Mike Gillespie, 71 years young, has as a mind as nimble as a leaping Ozzie Smith double-play turn at second base. It is, the UC Irvine baseball coach admits, as much a curse as a blessing.
The former comes into play when attempting to scrub a particularly heart-wrenching defeat from his memory. And one such setback — a two-run rally by host Virginia with two outs and none on in the ninth inning of the deciding game of the Super Regional on June 13 that sent the winner to the College World Series — is a mental and emotional scab that still oozes agony.
"I can't speak for anybody else, but I will never get over it. Ever, ever, ever," Gillespie said of the 3-2 loss to the Cavaliers, then the top national seed, which also eliminated the Anteaters in the 2009 Irvine Regional at Anteater Ballpark.
"In 1974 my [College of the Canyons] team was ahead, 15-2, in a game that put the winner in the state championship game. We lost, 21-15, to San Diego City after they had given up on the game and put all their subs in. There was a guy, whose name I will never forget, named Detroit Bugg, who did not even start the game for them. He came in and hit three three-run home runs. So, between 1974 and today, there have been about a half-dozen games, including that LSU deal [leading, 7-4, going into the ninth inning of Game 2 of a 2008 Super Regional in which a victory would have meant a trip to the College World Series, only to see the host Tigers rally to win, then pound the 'Eaters in Game 3 to advance to Omaha] that you just can't forget.
"So, I will never forget it. Ever. I'll need to go full-on demented to forget it. And that's probably not that far off."
Perhaps as disheartening as the dramatic end to the season for members of the UCI program, was a late-season illness endured by Pat Shine, UCI's associate head coach and recruiting coordinator.
Shine, was diagnosed with dermatomyositis, a connective-tissue disease that sidelined him for eight games and limited his role in about a dozen other contests. Gillespie took over for Shine as the team's third base coach the final 23 games.
Shine, who dropped more than 20 pounds due to debilitating chemotherapy treatments, was in the dugout for the entire postseason.
And while his condition prompted him to bow out of a summer coaching commitment with the Compton-based Urban Youth Academy Barons, Gillespie said Shine has been spending full days working diligently in the UCI baseball office, and has been told he can look forward to a full return to his on-field duties next season.
"He is working, he looks good and he feels good," Gillespie said of Shine, who has been his right-hand man during a four-year tenure that represented Shine's second go-around as a UCI assistant. "And we expect him to keep getting better. The doctor has led him to believe he will get to the point where he can be real physical and have the thing managed."
Gillespie was happy to field a question about the strong inaugural season of UCI pitching coach Jason Dietrich, who stepped in after Ted Silva left after the 2010 season to take the same job at Loyola Marymount.
"I think he did a great job," Gillespie said of Dietrich, whose staff produced a 2.90 earned-run average and gave the 'Eaters their fourth straight Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year in All-American junior Matt Summers.
"The proof is in the proof," Gillespie said. "There were some challenges there [UCI lost its weekend starters and its closer, all three of whom had been All-Americans, after the 2010 campaign]. But you look at the improvement of Summers and [sophomore] Matt Whitehouse [who had surrendered 32 earned runs in 36 2/3 combined innings in 2010] and you look at how well freshmen [Andrew Thurman and Jimmy Litchfield] did and you see Jason really grew into the job."
Gillespie praised Cal State Fullerton's recent hiring of longtime Titans assistant Rick Vanderhook, who worked the past two seasons at UCLA under former UCI head man John Savage, the pitching coach for years under Gillespie at USC.
Vanderhook takes over for Dave Serrano, another former UCI coach who departed Fullerton for Tennessee last month.
"I like him," Gillespie said of Vanderhook. "I've known him a long time and I'm glad for him. I can't hate Fullerton as much anymore."
Gillespie also commented on Serrano's move to Tennessee, which reportedly more than tripled his salary.
"I thought it was a no-brainer," Gillespie said of Serrano's decision. "It's life-changing money."
But Gillespie said Serrano will also face a strong test battling more established Southeastern Conference programs.
"Sometimes you have to be a little bit careful of what you wish for," Gillespie said, "because that will be a challenge there."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun