Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The First Wave

Veterans of Tulane's 2001 victory against LSU remember the passion of that 2001 baseball super regional

Tammy Nunez, The Times-Picayune 
There are many stories about the 10th anniversary of Tulane’s first College World Series appearance, but perhaps none as poignant as the one surrounding first baseman James Jurries.
2001 CWS.jpgTulane beat LSU in the super regional and advanced to the 2001 College World Series.
Ten years ago, Jurries gazed up into the top row of Zephyr Field during the super regional finale against LSU and saw his aunt and uncle, Pam and Gary Jurries, in the stands. They had never seen him play a college baseball game, and it was a powerful jolt for Jurries in an already emotional moment.
Gary and Pam, after all, had their hands full with their daughter Katie, Jurries’ cousin. Katie was born with a severe heart abnormality and a slew of health concerns that required numerous surgeries.
Jurries recalled a grim prognosis for a baby swathed in tubes and cords at the hospital in the days after her birth. He wasn’t allowed to touch her because she was so fragile.
“It was the first time my husband and I had been able to just get a breather to go watch him,” Pam said. “Because we had followed him in high school and any chance we could get to listen to him while he was playing at Tulane, of course we were kind of glued. We were just following him every step, and when we got the opportunity to go, we were just beside ourselves.”
Katie, 19, has since defied the prognosis. But as a 9-year-old during the finale of the super regional against the Tigers, Katie was finally healthy enough for Gary and Pam to steal her away from their Lake Jackson, Texas, home for a trip to New Orleans.
She and countless others were witnesses to history.
The buildup to one of the finest moments in Tulane athletics was storybook.
Super regional tickets were hard to come by, particularly since it was against powerhouse LSU.
“It was football in a baseball stadium, it really was,” longtime Tulane radio announcer Todd Graffagnini said of the 2001 super regional between the Green Wave and LSU. “It was that kind of atmosphere. In the parking lot you had people tailgating Thursday night — they had started in there with the RVs. It was a football weekend, but it was baseball.”
Overflow crowds watched a 13-inning grudge match in the first game, which LSU won 4-3, but Tulane rebounded with a 9-4 victory in Game 2 — setting up the winner-to-Omaha Game 3.
“They claimed 12 (thousand) or 13,000 (attendance). I guarantee you there were 16,000 people in that stadium,” Jurries said. “And Saturday and Sunday, the Tulane fans came early, and they were loud.”
With the Green Wave holding a commanding 7-1 lead and LSU down to its final out, Tulane was on the precipice of history, and the moment was almost unbearable for some.
“My heart was in my throat, and I just remember my heart pounding right before that last out,” Pam said. “I was thinking, this has got to be it, this has got to be it.”
Matt Groff finally ended the waiting by catching a fly ball, sealing the win that propelled Tulane to its first trip to the College World Series. The squad became the first Green Wave team to play for a major national championship in modern history. Tulane’s undefeated 1998 football team was stuck outside the BCS championship picture, being from midmajor Conference USA.
“When we got that final out, everything was in fast motion and slow motion at the same time for me because I realized what had just happened,” Coach Rick Jones said. “I was so relieved, but at the same time I see fans with green on crying uncontrollably.”
‘A very special group’
Ten years later, the moment remains surreal for Jurries.
“I don’t really remember the game as much as I remember what happened in the last out,” Jurries said. “I was at first base and seeing them (his family) going crazy.
“It was one of those moments — I got hit from every angle, you didn’t feel a thing, you were so excited.”
In the press box, Graffagnini, who is quick to embody the emotion of the moment under usual times, struggled to find words.
“In that ninth inning, I knew we were three outs away from doing something we’d never done against a nemesis and a rival over the years, but it didn’t really (sink in) until they dog-piled and maybe until a little bit after,” he said.
Everything and nothing went through Jurries’ mind in that moment.
“All those great players who played for Tulane and weren’t able to make that jump and then in ’01 to get over the hump for the program, for the community, for all Tulane fans and for Coach Jones — it was the greatest memory of my life,” Jurries said. “Truly. I say that with all honestly, it was literally when Groff got that third out; it was the greatest moment of my life other than my marriage.”
The 2001 club, which will be inducted into the Tulane Athletics Hall of Fame this fall, went 56-13. Five players made it to a Major League roster or were invited to spring training in the bigs. Andy Cannizaro led the club with a .395 average and 52 stolen bases (out of 58 attempts). First-round draft pick Jake Gautreau hit 21 home runs and led the team with 96 RBIs.
“We could hit; we could really hit,” Jones said. “We had a balanced attack in that I had three guys in the lineup who could really run: (Jon) Kaplan, Andy Cannizaro and Matt Groff. All three of those guys would hit leadoff for any other team.”
But it wasn’t just talent that pushed the program to its first College World Series.
“We were a bunch of winners,” Jurries said. “Coach Jones always talks about being a winner and what a winner does is hate to lose, and a winner will do anything in his power not to lose, and that team was a bunch of winners. It didn’t matter if we had to sacrifice bunt, it didn’t matter if we had to slash, if our third hole was hitting a run in, we did anything we could possibly do to get a win, so even on a Tuesday night on the road when there was no crowd, we showed up and we played hard and we played to win.”
Gautreau, the captain, led the team in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage (.659). But his greatest contributions might have been in things that never surfaced in a stat column.
“Jake was kind of the go-to guy. Everyone looked at him. He was one of the best buffers between the head coach and us,” Jurries said. “He is that kind of guy. He can get along with anybody in any environment, so it made for a very good solid foundation in terms of leadership.”
“Anyone could have been named captain that year because we were a very, very talented team,” Gautreau said. “We had a great group of guys. I was named captain going into the season, so it was my job to try to help lead that team any way that I could. There’s more than just leading by example on the team. You have to be able to reach out to guys in different ways. But it was an easy job that year.
“It was very special group.”
First to history
The club was stuffed with upperclassmen, many of whom remember coasting into the Auburn Regional in 1999 as the No. 1 seed only to fail to advance. In 2000, Tulane advanced to the Starkville Regional and couldn’t muster the wins to get to the super regional.
“Again, it goes back to the experience factor,” Graffagnini said. “When you’re good, you’re good. That’s one thing, but when you’ve been through it before, you can go into those sort of situations and not panic.
“That’s a team in ’01 that I was with every single day. The big trademark of that team is they had a lot of comebacks. Even though they were good, they would come from behind in games.”
Tulane’s first game in the College World Series ended in a 13-11 loss to Stanford, but the Green Wave rebounded with a 6-5 victory against Nebraska. In its final game in Omaha, Neb., Tulane bowed out with an 11-2 loss to Cal State-Fullerton.
“We’re down by a lot of runs in the last inning, and Jon Kaplan is screaming, ‘All it takes is 30 minutes, just stand here and do this.’ So we were down to our last three outs in a very long season with some very emotional games, and we have one of our team leaders going, hey give us 30 minutes, 30 minutes and we can take this back,” Jurries said. “That’s what kind of team this was. We didn’t (win that game), but it was that kind of mentality.”
The 2001 team didn’t win the national crown, but it came closer in a major team sport than any program in Tulane history to that point.
The emotion of that final out at Zephyr field endures.
“You remember these kind of moments — these kind of teams,” Jurries said. “If I ever talk about a team, it’s the ’01 team. If anyone ever asked about a team, it’s the ’01 team.
“I wasn’t part of the (Tulane’s College World Series) ’05 team, but … we were the first.”
Tammy Nunez can be reached at or 504.826.3405.

© 2011 All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment