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Pupil tops teacher: Horton beats Garrido for title
OMAHA-- Cal State Fullerton right fielder Bobby Andrews squeezed a fly ball for the final out of the 2004 College World Series. The Titans players immediately piled into throbbing mass of humanity on the pitcher's mound as they celebrated the national championship they had earned with a 3-2 win.
Coach George Horton exchanged hugs with his staff, thanking them for their advice and teamwork throughout a trying season. He found his family in the stands and made eye contact to thank them for their sacrifices and contributions that allowed him to reach the pinnacle of his coaching career.
Then he went in search of the man who made it all possible. A crestfallen Augie Garrido was in the Texas dugout.
"I tip-toed over there and said thanks for the opportunity," Horton said. "Who knows where I'd be without him."
Maybe Horton would still be coaching at Cerritos (Calif.) Junior College. Maybe he never would have had the urge to enter the profession had he not played under Garrido at Fullerton in 1975-76. Had Horton not joined Garrido's staff at Fullerton in 1991, he wouldn't be the coach he is today.
Garrido and Horton shared much during their six years together, when Garrido was Fullerton's head coach and Horton his associate head coach. They each had their own styles--with Garrido the type to live in the moment and Horton one who likes to meticulously plan out everything--but were able to incorporate their ideas together for the greater good: developing players and young men, and ultimately success on the field.
Horton has made four trips to Omaha since replacing Garrido, who left for Texas prior to the 1997 season. He had never reached the title game before this year. And Garrido owned four national championships, including one for the Longhorns in 2002.
"Our mighty Titan alumni out there have been badgering me to get one of these titles to validate my coaching level," Horton said.
Winning that championship against the former benchmark of success at Fullerton should have been the best validation Horton could find. But it was bittersweet.
"On one hand this is equally special to accomplish this against your mentor that taught you so much, that built Fullerton into a great program," he said, "but my heart goes out to them because they are 180 degrees from what we are feeling right now.
"I think about Augie and hopefully his heart mends quickly."
Garrido and his team were so disheartened by the loss they neglected to accept their second place trophy at the post-game ceremony. He was curt at the following press conference, and no players were available in the locker room after that.
"Augie might seem like he jokes a lot and doesn't care, but he's very competitive," Horton said. "There's a fire burning pretty brightly inside him."
Garrido talked earlier in the week about not being able to remove his personal connection to Horton or Fullerton, but noted that the on-field matchup was of a professional nature and each man must do his job--which was to win the national title. As Horton sent out his thoughts out to Garrido, the mentor still hadnít been able to shift from the professional disappointment to reflect on how his friend's success affected him personally.
"I haven't thought about that yet," Garrido said. "I've got my players to be concerned with. The moment belongs to George. Let him enjoy it. Let those players enjoy it. We've got our players and relationships to worry with, and I can't really refocus right now."
Garrido and Horton matching minds--and similar pitching and defense styles--was a topic of conversation leading up to the CWS finals no matter how much they tried to deflect the attention.
"This is about the wrong people," Garrido said. "George and I are a product of our players. Theyíre the heroes."
Horton, as well-schooled a game manager and deft adjustment-maker as the college game has to offer, even deflected some praise for a strategic maneuver that paid off with a title-game win.
Texas had lefthander Buck Cody and righthanders J. Brent Cox and Huston Street warming in the bullpen when Fullerton No. 8 hitter Neil Walton was due up. Horton chose to pinch-hit for Walton, who had only one hit in the Series, with the lefthanded-hitting Sergio Pedroza. That drove Garrido to call Cody from the pen. Horton countered with righthanded-batting Brett Pill, who hit an RBI triple and scored on a wild pitch to tie the game.
"I'd like to tell you I was that brilliant," Horton said. "I was thinking Street was coming in. I figured it would be Huston or Cox. I didn't know how long the lefthander had been up, and he pitched the day before.
"It wasn't like I out-coached him."
Horton played coy but did drop in one nugget that just made you think what was he really thinking: "Brett Pill has been a more productive pinch-hitter for us this season, probably better than Pedroza."
