If California figures out a way to win the College World Series, a Disney movie will surely have to follow. Their 2011 season has been that improbable. Mickey Mouse would have no choice but to come knocking down the doors up in Berkeley. After all, this is a program that was left for dead before the season and is now back in the College World Series for the first time since 1992.
Before practices started this season, Cal dropped a bomb on their baseball program. A team that had been playing for over 100 years and won the very first College World Series was going to be cut after the season.
With the cost of running a baseball program increasing every year it hadn't become the most uncommon thing to see baseball program's be cut, but that was up in the north. The teams being cut played in the cold, in small conferences and had little to no chance of ever winning much. Cal played just outside San Francisco though and in the Pac-10. They had won national titles before and were in a fertile recruiting ground. That was not the type of program that anyone saw being cut.
The news that the program was getting the axe came not long before the start of practice. While the team should have been focused on a return trip to the postseason and developing a program built on a sophomore class that got plenty of experience as freshmen, they were instead trying to figure out their futures. What would the coaching staff do for jobs? What would the players do to continue their careers? Was there any chance to save the program?
With those questions still unanswered the Golden Bears had to start their season and it started well. A dominating weekend at a good Coastal Carolina tournament, a win over Rice and taking care of business against weaker teams, Cal was flying.
In the middle of the season the Bears got good news. Supporters of the program had raised over $10 million to save the program. On the field, Cal kept rolling along. It wasn't a dominant season, but they were back in the postseason after a fifth place Pac-10 finish.
Fittingly, the Bears postseason started with a loss so they had to win four straight games to win their Regional. One win, two wins, three wins. Cal was on the verge of a Regional title and would move onto the Super Regional if they could beat Baylor for a second time. They fell behind 7-1 in the sixth inning before storming back to win the game 9-8 after a four-run ninth.
In the Super Regionals Cal actually got to host, but not really at home. Their stadium is so poor that it could not host postseason baseball and Cal had to go host the Super Regional at Santa Clara. In front of a packed house, the Bears busted out their big bats with home run after home run. Dallas Baptist had no chance and the Bears defeated the Patriots in two games to earn a spot a the College World Series for the first time since 1992.
Probable Starters For First Two Games
Justin Jones, Erik Johnson - A lefty and a righty, both with very good stuff give the Golden Bears a chance each and every game they take to the field with 2.93 and 2.91 ERA's respectively. There is no doubt that both are good enough to help Cal get W's, but the question is whether or not they can handle the big stage in Omaha.
Tony Renda - The Pac-10 Player of the Year hit .335, proved effective trying to steal bases and was the go-to guy in the Cal lineup. He's the team's best hitter and can turn games with his ability to find gaps, but he rarely draws walks and will be tested by the elite pitching staff they'll see in Omaha.
Going up against Danny Hultzen and Virginia in the College World Series opener will be rough and that would set the Bears up for a quick exit from Omaha. That said, this is a team that has defied the odds time and time again so why not again now?