They were “America’s team, touched by Abner Doubleday himself. A real field of dreams,” the LSU coach said. They were the “Crew Cut Kids from that unglamorous, unknown, underdog military school,” the Miami Herald proclaimed. “The cutest little team in the NCAA tournament,” one columnist opined.
Twenty-five years ago, The Citadel Bulldogs took the college baseball world by storm. They rallied from the wreckage left by Hurricane Hugo to win 26 straight games, the Southern Conference tournament and a regional at powerhouse Miami to advance all the way to the College World Series.
That was in 1990, and as the 2015 College World Series starts Saturday, The Citadel remains the only military school ever to make it to Omaha. The Bulldogs’ legendary coach, Chal Port died in 2011, but the memory of that season burns bright for those who played on and covered that team.
“It was a culmination of years of hard work by a bunch of no-names who were also great players,” says Charleston realtor Gettys Glaze, who was a catcher and relief pitcher on that team. “It was a special year for us and for the program, because Citadel baseball really carried that year through for the next 15 or 20 years.”
That team produced college head coaches Dan McDonnell (Louisville), Chris Lemonis (Indiana) and Tony Skole (East Tennessee State), as well as businessmen, teachers and high school coaches. Three players — Glaze, outfielder Anthony Jenkins and pitcher Brad Stowell — would go on to be drafted, though none made it to the Major Leagues, and pitcher Ken Britt also played pro ball. Port’s right-hand man, assistant coach Tom Hatley, is the longtime coach at James Island Charter High School.
Here’s how some of them remember that season 25 years later.
On Sept. 22, 1989, Hurricane Hugo made landfall just north of Charleston, a Category 4 storm that caused 27 deaths and $6 billion of damage in South Carolina. All-America outfielder Anthony Jenkins, now a mortgage banker in Charleston, rode out the storm at home in Goose Creek and said, “I was afraid for my life.” Hugo wrecked College Park, the Bulldogs’ old home field on Rutledge Avenue, knocking down walls and light poles, wiping out the dugouts and blowing the roof off the press box.
Shortstop Phillip Tobin (assistant coach at Summerville High School): “When we came back after the hurricane, College Park was destroyed. We had benches outside the dugouts that we sat on during games on the playing field, and we didn’t play any night games because we had no lights. But it kind of brought us together. We were like a band of misfits anyway, so the field kind of suited us.”
Jenkins: “It was horrible, like playing in a war zone in Thailand.”
Sports information director Mike Hoffman: “Construction was still taking place every day (even during games) to repair the bleachers, dugouts and press box. I can’t imagine any team ever experienced so many distractions that had nothing to do with baseball.”
Skole: “With no dugouts, if you made a bad play or struck out, there was no place to hide. But by spring time, the city had got back on its feet and started its recovery.”
Post and Courier reporter Bob Lang: “They won 10 in a row, 12 in a row, and you start thinking, ‘This team is pretty good.’ But a lot of those early games, it was cold at College Park and there was nobody there. The team is 25-1 and there were not a lot of people there, but you could see there was something special going on.”
Jenkins: “We won 26 in a row, but what I remember is the game we lost to Kent State to end the streak. It snowed that day, so we had Hurricane Hugo to start the season and then snow when we lost.”
After winning the SoCon tourney at College Park, the Bulldogs took a 10-hour bus ride to the Miami regional, where they defeated a North Carolina State team coached by Ray Tanner, East Carolina, and a powerful Miami team twice to make the CWS. Billy Baker drove in four runs against N.C. State; Jenkins hit two homers and a double against ECU; and Chris Coker and Skole each hit homers in a 4-1 win over Miami to clinch the CWS berth.
Glaze: “We hosted the SoCon tournament for the first time that year, and made it to the championship game against Western Carolina. That game was pretty electric with the stands packed at College Park. That was a heck of a lot of fun. But there was a big gap between the tournament and the regional in Miami, and Chal had to schedule some scrimmages for us. We played Clemson one night at College Park and whipped up on them.”
