The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

May 4, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: UT’s Garrido remembers his first ride on country roads

MORGANTOWN — The last out had come minutes earlier, and the University of Texas players stood before their fans on Hawley Field, flashing them the “Hook ‘em Horns” sign and celebrating an important 2-0 victory over West Virginia University in the middle game of the final series at Hawley Field.

Off to one side stood an elderly man with a weathered face, a man whose birth predated World War II, yet there he was wearing the knickered baseball uniform and enjoying the victory as if it were his first, instead of the 1,848th of his career, the most ever by a collegiate baseball coach.

As if someone could have won more.

This, however, was the first of those collegiate victories in West Virginia … but don’t you go thinking that he is a stranger to West Virginia.

“I’ve been telling my guys that I’ve been to West Virginia,” he said, “but they don’t believe me.”

It’s actually been 51 years since Augie Garrido was assigned to the Charleston team in the Eastern League as a 23-year-old prospect in the Cleveland Indians farm system. Now, he stood there in front of his dugout with the memories gushing back to him.

“We were in the Eastern League, and we had some road trips,” he said, forgetting that he was talking to someone from West Virginia for whom every conference road game is a road adventure, from Ames, Iowa, to Lubbock, Texas.

“We had to go all the way to Springfield, Massachusetts,” he said. “People thought we couldn’t win the league because of the long road trips.”

That trip to Springfield may not sound so bad today, but this was 1963, and the road trips in the Eastern League were done on a bus … and not the luxury cruisers teams now ride in if they have to go on a bus journey.

No Internet, no TV, no films … just talk to your teammates.

But sometimes it was, well, an adventure.

“When we broke spring training we rode all the way to Charleston from Tucson on a rickety yellow school bus,” Garrido recalled.

He had played his first two season in the Carolina League at Burlington, hitting .285 the second year.

And at Charleston, well there’s a reason he has fond memories, although it didn’t start so well.

“We lost the first seven or 11 games,” he said.

But the team recovered and why not. The centerfielder was Tommie Agee, a World Series hero with the Miracle Mets. Tommy John was one of the pitchers, just a kid with a good arm then, using it to win nine and lose only two games.

Jackie Hernandez, who played some shortstop with the Pirates in their good years in the early ”70s, also played on the team, as did Duke Sims, who went on to be a big league catcher.

In that surrounding, Garrido went on to have his best season, batting .300 and finishing second in the batting race. His memory told him he finished second to Hall of Famer Tony Perez, but Perez didn’t play his first game in the minor leagues until the next season, but rest assured it was a player of that caliber that beat him out.

Most kids at that age are pushing to get to the major leagues, but Garrido was different.

“I was 26 years old, and when I signed a contract and you could spread your bonus in those days, so I spread mine out over that five-year period. I had a major league minimum salary. I played the five years and I knew where I stood,” he said.

“I knew I could play in the major leagues but that I would be a journeyman player and I didn’t think it was worth sticking with it. I satisfied myself. I went to three spring trainings with Cleveland. I did well in those spring trainings but I didnt want to live the lifestyle of a ball player and I was ready to get on with my life.”

And so he set off his life’s work, coaching college kids and teaching, putting to use his undergraduate degree from Fresno State and graduate degree from San Luis Obispo.

“I was fine with it when my career ended. I was done with college, I had my teaching credentials. Every year I went back to graduate school, so I had a master’s degree so I was ready to go,” he said.

He coached first at San Francisco State, then at Fresno State before coming to Texas, where he won a pair of national championships.

There’s been talk after a couple of down years that he’s reached the end of the line, and it well could be if he gets his team back to the College World Series he will retire … but he seems to be enjoying it so much that he may just come back.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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