Arizona’s baseball team is back in Omaha, Neb., for the 18th time in pursuit of its fifth College World Series title. Memories from Arizona’s championship teams will be presented at AllSportsTucson.com in the coming days. Arizona begins play in the CWS on Saturday at 4 p.m. against defending champion Vanderbilt.
Arizona returned to Omaha, Neb., for the 1980 College World Series after the Wildcats literally went under during the tournament in 1979.
“We won our first game against Miami then lost two straight,” recalled Wes Clements, Arizona’s first baseman. “We did have a tornado warning that year, so they had us go down to the lowest floor of the hotel.”
Arizona lost its last two games of the 1979 CWS to the two teams that eventually played in the championship game — Arkansas and Cal State Fullerton. The Wildcats lost 10-3 to the Razorbacks and 16-3 to the Titans, who went on to win the title with the late Augie Garrido as coach.
“That first year we were good but younger and in many ways we were just not ready for that stage,” Clements mentioned. “Omaha is the Mecca of college baseball, holy grounds of college baseball, you hear about it but when you get there it takes on a whole other life.
“Only eight teams in the country are standing and all eight are as good as you are.”
Arizona went to Omaha in 1980 with 20 losses, the second-most total to fellow Six-Pac member Cal, which was 41-21-1. Bob Milano’s Bears and Kindall’s Wildcats (40-20-1) advanced to Omaha after finishing 17-13 in a tough conference.
The Wildcats lost their third straight game at Rosenblatt Stadium dating to 1979, a 6-1 setback to St. John’s and ace Frank Viola, who went on to a storied major-league career with the Minnesota Twins.
“I got lucky and hit a home run that game for our lone run but that loss was the big wake up call for us; we were in the losers bracket after Game One,” Clements stated. “The things I remember about 1980 are our game against Cal, 10-9 we win but it was back and forth and Dwight Taylor had a big hit with two outs and Alan Regier had a big pinch-hit single that kept an inning going.”
Arizona’s win over the Golden Bears put the Wildcats into the championship game against Hawaii on June 6, 1980.
“I was on first base when Scott Stanley hit the grand slam in the final against Hawaii to give us the lead, and of course, catching the final out, a throw from (second baseman) Ron Quick was great,” Clements said of the 5-3 win. “I was just glad I didn’t drop it.”
Clements is now a witty ESPN commentator for college baseball games. He worked the games in which Arizona played during the Tucson Regional and Super Regional this month. The Wildcats won both to reach the College World Series for the 18th time.
He was a member of the 1980 All-College World Series Team along with outfielder Terry Francona and pitchers Craig Lefferts and Greg Barger.
Francona, the greatest player in Arizona history, was selected the Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series.
“I think what we all remember is Jerry Kindall,” Clements said. “We didn’t know it at the time but he was going to be the nicest man we had ever met in our life and the biggest influence in our baseball careers.
“He impacted our future as players, coaches and managers.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District