Call it what you will, but Horton's moves paid off. Garrido chose Cody over Street or Cox, which didnít work as well. So while the player came through as the hero, the coach put him in position to do so.
The Titans players knew how much their coach wanted the win. Second baseman Justin Turner served as a batboy for the 1996 team, Garrido's last as Fullerton coach, and wanted to help his current coach win the title against his mentor.
"That's super sweet," Turner said. "It doesn't have as much of an effect on me, but I'm so glad for coach Horton. I'm glad he got it and glad we won it for him."
Senior P.J. Piliterre, the team's leader and an extension of the coaching staff, wanted to help Horton get a championship ring of his own. Horton still had on his 1995 ring after the win over Texas.
"Coach Horton has a lot of pride in that '95 club," Piliterre said. "I told him I want you to take that off and put ours on. Now he can have pride in our club.
"This was his fourth trip to Omaha (as a head coach) but a lot of people wondered about his credentials because he didn't have a national title yet. He deserves this more than anybody."
There are some interesting parallels between the 2004 Titans and the 1995 Titans. The previous version didn't have the same midseason struggles, but Garrido questioned the team's talent during fall practice. He asked Horton and the rest of the staff to evaluate what they had done wrong and the best way to fix the team for the next year.
Horton might have found himself doing the same thing in the middle of his championship season. His team was 15-16 at one point, and two of those losses were of the embarrassing variety at Texas. They left Horton making plans for a family vacation this June.
In end, both coaches ended up with rings. It's another of the ways things in Horton's career have begun to mirror those in Garrido's.
Garrido often credits Horton with having a large role on the 1995 Fullerton title team--one many experts consider the best college baseball season of all time--and Horton lauded his coaching staff of Dave Serrano, Rick Vanderhook and Chad Baum with plenty of credit for helping him win this championship.
Garrido replaced a giant in the game when he left Fullerton for Texas, replacing Cliff Gustafson after the '96 season. He has gone on to pass Gustafson on the all-time victories list for Division I coaches and has endeared himself to Texas' passionate fans with his consistent trips to Omaha (four in the last five seasons).
The Vallejo, Calif., native wasn't upset with Fullerton and didn't want to leave his native state, but knew he needed more. He got a larger salary himself, but it wasn't about that as much as it was about resources. The kind of economic resources a school with a booming football and basketball program could offer--one like Texas. As Garrido joked to Horton before the final round of the CWS began: "We've got more money than you; we're just going to buy the trophy."
That's feasible at Texas. Not at Fullerton, the only non-Bowl Championship Series school among the eight at this year's CWS.
Now Horton might be starting to look at things the way Garrido did. He doesn't want a giant pay raise. He doesn't want to leave his home in Yorba Linda, Calif. He loves Orange County. He just wants more resources.
And there's a tidy way it can all happen. The UCLA job is open. There have been interviews thus far, but no hires. Maybe a coach from Omaha is on that wish list.
Arizona's Andy Lopez has been rumored as a successor there to Gary Adams since Lopez took Pepperdine to the title in 1992. But Lopez brought a young Wildcats team to Omaha this year, and even though he spent many Mondays flying back to Los Angeles to see his father during the season, he doesn't want to leave a good thing he's got started in Tucson.
"I'm not going to UCLA," Lopez said. "I'll be in Tucson next year."
That leaves Horton. He said he and UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero have not yet spoken. That could change soon, even if it's just a way for him to get more of what he wants for the Titans baseball program.
"I'm very happy at Cal State Fullerton," Horton said. "I like my home, my wife has a job and my children are happy at their schools. I don't need a bunch of money in my pockets; I just need help. Help for my assistants and my staff.
"It's not about being able to win a national championship. Coach Garrido proved you can do that at Cal State Fullerton. It's having to do everything yourself. It's a grind. We don't have six pages of support staff. When Augie says, 'I want this done,' it's done. At Cal State Fullerton, you have to do it yourself. You donít do that at Texas or wherever else. We have two administrators. If you compare that to anybody else in this event, we're getting hammered."
Chalk it up to just one more thing Horton has learned from Garrido.