Mention the 2004 College World Series to New York Mets infielder Justin Turner, and his smile lights up the room. That was the most memorable season of Turner's life, the year Cal State Fullerton won the title and became one of college baseball's unlikeliest champions.
05/12/2011 10:07 AM ET
Turner cherishes college memories
Mets infielder part of unlikely national title run
By Hal Bock / MLB.com
"It's a highlight of my life," Turner said. "I will never forget that year, who we were and what we went through."
Who they were was a thoroughly mediocre team, struggling through a win-one, lose-one season, with few expectations for anything other than also-ran status in the Big West Conference. "We were 15-16 going into the conference season," Turner said. "It was one of the worse records in school history."
Coach George Horton had tried everything to get the Titans going, including 27 wind sprints, one for each out in a game. He brought in alumni for pep talks, but that didn't work either. The Titans were in a funk until Horton asked for help from Dr. Ken Ravizza, a sports psychologist and professor at Cal State.
Dr. Ravizza had consulted with other sports teams and his message to the Titans clicked. He used motivational quotes and positive reminders plastered around the clubhouse.
"He promised us the greatest turnaround in Titans history," Turner said.
And that's exactly what happened. The Titans won 31 of the next 37 games.
"There were team meetings and we began to get it together," Turner said. "We went 19-2 in the conference. It wasn't easy, but we were all on board.
"I remember playing Texas, the No. 1 team in the country. They pounded us. Afterwards, there was a team meeting and we aired everything out. We held each other accountable."
The players committed to one another and they all agreed to wear their pants legs high, a sort of exercise in bonding.
"If you were late, you had to wear your pants down," Turner said. And nobody wanted to be seen with pants down.
It worked well, until the annual ritual of changing the clocks by one hour. Turner blew the time change. "I was late for stretching and I had to wear my pants down against Long Beach State," he said.
It was an embarrassment, but to his credit, it didn't happen again.
The Titans straightened their season out, making a U-turn just in time. They reached the College World Series with a 47-22 record, fewer wins and more losses than any national champion since Stanford in 1988. They were unseeded and unheralded. And, as it turned out, they were also unbelievable.
The Titans believed in themselves, even if no one else did. When they reached the best-of-3 championship round, there was their old pal, No. 1 Texas, waiting for them. It was the perfect ending to a storybook reversal of fortunes for a team that included future Major Leaguers Kurt Suzuki and Rickey Romero.
Cal State Fullerton, playing in the College World Series for the first time in nine years, beat the Longhorns in two straight games to claim the title.
"It was a moment I'll never forget," Turner said. "I remain pretty close with the guys on that team, and I will for the rest of my life."
Turner was named to the CWS All-Tournament team as a shortstop in his freshman year and as a second baseman in his senior season. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 2006, traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 2008 and was claimed off waivers by the New York Mets last season.
He wears his pants legs low these days but he will always remember the time he wore them high. It's his way to remember the Titans.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.