I had a recent talk with Dust Devils second baseman Erik Wetzel about his experience with Fresno State at the College World Series in June.
When I first approached him about doing a feature story (it hasn’t run yet, so you online folks get a sneak peak), he was a bit timid about the idea.
“I don’t have very much to say. I’m pretty boring,” he said.
Then, I began asking him to reflect on his time with the recently-crowned NCAA champion Fresno State Bulldogs. He told story after story about their 40-day road trip, recalling virtually each one with a smile.
“When you’re on the road, that’s the best time to get to know one another and get closer as a team,” he said. “You’re living with each other, and there’s nothing else to do but hang out with each other. That’s what really did it for us. We got real close and learned how to play perfect together.”
Wetzel, who was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 13th round, lived the dream of every college player in the land as the Bulldogs made the trip to Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., for the Bulldogs’ memorable run to the title.
Fresno State was a huge underdog, barely sneaking into the 64-team field. But everything came together at the right time, and — as Muhammad Ali put it best — the Bulldogs shocked the world when they beat Georgia for the title.
“I was watching the biggest upsets on ESPN. They had the 1980 (Olympic) hockey team and the (1969 Super Bowl champion New York) Jets,” Wetzel said. “It was cool they were showing all those teams up with us. “I watched Miracle as a senior in high school and got chills. I was in awe of that feat, and now they’re putting (Fresno State) in the same breath with them.”
Against Georgia, he had a chance to play opposite a pair of future teammates — pitcher Stephen Dodson and third baseman Ryan Peisel. Wetzel singled in his only at bat against Dodson during a 19-10 Game 2 win.
He and Peisel crossed paths only a few times despite both being named to the CWS All-tournament team. The first time was after Peisel hit a grounder between short and third in the first inning of Game 1.
“I probably wasn’t as nice as I could have been,” Wetzel said. “He hit a single that went through the six hole. Our outfielder took his time to get to it, so Peisel sprinted to second for a double. So I was kind of ticked off.”
But the pair have been regular contributors with the Dust Devils, getting the majority of starts at third and second base since their arrival. Through his first 13 games, Wetzel is hitting .304 with five RBIs and six runs.
But it’s more fun to hear him talk about the CWS, especially his attempt to dive onto the celebratory pile of FSU players following the final out.
I’ve checked it out on YouTube and it’s HILARIOUS!!!! Go to this link and watch the clip named ‘Fresno State wins College World Series’. It’s a little over three minutes long, but it’s the last 20 seconds or so you want to see.
You’ll see Steve Detwiler making the final out in right field and Wetzel sprinting out to hug him. ESPN will cut away to Georgia players looking sad and then back to the pile of FSU players celebrating at midfield.
The camera circles the pile and at the 3:14 mark, you’ll see a player from the right of the screen flying up and over the pile — missing it completely. That’s Wetzel.
“The only time I got tired was when we got home to Fresno. I was ready to collapse,” he said. “You have a responsibility to the fans, but I was getting like 500 calls a day from reporters asking if I could come down to the station.
“But it’s always fun to talk to the fans about it.”
A few weeks later, he signed with the Rockies for a $100,000 bonus and was sent to Tri-City to begin his pro career.
Of course, he’s not likely to be jumping into any more player pyramids this season, not with Spokane running away with the East Division title.
But he’s had enough great memories already to last him a lifetime.