June 26, 2013
UCLA 8, Mississippi State 0
Photo Gallery by Craig Jackson
Championship Series Game 2
Help Mold Head Coach John Savage
By Sean Ryan
Neb. – Twenty-four years ago, a former high school superstar
returned to his alma mater to coach the pitchers on the varsity
rookie coach grew up the youngest of three boys in a baseball
family. When he was 4 or 5 years old – and the youngest kid on
the block – he’d spend all day playing baseball with his
brothers and other kids in his Reno, Nev., neighborhood. In the
back yard, the brothers played simulated baseball games,
breaking down Major League lineups for hours. And hours. And
Although he thrived in the sport he loved – including being a
sixth-round pick of the New York Yankees and pitching for Santa
Clara before being drafted again and playing a couple years of
pro ball – this was his first time coaching.
got into it because he loves the game of baseball and has a huge
passion for the game of baseball,” said Pete Savage, the middle
brother of the Savage boys.
Twenty-four years later, that passion is palpable.
Savage, the little kid who used to emulate the San Francisco
Giants, woke up today a national champion. His UCLA Bruins
completed a 10-0 run in the NCAA Tournament by sweeping
Mississippi State in the College World Series Championship
Series to claim the school’s first national championship in
baseball and 109th overall.
now, he’s the oldest, he’s at the top of the mountain,” said Len
Savage, the oldest Savage brother, amidst the Bruins’ on-field
celebration at TD Ameritrade Park. “There’s very few rewards in
this challenging game, and right now UCLA is at the top of the
mountain. And they should savor this day, thanks to John and his
staff, and all of the great team. To me, it was the real
definition of team.”
Bruins, who appeared long on pitching and defense and short on
hitting, ran through a gauntlet that included a road sweep of
Cal State Fullerton and Omaha wins over LSU, NC State and North
Carolina before the clincher against Mississippi State.
UCLA way throughout the postseason – and the bulk of the regular
season – included incredible starting pitching, a shutdown
bullpen, a steady if not spectacular defense and a lineup that
proved much more potent than its .247 average. Time after time,
the Bruins worked to make something happen, using hit batters,
walks, errors and sacrifice bunts to set up scoring
opportunities, and time after time, they followed with a
grounder through the infield, sacrifice fly or safety squeeze.
“People say Ameritrade is suited for us,” the Bruins skipper
said on the field where they posted a 0.80 ERA in five CWS
games. “I think there’s some truth to that, but I think you can
say that about a lot of teams. You gotta come out and play and
you gotta pitch, you gotta play defense, you gotta have at-bats.
At the end of the day, I think we earned the right to be called
Savage’s stay at Reno High School and as the coach of the Reno
Knights’ American Legion team was short, as he returned to
Nevada to earn his degree and latched on to Gary Powers’ staff
as a graduate assistant.
he worked his way up, and became my pitching coach and my No. 1
recruiter,” said Powers, who retired this season after 31 years
at Nevada. “That’s where his strength was. He does a great job
with pitching and he could really recruit. That was a great
value to us.
recruited him out of high school. He’s just the kind of person
I’ve always wanted in our program. He’s a quality guy, he’s a
humble guy, he’s a hard worker.”
Savage’s ascent had begun.
became apparent right away that he was going to be a special
coach,” said Pete Savage, who in his own right is a special
coach, having led Reno High to a state title, eight regional
titles and more than 500 wins in 19 years.
five years with the Wolf Pack, USC coach Mike Gillespie
recruited Savage to assist with the Trojans, where he mentored
arms like Seth Etherton, Barry Zito and Mark Prior.
Gillespie, now the coach at UC Irvine, said he didn’t know
Savage at all when he was coaching at Nevada. But he started to
see the young coach more and more at games and events in
couldn’t help but notice that they were doing some winning with
some Southern California players,” Gillespie said. “Then you
come to find out that’s the guy from Nevada, winning, getting
SoCal players, and he’s the guy getting them.”
on Gillespie’s staff at USC opened when Frank Sanchez became the
coach at Pepperdine.
Together for four years, the Trojans reached the NCAA Tournament
each season and advanced to Omaha twice.
impact was substantial, I mean, borderline giant,” Gillespie
said. “There’s really no negative…in my view he’s spectacular at
Trojans won the 1998 national title, finishing with a 49-17
record, the same mark as Savage’s Bruins this season.
looked at the record yesterday, and I had a good feeling that,
we’re going to end up with the same number of wins and the same
number of losses,” Savage said.
can’t say enough for what Coach Gillespie’s done for me and my
family,” said Savage, pausing for nearly 10 seconds and holding
back tears. “He’s the reason why I’m here…Mike hired me in 1997
and it changed my entire life.”
