DALLAS — As it turns out, there is crying in baseball.
Augie Garrido has died.
The eternal kid breathed his last in a California hospital Thursday morning, the victim of complications from a stroke. But if there ever is a celebration in the afterlife, there’s one heckuva party going on there now. And it will definitely go extra innings.
I loved Augie Garrido.
Always have since the first day we met in the spring of 1975, when this suave, wise-cracking Cal State Fullerton coach brought his baseball team to town to play the Longhorns. I was completely mesmerized.
By his smooth charm. By his keen wit. By his California cool. By his love of the game.
He was just so disarmingly funny. This was a guy whose Fullerton team once lost consecutive games so fast at the College World Series that he cracked, “We used the same air sickness bags both coming and going.”
Garrido was a true original. The son of a shipyard worker, he was encouraged to go into the family business rather than chase this silly dream of his to coach a kid’s game. What could he ever amount to?
But he never got over his lifelong love affair with baseball, and we were all the better for it. He called baseball “a cruel mistress,” but he was hopelessly infatuated. And thousands of young men were lucky enough to call him coach during his journey to 1,975 wins and five national titles stretched over four decades.
He was by far the most accomplished, yet most humble, grounded person I’ve come across in a half century of covering sports. Not a shred of pretense.
As for his legacy, his dad had no idea Augie would become the greatest college baseball coach who ever lived, with all due respect to USC’s Rod Dedeaux, who always had access to more talent. Garrido, don’t forget was a fixture at the College World Series.
“He was the mayor of Omaha, as far as I’m concerned,” Don Losole told me Thursday. “He represented the College World Series.”
Losole should know. He was on a first-name basis with Augie, who frequented the Lo Sole Mio Italian restaurant on 32nd Avenue during every trip to Omaha, home to the CWS since 1950. One time, Garrido he even brought his buddy Kevin Costner with him. Augie would always start with a Tito’s on the rocks before ordering the chicken piccata along with “a good red wine.” Then, he’d hold court.
“He was one of the most fascinating people I ever knew,” said Losole, the owner of Lo Sole Mio. “And one of the nicest I ever met in my life.”
But he never took himself too seriously. When a throng of reporters showed up at a practice years after his drunken driving conviction, Garrido joked, “What, did I get arrested again?”
Augie wasn’t cheated. He squeezed every ounce of life out of his 79 years, and I doubt he really ever had a true regret. We were all blessed to be a part of his audience whether he was telling us to expect the unexpected, regaling us with stories of his youth or acting as a Zen master, one who would sprinkle some fairy dust on a pinch-hitter only to watch him drive in the winning run.
He always returned to the simplicity of the game. Don’t worry about the score. The outcome will take care of itself. Worry about advancing the runner, fielding your position, hitting the cutoff.
Well, today’s outcome is a sad one as we mourn his passing.
Augie always said, whenever asked about his expectations for an upcoming game, to “expect the unexpected.” The unexpected came Thursday.
I loved him.