Once again, the road has led to Omaha for Augie Garrido and Mike Gillespie.
The two played college ball against each other before the Beatles came to America, and both played in the College World Series in the days when a few hundred people showed up to watch. They've coached in the CWS, and won national titles, as the event has grown into one of the nation's great annual summer events.
The 75-year-old Garrido's Texas Longhorns meet the 74-year-old Gillespie's UC Irvine Anteaters on Saturday, with both men hoping for at least one more hurrah in a city that has meant everything to them. The CWS' night game matches Louisville (50-15) against Vanderbilt (46-19) after the showdown between the two veterans.
"If you take our combined ages," Garrido said with a laugh Friday, "we're much older than the National League."
It's been an improbable run to the CWS for both this time around. The Longhorns finished last in the Big 12 a year ago, and some of the folks in Austin were calling for the job of the winningest college coach of all time. Texas (43-19) improved to fifth this year, beat old rival Texas A&M two of three times in regionals and swept Houston in super regionals.
"It means job security," Garrido said.
UC Irvine (40-23) lost eight of its last nine in the regular season and was one of the final four at-large teams picked for the NCAA tournament. The Anteaters went to Oregon State for regionals and won two of three against the No. 1 national seed, and they swept Oklahoma State on the road to reach the CWS.
"They beat a team we couldn't beat," Garrido said, referring to Oklahoma State, "so that puts it in some perspective right off the bat. Coach Gillespie has been here and won the national championship before with USC. The game hasn't changed. He's one of the masterful coaches in the game. He's a very daring coach. If you see his bases-loaded squeeze bunts with two strikes, that takes a certain tenacity."
The afternoon game will mark the 25th time Garrido and Gillespie have coached against each other, with Garrido having won 15 of the previous 24. The most important of those was in 1995, when Garrido's Cal State Fullerton team beat Gillespie's Southern California Trojans 11-5 for the national championship.
Garrido will be going for his sixth national title at this CWS. Gillespie is trying for his second; his first came in 1998 with USC.
Their time together in the game dates to the late 1950s when Garrido played for Fresno State and Gillespie for USC. Gillespie said Garrido was a great player, but he remembers him more for his mouth.
"Those were the days of heavy, heavy, heavy ragging," Gillespie said. "Bench jockeying is a lost art. By rule you can't do it anymore. We would play in these tournaments in the San Diego Marine Corps recruiting depot and stay in barracks. We'd be in the same barracks with Fresno State, and the lights would go out and the ragging would begin. And it was always Augie against the world, and he won. He's almost in a class of his own when it comes to wit and one-liners."
Five things to watch as the College World Series begins:
PITCHING MATCHUPS: UC Irvine will start Andrew Morales (11-2, 1.53 ERA) against Texas' Nathan Thornhill (8-2, 1.57), and Louisville will go with Kyle Funkhouser (13-2, 1.73) against Vanderbilt's Carson Fulmer (6-1, 1.78.) Sunday, TCU will start Preston Morrison (9-4, 1.32) against Texas Tech's Chris Sadberry (5-3, 3.17) and Virginia will start Nathan Kirby (9-2, 1.73) against Mississippi's Chris Ellis (10-2, 2.45).
LONGHORNS KNOW OMAHA: Texas is making its record 35th appearance in the CWS and its eighth since 2000. The Longhorns' 82 wins in the CWS are a record.
DANDY AGAINST VANDY: Louisville has won three straight against Vanderbilt, most recently 11-7 in the third annual Battle of the Barrel Game on May 6. Cole Sturgeon had three doubles and scored four runs in that game. The Cardinals also swept Vanderbilt in a super regional last year.
LOUISVILLE LARCENY: The Cardinals are second nationally in stolen bases with 132. Sutton Whiting leads the team with 37 steals on 43 attempts.
ON DECK: Play begins Sunday in the other bracket, with TCU (47-16) meeting Texas Tech (45-19) in the afternoon and Virginia (49-14) facing Mississippi (46-19) at night.