College baseball lost a larger than life character, even though he never strove to be one

Augie Garrido. (Texassports.com)

Augie Garrido. (Texassports.com)

Augie Garrido was a giant in the college baseball world. He could have made himself bigger than the game. He had every right to as well. Fifteen trips to Omaha, eight while head coach of the Texas Longhorns, five total College World Series championships, twenty conference championships, and the all-time leader in wins.

He didn’t, and that’s what made him even more special.

Garrido was all about his players. The messages from former players like Huston Street, Ben Johnson, and countless others all show that not only was Garrido an innovative on-the-field coach, but one of the best off-the-field mentors as well.

Three cities are essential to the story of Garrido’s managerial career; Fullerton, CA, Austin, TX, and Omaha, NE.

In Fullerton, Garrido showed his style could build a power. Garrido ushered Fullerton into Division I baseball, and turned them into one of the best teams in the West. In more than two decades total at the helm of the Titans, Garrido won three College World Series titles and helped Fullerton make it to Omaha seven times.

He never had a losing season as the head coach of the Titans, and laid the ground work for that trend to continue to the current day.

In Austin, Garrido showed his style could work at a power. Replacing one of the most beloved coaches in Texas athletics history in Cliff Gustafson was a tall task. The saying goes you never want to be the guy after the guy. Garrido didn’t mind.

“We had watched him in the College World Series and we knew what he meant to college baseball and the special person he was,” former Texas AD DeLoss Dodds said in a statement Thursday. “He was absolutely the right guy at the right time.”

Garrido’s small-ball system of bunting, to which he was so stringent he once said he’d make Babe Ruth lay one down, was successful over his 20-year career at Texas leading to eight trips to Omaha, four national finals appearances, seven Big 12 regular season titles, and five Big 12 Tournament titles.

What got him to Texas worked at Texas on the field, but he was just as good, if not better, off the field. Nothing makes this point clearer than his words following a win over Texas State on March 24, 2014 that made him the winningest coach in collegiate baseball history.

“Out of respect for everyone, all the players over all the years, and all the people I’ve worked with, I must stand in front of you and say this means a lot to me,” Garrido said. “The players play the games. The rest of us, we’re all supporting the players in different roles.”

In Omaha, Garrido combined what was successful in Fullerton and Austin to become a figure in the city’s baseball history.

He was there 15 times in his 48-year baseball career and became a central and lasting character in college baseball’s Mecca. His game and people management were constantly on display, but nothing might be more lasting an image of that management than Chance Wheeless’ walk-off home run in the semi-finals against Baylor to send the Longhorns to the 2002 championship series.

“When he swung at the changeup, I felt I had been misled,” Garrido said in 2002, quoted by Inside Texas’ own Clendon Ross. “When he hit the home run, I thanked him, I thanked his mother and father, I thanked their mothers and fathers, and everybody that had anything to do with Chance Wheeless being on this planet.”

In one of the most important moments of his career, Garrido could have taken credit for making the decision to pinch-hit Wheeless. Instead, he chose to do what he always did; give credit and thanks to the people who helped him get to the position he was in.

The game of baseball has lost one of its biggest figures at the amateur level. The cities of Fullerton, Austin, and Omaha have lost one of the most charismatic components of the respective cities’ history.

More importantly, the world has lost one of the most caring and influential believers in and mentors of young people.