No More For 'Nine'
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Trailing Cal State Fullerton 4-2 and down to the team's last out, Stanford's center fielder Jack Klein hit a hard one-hopper to second base. Unfortunately for Klein, Titans' second baseman Sahid Valenzuela fielded it cleanly, and as the ball landed in the glove of Titans' shortstop Timmy Richards at second base, the Cardinal dugout fell silent. There wasn't a single player moving as they watched with disappointment as Cal State Fullerton celebrated on their field. But in the far corner of the dugout, there was one person moving, someone with arguably the most to be disappointed about.
As his team struggled to react to its season ending, Stanford coach Mark Marquess pushed his chair back, stepped out of the dugout and started moving across the field quickly to congratulate Titans' head coach Rick Vanderhook. Watching Marquess shake the hands with the opposing coaching staff, someone who didn't know any better might think it was just another out-of-conference game in February. Only it wasn't just another out-of-conference game and it wasn't just the end of another season. For Marquess, it was the end of one of the most illustrious and respected coaching careers in the history of college baseball.
Marquess had, of course, announced he was retiring at the end of this season last June, so the loss meant that, after 41 seasons and 1,600 wins, the tenure of the coach who even reporters sometimes just call “9”, was officially over. He just didn't seem ready to act like it quite yet.
“It really hasn't sunk in yet, I've done a good job of keeping focused on the team, I really have. Now I have time to focus on what is next for me,” Marquess said. “Maybe when I get up tomorrow morning and I am not going to go to the office (it will sink in), because this time of year this job is seven days a week. But I don't know. That's the scary part. I really don't.”
It was a frustratingly quick end for Marquess and his players too. The Cardinal entered the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the country having won 21 of their previous 23 games. They were hosting a regional for the first time since 2012 and, as a national seed, they were in a great position to host a Super Regional as well. They just ran into the buzz saw that was the Cal State Fullerton starting pitching rotation.
After junior righthander Connor Seabold (7 IP, 2 ER, 0 BB, 8 K) set the tone on Thursday afternoon and fellow junior lefthander John Gavin (7 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 10 K) kept things rolling against Stanford on Friday night, sophomore righthander Colton Eastman added the exclamation point on last night.
The Preseason All-American was making just his fourth start since returning from a season-long stint on the disabled list, but he said that it “felt like I was never gone” and it looked like it too. Eastman pounded the strike zone with a fastball that sat 88-89 and a slider-changeup mix, allowing just two hits and one unearned run in 6.2 innings. That trio, combined with duo of Blake Workman and Brett Conine at the back end of the bullpen, will make the Titans very difficult to beat no matter who they face in the Super Regional.
But even Vanderhook and his players knew that they could think about that later and that tonight was about celebrating Marquess. Make no mistake, the Titans' were most excited about winning the regional, but as Marquess came out of the dugout after the game to one final ovation from the home crowd, Vanderhook and his team tipped their cap towards the retiring legend. And as Marquess made his way across the field for the press conference, the Titans' fans and players gave the Stanford coach standing ovation that Marquess said meant a lot to him.
“I have the utmost respect for coach Marquess,” Vanderhook said after Friday night's game. “I've been in this game for a while and I've had the pleasure of coaching with or against guys like him and Augie Garrido and Gene Stephenson and now they are all gone. Do I want to see Mark go? No.”
Despite the fact that he had just finished his last day at work at the only job he had known for the past 40 years, Marquess was in good spirits after the game. He joked about everything from coaching little league to doing his second guessing from the comfort of the bleachers now. He made it a point to thank everyone in sight, including but not limited to, his wife, his daughters, his players, the school operations staff, the NCAA officials and even some of the veteran reporters who had been covering the team for years. It felt more like a celebration than a funeral.
When he was listing off the legends of the college baseball coaching ranks, Vanderhook seemed to unintentionally drive home the point that being successful at something for 40 years is incredibly difficult. Marquess might not have been ready to put his incredible career in perspective. But his wife Susan summed it up nicely for him.
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At a family dinner, a few weekends before the start of the postseason, Susan got up to give a little toast. “I told them that a few weeks before Mark and I got engaged, my father said to me, 'are you sure you want to marry a baseball player?'” Susan remembered. “My dad is in heaven now but I looked up right then and said 'Dad, I think it all worked out'.