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Why the College World Series is my favorite

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Posted: Saturday, June 16, 2012 12:00 am

Given my choice between watching the College or Major League World Series, I'd pick college without hesitation. Even in the opening rounds, the players are more fundamentally well-schooled in the basics: advancing the runner, hitting the cut off man and laying down a bunt. And, to be honest, if those same players put on a San Francisco Giants uniform and passed themselves off as big leaguers, few in AT&T Park's stands could tell the difference. Many of the college pitchers throw over 90 miles per hour and field their positions flawlessly.

The College World Series has a rich tradition dating back to 1947 when Kalamazoo, Mich. hosted the event. Two players from that year's final, which pitted the California Bears against the Yale Bulldogs, went on to achieve outstanding success in their professional careers: Jackie Jensen with the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators, and George Herbert Walker Bush, United States president.

Although Jensen pitched for the Bears, by the time he was named the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1957, he played outfield. Bush was a slick-fielding, no-hit first baseman and a decorated World War II hero. Many of the players, including Jensen, had military experience.

In the series opener, Jensen came through with a pinch hit single to drive in Cal's tying run. Recalled Red Mathews, Yale's third baseman, Jensen was "... strong and fast and big. I was very impressed with him." The game wasn't close for long. The Bears scored 11 runs in the top of the ninth to win easily; Cal 17, Yale 4.

The series has a best two of three format. In the next day's deciding double header, Jensen started the opener. The "Golden Boy," as Jensen was known, gave up a run in the first inning but then held Yale in check until the bottom of the fourth. The Elis made a fatal mistake when manager Ethan Allen ordered Cal's No. 8 hitter walked to face Jensen. As Bush recalled: "(Jensen) hit one that's still rolling out there in Kalamazoo."

Eventually, Jensen tired and was lifted in the bottom of the fourth with the score tied, 4-4. In the end, the Bears prevailed 8-7. Bears relief pitcher Virgil Butler struck out Bush, 0 for 7 in the series, to end the game. As Butler later remembered: "On the last pitch, I struck out George Bush on a curveball. I got my 15 minutes of glory!"

In 1961, after only 11 years in professional baseball and his career shortened by his notorious fear of flying, Jensen retired. While Jensen starred on the baseball diamond, his later life was plagued by personal and financial misfortune. He was married to, divorced from, remarried to and again divorced from Zoe Ann Olson, an Olympic diving star.

Jensen returned to Berkeley in 1974 to coach his beloved Bears, whom he led to more than 100 wins. But in 1982, age 55, Jensen died from his second heart attack in two months.

Bush, on the other hand, is a hale and hearty 88. His political resume includes two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, stints as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, two terms as Vice President and one as term as President.

As for his College World Series memories, Bush disputes his teammates' criticism that he couldn't hit. According to Bush, he batted about .250. And, Bush said, "And I think if I were playing today in the bigs, I'd probably get about $8 million bucks a year for that."

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. In this year's CWS, he's rooting for either underdog, Kent State or Stony Brook University. Contact Joe at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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