. Needless to say, we ended up winning that game, and the championship the following afternoon to clinch the first-ever berth into the College Baseball Tournament.
In Los Angeles we were certainly the underdogs. Had it not been for the fact we were located just a few hours north, nobody in that place would have probably heard of us. I mean we were up against Maryland, Ole Miss and the Bruins; nobody gave us a shot. After losing the first game to UCLA, we found ourselves facing Ole Miss in an elimination game. I remember watching infield practice and seeing what equated to a linebacker taking grounders and third base and crushing batting practice home runs for the Rebels. I would find out later that “he didn’t play much because there’s someone better,” as their announcer told me pregame. I figured we were in for a long day.
However, baseball being baseball meant we had a fighting chance. I’m reminded of this game specifically after watching Jacksonville State win their first-ever postseason game in this year’s tournament. I can relate to that moment as I witnessed CSUB do the same. Not only did they eliminate an SEC powerhouse in Ole Miss, but they won the first postseason game in the Division I history of both CSUB baseball and CSUB Athletics in general. I remember snapping a photo of the final box score from the press box with the caption on social media of “that just happened.”
Our season came to an end the following night against UCLA once again, but we made a few more memories along the way. A home run here and there, a defensive play that made SportsCenter Top-10, a pitcher in one James Barragan who literally took a comebacker-line drive off his chest, picked the ball up and threw the runner out. It would be the final out he recorded in his CSUB career as he not only yelled in excitement after the play, but also walked off the field tipping his cap to the fans in attendance who also knew his career was finished. To this day I credit that young man with having the greatest exit in what baseball I have witnessed in my time on Earth.
I drove back and forth from Bakersfield to Los Angeles that weekend for all three games, and had plenty of Tehachapi friends stop by my outside broadcast location to pat me on the back and say hello. It was great seeing the communities outside of Bakersfield that understood the magnitude of the moment and knowing that they were proud that I was a part of history, and they were too.
I’ll always remember 2015 CSUB Baseball this time of year. I was blessed to be a part of a championship team that made history for their sport and their community. As I watch these games on television these days, I realize how lucky I was to actually be a part of it.
I have a championship ring in a safe that serves as a physical reminder, and now each spring when the airwaves fill with college baseball tournament games, I have a mind full of memories that reinforce what a special time that was.
Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides in Tehachapi. He can be reached at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are his own.