Skole: “We put it on Clemson that night, I think it was 11-2, and that really opened up our eyes. We felt pretty good after that, and one thing about this team was that confidence was not lacking. Coach Port kept us in check, but it was a confident group of guys.”
Jenkins: “We beat Clemson like a drum. It was a pounding, and from that point on, I think we were pretty cocky. Coach Port used to drive to road games in his own car, and we’d travel in a van. Well, once coming back from Campbell, we had beer in the cooler. We stopped for gas, and Coach Port said, ‘I want a soda,’ and went in the cooler, and it was full of beer.
“Some of us had to run the next morning, but Coach Port told his son, ‘These guys are going to be special, they’re a bunch of cocky SOBs.’ ”
Skole: “I remember listening to the selection show for the regionals in my old car, and old Datsun B210, in the Burger King parking lot near campus. We had the show on an AM radio station, and when they said we were going to Miami — Man, we were fired up.
“We walked into Miami that first day, and I think Miami and Stetson were playing. They had a very laid-back approach, a sort of big-league approach to baseball. We were definitely a blue-collar program, and I remember saying to McDonnell, ‘Man, they are pretty laid back. I don’t know if they know what they are getting into.”
Glaze: “We played Miami and their great pitcher, Oscar Munoz. My first at-bat, I hit a chopper back over the mound and was out. I ran by Munoz back to the dugout and said, ‘We’re going to be all over you today.’ He took two or three steps toward me. But that’s the mentality we had — we weren’t going to be intimidated by anybody.”
Skole: “I remember A.J. went 0 for 5 in our first game (an 11-3 win over N.C. State), and I sort of kidded him that he needed to get going, we couldn’t win this thing without him. And man, he put on a show for the rest of the regional. He just put his cape on and got every big hit we needed.”
Hoffman: “I will always remember the hold Chal Port had on the Miami media. They loved him and the copy he provided for them. My favorite was when we were in the dugout during a pre-tournament practice, sitting underneath the Ron Fraser Building. He was asked about being intimidated by playing in that environment. He immediately responded that there were buildings named after him at their facility as well — the Port-o-lets.”
Lang: “By the championship game in Miami, I remember seeing (broadcaster) Tim Brando down there, coming in to cover The Citadel. And when they clinched the World Series berth, it really became a national story. I got a call from the Washington Post — they wanted a story on The Citadel.”
At the College World Series, Port basked in the limelight of the national media while the Bulldogs sandwiched losses to LSU and famed skipper Skip Bertman (who called the Bulldogs “America’s team, touched by Abner Doubleday”) around an epic 8-7, 12-inning victory over Cal State-Fullerton. Jenkins scored the winning run with a dramatic slide at home plate.
Tobin: “In Omaha, the T-shirts we had out there lasted a day. We had to get more shipped out there. The people didn’t even know who we were, but they loved that. It was something new, not the same old big schools they’d see ever year. We had some big crowds, and when we made a play the fans would erupt for us, and that really gave you goose bumps.”
Skole: “As a coach, I look back on the pitching we had — Ken Britt, Billy Baker, Richard Shirer, Brad Stowell and then the bullpen of Hank Kraft and Gettys Glaze — holy moly, I’d like to have those guys on my staff now. It was an amazing thing.
“And then Coach Port and how he managed the game. I go back in my mind, and he just never seemed to make a bad decision during a game. Even now, I ask myself, ‘What would Coach Port do in this situation?’ ”
Glaze: “That team just knew how to compete. We competed in everything, the most competitive bunch of people I’ve ever been around. And the guys who didn’t want to compete, they quit or just went away.”
Jenkins: “We had no fear and held each other accountable. Even though I was supposed to be the star, everyone stayed on my butt. We were just close, and everybody knew what their role was. And we had fun.”
Skole: “We weren’t as talented as most of the teams we played. But we acted like we were.”