Cal, USC, Stanford, Santa Clara, Cal State Los Angeles, Cal State Fullerton, Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, Fresno State, Long Beach State, and UC Irvine.
What do all these California universities have in common? Probably a lot of things. I'm guessing that you can get an English major at all of them. But the answer I'm looking for here is that all of these schools have sent a team to the College World Series in Omaha and they have all won at least one game there. Cal, USC, Stanford, Fullerton, and Pepperdine have all won the CWS.
But my alma mater, UCLA, remains on the outside looking in when it comes to wins in Omaha. The Bruins have made two trips to Omaha (1969 and 1997), but in each instance, the Bruins lost their first two games and were eliminated.
And so what's happened this year? UCLA has gone 18-16 and is 3-5 in Pac-10 play after dropping its second straight game at home to first place Stanford. UCLA is five games behind the Cardinal. And since teams only play 24 conference games (3 games against each of the 8 opponents as Oregon doesn't field a baseball team at this time), five games 1/3 of the way through the season is not good.
Now it's possible that UCLA will pick up enough wins down the stretch to qualify for the NCAA tournament. UCLA should be one of the top 64 teams, but the chances of the team making it to Rosenblatt Stadium are slim.
And this leads to the question that has always puzzled? Why does a school like UCLA, which is very good in many sports, always so disappointing in baseball? It's not like the school doesn't attract quality players? Baseball-reference.com lists 63 former Bruins who have made it to the major leagues, including a guy named Jackie Robinson.
Much of the blame had always been laid at the feet of longtime coach Gary Adams, who coached for 40 season (1975-2004) of stunning mediocrity. Adams teams had an overall winning percentage of .544 but just .472 in conference play.
Adams was eased out in favor of John Savage and supposedly good times were on the way. In 2005, Savage tried to rebuild from scratch and suffered through a 15-41 season. In 2006, UCLA went 33-25 and was eliminated in the NCAA tournament in the regionals. In 2007, UCLA went 33-27 and this time was eliminated in the super-regionals by Cal State Fullerton.
With the core of that team back, UCLA was primed to be a national contender. But UCLA has been hammered by local rivals Fullerton twice and Long Beach thrice. USC took two of three from the Bruins at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Stanford goes for the sweep today.
But I still don't understand how a large university, playing in one of the best baseball conferences in the country, with the best group of high schoolers to recruit from, with a great athletic tradition in just about every other sport, can be so disappointing year after year after year after year.
Perhaps I should think up a curse to explain all this. It could sell some books. Maybe I could get an HBO documentary out of it. But I think one very simple explanation is that very few people at UCLA care at all about the baseball team. Most students wouldn't even know where the baseball stadium is unless they drew the misfortune of having to park by it and shuttle to campus? At the UCLA Store, you can find just about every article of clothing emblazoned with the UCLA logo, but if you want to find an authentic baseball cap, you really have to look hard (and they're usually adjustable only, not fitted.) And then you get a light blue cap with a B on it, which has led to people coming up to me and asking "Why is your Red Sox cap the wrong color?" or "Why is your Brooklyn Dodgers cap the wrong color?" (So far, I have not lost my temper when people suggest I am a fan of the Red Sox or BROOKLYN Dodgers.) You can't even get them online from UCLA's website.
I could just be overly pessimistic about this year's UCLA baseball team. The team could pull it together late as Oregon State did last year. But in my heart, I know they won't. Baseball will forever remain the one sport where UCLA is doomed to failure. I've learned to live with it. If I want to see a UCLA team that is accomplished at hitting a round ball with an aluminum bat, I should go watch the softball team.