Pete Savage: “He kind of went from the local Nevada baseball
coach to the national stage at USC. That’s when his career
started to take off.”
next stop was UC Irvine, whose baseball program had been dropped
in 1992. Irvine’s athletic director at the time was Dan
Guerrero, who later would hire Savage at UCLA. Savage left the
Trojans after the 2000 season and began building toward the 2002
season, when the Anteaters started anew. Two years later, Savage
guided Irvine to the NCAA Tournament.
that season, Guerrero beckoned again, and Savage has been
building the Bruins ever since, reaching the College World
Series for the third time in four years.
first thing that we all need is good players,” said Cal State
Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook, who coached with Savage for
three years at UCLA. “That was the first blueprint. He went out
and got good players the first year…they consistently get the
right players who go to school and fit into the system that they
want to play.”
there’s more to it than just good players.
just real diligent and detailed at what he does, and he always
has been,” Vanderhook said.
brothers cite an incredible work ethic that mixes with other
just see basic fundamentals, loyalty, the ability, precision,
competitiveness and back to family,” Len Savage said.
Savage, who was at the College World Series but had to return
home before the championship, added: “The difference-maker is
how he treats people. How he develops his players, how he
mentors his assistant coaches. That’s the difference-maker
there, how he treats people.”
those players, Savage has had a knack for both recruiting the
best in guys like Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole and developing
guys into the best. Players like pitchers David Berg and Grant
Watson, who were walk-ons when they arrived in Westwood, and
Nick Vander Tuig, who had Tommy John surgery during his senior
year of high school.
praise is effusive.
Leadoff man Brian Carroll said: “He’s pretty much a magician.
The stuff that he does, the stuff that he has us doing. He got
our whole team to buy in. This is what happens, the best team in
Adam Plutko offered: “It’s his resilience and it’s hard work. No
one works harder than him, and I say that as a statement that I
know is true. I know no one works harder than him, there’s no
Berg, the former walk-on who has appeared in 101 games in two
seasons and this season set a new NCAA record for saves with 24,
breaking the mark of Jack Krawczyk, who saved 23 for Gillespie
and Savage at USC in 1998: “We believe he’s the best coach in
the country. Tonight, I think that really proved it. We’re
playing a great offensive team for two straight days with a
couple great pitchers, he really had the right plan to shut it
down. You always believe in what he’s calling. You can always
trust that whatever he calls is the right call, you just have to
go make a pitch. He knows how to develop pitchers, he’s great in
games and out of games. He’s really developed this program into
a national-title contender year in and year out.”
Savage, like many dads, was a Little League baseball coach. And
he was a huge baseball fan.
spent his days working in the family business, Savage & Son, a
120-year-old plumbing and heating company that now is a
fifth-generation company with Len and Pete leading the way –
according to Pete, the company holds the longest active
contractor’s license in Nevada. L.J., short for Leonard Joseph,
spent his nights, weekends and free time instilling a passion
Savage, says Pete Savage, is the most competitive person he’s
ever met, adding that his mother doesn’t miss a pitch of UCLA
baseball, whether it’s on TV or GameTracker.
game of baseball has always been something that has been
important for our family,” he said. “It’s always been a
solidifying factor in our family.”
Savage, who also played at Santa Clara, offered: “Dad was the
baseball fan, and both he and Mom taught us the love of the
Savage’s love for the game took him from his back yard in Reno
to getting a phone call during dinner from George Steinbrenner
telling him he’d been drafted by the Yankees. It took him back
to Reno, back to where it all began and where he married his
wife Lisa, the daughter of Nevada football coaching legend Chris
Ault. And it took him to Southern California, where like Nevada,
he’s made an incredible impact on three different programs.
Savage passed away in August of 2010, shortly after UCLA lost to
South Carolina in the College World Series Championship Series.
A year earlier, former Bruin first baseman and huge supporter
Jack Gifford passed away.
Neither had the chance to see the Bruins claim college
baseball’s brass ring.
couldn’t do it without my wife Lisa,” Savage said. “This is for
my dad, this is for Jack, and my entire family.”
family with baseball in its blood.
(head shot courtesy of UCLA Media
Relations, other photos by Sean Ryan)