College World Series: Miami head coach and CWS veteran Jim Morris impressed by Arizona
OMAHA, Nebraska — Four coaches took the podium Friday afternoon at TD Ameritrade Park, one of them had 12 more College World Series head coaching appearances than the other three combined.
Oklahoma State, UC-Santa Barbara, Arizona and Miami may all fall under the same College World Series bracket this weekend, but Miami head coach Jim Morris is in a class of his own when it comes to coaching in Omaha.
Morris, in his 34th year of coaching, knows his favorite Omaha steakhouse by heart.
He’s made this trip 13 times as the head coach of the Hurricanes, and twice he’s led Miami to national titles (1999 and 2001).
Oklahoma State head coach Josh Holliday has seen his fair share of College World Series baseball too. He made it to Omaha as a player in the late ‘90s, and then as an assistant coach at both Arizona State and Vanderbilt.
UC Santa-Barbara coach Andrew Checketts and Arizona’s Jay Johnson had never been to the College World Series—not as a player, coach or fan.
“I was going to ask coach Morris for some tips, but he wasn’t too willing to give them,” Johnson joked.
Before the press conference, Morris roamed the media room with the demeanor of a patriarch. As far as college baseball circles go, he is one.
Despite recently entering retirement age, Morris’ health—and not to mention his memory—is in as good a shape as any of the younger coaches joining him this weekend.
Morris recalled a 21-year-old Pat Burrell standing in the on-deck circle when he got the call that he’d been selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 MLB Draft.
“I don’t know how Pat Burrell hit,” Morris said. “I wouldn’t be able to talk let alone hit. Knowing Pat, he probably hit a home run. I can’t remember. I’ll have to ask him that.”
That year, Burrell and the Hurricanes fell short of a national title, losing to Long Beach State in an elimination game.
Morris has seen the evolution of college baseball up close.
Twenty years ago, Miami was one of a couple elite programs on the East Coast who regularly made it far in Omaha. Florida State and LSU were among the others.
Much of college baseball’s power back then was connected by Interstate 405.
Morris would take his team out to Los Angeles, Long Beach and Fullerton to get a good taste of “California baseball.”
It was a West Coast brand predicated on small-ball and aggressive base-running. Not much different than what’s buoyed Arizona thus far.
“We got used to playing guys and watching, and it was a challenge for us because we felt if we played guys like a California guy, it gets us ready to play because you’ve got to play well if you’re going to beat these guys,” Morris said.
California is no longer a breeding ground for Omaha, with exception to UCLA’s recent success.
In accordance to the wider college sports landscape, college baseball’s power structure is now located somewhere between Texas and the Atlantic coast.
Yet one-half of Miami’s regional consists of teams back west.
Morris sees similarities between Johnson’s Arizona club and the West Coast programs he used to face regularly.
“From watching Arizona on tape, what they do, they bunt a lot,” Morris said. “They play California baseball. That’s what it reminds me of.”
On Saturday night, Morris and the Hurricanes once again went up against the California brand, although this time the opposing team’s uniforms read “Arizona.”
Whether these Arizona Wildcats are revitalizing a long-standing brand of West Coast baseball or forging their own identity is something left for folks younger than Morris to debate.
“They’ve got an outstanding club,” Morris said following Arizona’s 5-1 win over the Hurricanes on Saturday.
Morris didn’t need to add anything more. By this point in his career, he knows a special group when he sees one.
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