The national champion Bruins baseball team celebrates at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Reed Hutchinson/UCLA
When is it great to boast "we’re 109?" When you are the UCLA baseball team and you can say that your first NCAA national championship is your school’s record-extending 109th.
On Thursday afternoon, hundreds of blue-and-gold wearing fans happily cheered through the heat at Jackie Robinson Stadium to celebrate the team, which defeated Mississippi State in Omaha to capture UCLA’s first College World Series title. Members of the UCLA Bruin Marching Band and of the UCLA Spirit Squad got the crowd fired up.
"We love these Bruins," said baseball play-by-play announcer John Ramey, who served as emcee at the fan rally. "Not because of what they did, but how they did it."
Ramey noted that this year’s baseball team wasn’t always highly regarded. They lacked big power hitters, instead relying on shutdown pitching and stellar defense. They rallied from deficits four times to win postseason games. "These Bruins are an inspiring bunch," Ramey said, "they play inspiring baseball and they are the national champions."
Head coach John Savage, introduced by Ramey as the "greatest baseball coach in all of the land," proudly held the NCAA championship trophy above his head as he walked from the third-base dugout to the podium near the pitching mound. Savage redirected the applause and cheers to the players, whom he characterized as a "dream team." He said that he loved how his players embraced their underdog role, and he noted that at one point he heard the team’s success attributed in part to luck. "Good luck is a direct result of hard work, good preparation and great execution," Savage said. "Anybody that thinks it’s luck doesn’t know the game."
During his remarks, Savage introduced each player by name as he recited a highlight reel worth of important plays and contributions. He was especially proud to introduce the players who weren’t there because they were playing in summer leagues under the watchful eyes of professional scouts.
Savage also noted that so many of the players he was gushing about were underclassmen. "A lot of the guys you see right there you’ll be rooting for in 2014. It should be a lot of fun," he said.
Emphasizing the spirit of family that surrounded this team, Savage took time to thank everyone associated with the baseball program — from the person who makes the team’s travel arrangements to the groundskeeper at Jackie Robinson Stadium to the student managers to the trainers to former coach Gary Adams, who led the Bruins for 30 seasons. Savage thanked Director of Athletics Dan Guerrero, who played for the baseball team in his student days, and also Jack and Rhodine Gifford, whose names are on the practice hitting facility behind right field.
Former Bruin Eric Karros, the Los Angeles Dodgers' career home run leader and now a broadcaster, said that it wasn’t easy to express how proud he was of this team. "The best baseball being played in Los Angeles right now is by the UCLA Bruins. I made that comment on air," he said.
Rhea Turteltaub, vice chancellor of external affairs for UCLA, represented the university’s administration on the field. "It’s not often I get to be the DH for the chancellor but when I do this is the place I want to do it," said Turteltaub, whose two children have been team batboys at Jackie Robinson Stadium. "To see the growth and what you’ve accomplished — it’s really just a thrill for me to be up there today and congratulate you. We celebrate you today for bringing home trophy number 109, but we treasure you for making it number one for UCLA baseball."
After the remarks and a team photo, fans were invited onto the field to get autographs from the players and coaches. The UCLA baseball jersey that Gio Camino from Orange County was wearing was nearly covered in autographs. "What’s not to love about this team?," he said as his sons were getting a bat and helmet signed.
Pitcher Ryan Deeter said that winning the championship let him know that "all the struggle, it’s all worth it." In between signing autographs, Deeter said that the unofficial team motto was to make the pleasure a little better than the pressure.
After the celebration, the Bruins bussed to Dodger Stadium to be introduced and to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before tonight’s game between the Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.
The baseball team’s triumph clinched the first-ever Capital One Cup for UCLA men’s athletics. The Capital One Cup is awarded to the best men's and women's Division I college athletics programs in the country. The award, which brings prestige and $200,000 in scholarship money, will be presented at the ESPY awards in July.