ANNA – For any young baseball player, baseball coach or baseball fan, it’s an atmosphere that must be experienced at least once: The College World Series, held each summer in Omaha, Nebraska. That’s the verdict of Anna Coyotes baseball coach Joey Hector, who with his son Rawley, 14, recently returned home from their first pilgrimage to this mecca of collegiate baseball.
“I’m hooked,” Hector said on Tuesday, June 20, a day after their return. “I told Rawley, we’re going to save some money and we’re to make that trip again.”
The CWS, held annually at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, started Saturday, June 17, this year and ended on Wednesday, June 28. (As we spoke with Hector on June 20, Texas A&M had been eliminated — with losses to Louisville and TCU — and Cal State-Fullerton was also out. TCU, Florida State, Louisville, LSU had one loss each and Oregon State and Florida were unbeaten.)
The Hectors made the journey by car, about 20 hours round trip, leaving Tuesday, June 13, and getting home at 4 a.m., Monday, June 19. Hector says while flying is probably the way to go next time, the drive allowed them to make a couple of cool stops along the way. When northbound, they stopped in at Stillwater, Oklahoma, for a tour of Oklahoma State University’s baseball facilities and coming back, they swung by the University of Arkansas, in Fayetteville, for a look at Razorback amenities.
Once at their destination, Rawley — already being eyed by some big-time college baseball programs — had business besides the CWS to attend to in Council Bluff, Iowa, just across the Missouri River from Omaha. His Select team, the Dallas Tigers 14U Godwin club, was one of eight teams invited to the Triple Crown SlumpBuster tournament there and the Tigers swept all their games to take the tourney title.
“We swung the bats incredibly well and pitched good,” Hector said.
Rawley pitched on the last day in the second game of the best-of-three championship series, and allowed two runs in six innings with seven strikeouts.
“The last day was tough,” Hector said. “It was a grind. When you play that many games in a row, and you’ve got the World Series so you’re walking around and you’re enjoying that stuff, it takes a toll on you a little bit. But I thought the kids did a really good job.”
As an added bonus, each SlumpBuster team received 20 free tickets to a CWS game of their choice.
“We picked the first one,” Hector said. “Cal State-Fullerton versus Oregon State. We got done playing that day I think at 12 … and we went straight to the game at 2 o’clock. It’s a great atmosphere. The College World Series is unbelievable. Even outside the stadium was crazy. When you get LSU and Texas A&M and Louisville … you get teams like that there with those fan bases, man, it’s an experience. It’s nuts. It’s really intense.”
For accommodations, Hector and Rawley stayed at a lake house in Lincoln, about 45 minutes from Omaha, along with Dallas Tigers coaches and family members.
“I’ve always heard about (the CWS),” Hector said. “You have people tell you about it and you think, ‘Well, it’s just a baseball game. You can go to any college baseball game.’ But there’s nothing like the Omaha World Series. … If a kid was teetering on whether or not he wanted to play college baseball — if he went there, he’d play college baseball. They’d forego the draft, they’d forego everything to get in that environment. It is second to none.”
“You get to hang out with baseball people and it’s fun,” Hector added. “We got to go hang out with the A&M people a little bit and got to hang out with the TCU guys a little bit.”
The pair attended an Aggie practice at a local high school and also caught a Horned Frog practice at TD Ameritrade. Hector said seeing these players operate up-close was eye-opening.
“You think you know how athletic they are until you see them,” he said. “It’s obvious they don’t miss the weight room, they don’t miss practice. It’s obvious they know how to take care of their business. … And the coaches up there at that level, they’re incredible. To do what they do? They know their personnel really well. They have reasons for everything that they do. I looked at some of their itineraries. They’ve got every minute planned out, down to the millisecond. There’s a reason that they’re the top coaches in the country.”
Hector said he thinks coaches at these heady heights often don’t rely on tried-and-true percentages.
“I think, mostly, they go on ‘gut’ and feel for their team,” he said. “I think they go with what they feel is best for their team at the time – not necessarily lefty-lefty matchups or this or that. They’re so in tune with what those kids can and can’t do. … There’s a reason A&M is always where they’re at and TCU’s where they’re at, and Oregon State. And LSU is always going to be there.”
And, he said, teams that make it this far obviously earn an incredible recruiting advantage.
“Kids want to go play at those programs because they see them at the College World Series,” Hector said.
As for this year’s CWS teams, Hector offered this: “I knew A&M was really young. When you’re young and you don’t experience that, I think it’s tough on those young kids because it’s an overwhelming environment. TCU being there so many consecutive times, (four), I think they have a legit shot even though they lost the first one. You’ve got a powerhouse like LSU, they’re always there. But I really think Oregon State’s pretty good. To only lose four games all year, you’ve got to be really good. … All I know is all eight of those teams are incredibly good.
“The thing people don’t really understand about (the CWS) — pitching is so critical,” Hector said. “If you throw your ace the first day, or your ace is your guy and he’s the starter, if you throw him he’s kind of done. So the way they have to manage those pitching staffs, maybe move their best guy to the bull pen, because then he can come in four or five games in a row, there’s so much thinking that goes into that — so much analyzing and looking at matchups.
“After going there, I can’t see why every baseball player’s goal shouldn’t be to go to Omaha,” he said. “That’s how unbelievable it is. … We’ll go back. I don’t know if we’ll go back with (Rawley’s) team playing but we’ll go back. We’ll try to schedule one summer where we don’t have to play baseball that week, just to go back and be in that environment again. It was cool, it really was.”