Big League Rivalry: Longhorn majors come home to face off with current players

Current Texas baseball Head Coach Augie Garrido talks with his predecessor Cliff Gustafson at the 2015
Texas baseball alumni game on February 6 2015. (Photo courtesy of Sean Clynch, KVUE Austin)

On his 77th birthday, Texas head baseball coach Augie Garrido stands in front of the first base dugout at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. He smiles as he sees a familiar face walking toward him.

The man Garrido sees gets about 10 yards away and blurts out, “Happy birthday old man!”

Ironically, the man happens to be six days away from his 85th birthday. The voice belongs to former University of Texas head baseball coach Cliff Gustafson.

A half-hour before the University of Texas baseball’s annual alumni game on February 6th, the two living legends share an embrace and a laugh.

The encounter encompasses just how rich the tradition of Texas baseball is.

Both coaches rank in the top 10 in all-time coaching wins (Garrido first, Gustafson tenth) and have over 3,375 career wins between them. A combined all-time win total higher than 296 of the 298 Division I programs (Texas and Fordham being the only two to have more).

“I don’t know how it is at other universities,” Gustafson said, “but I think this alumni game displays the loyalty [to The University of Texas] probably better than anything.”

The game, started by Gustafson when he coached at Texas from 1968-1996, features the current Texas baseball team against former Longhorns who are now somewhere in professional baseball.

Some players, like outfielder Drew Stubbs, pitcher Huston Street, and catcher Cameron Rupp, are already in the MLB. Others are in various locations throughout minor league baseball.

Rupp, a catcher with the Philadelphia Phillies, has come back for the game six years in a row and likes to keep it fun.

During his first at bat Rupp has two strikes on him and current Texas pitcher Josh Sawyer throws a fastball on the outside corner. Catcher Tres Barrera attempts to frame it for a strike, to no avail.

When Rupp sees this, he turns and laughs at Barrera shaking his head saying, “No no no. Not gonna happen Tres.”

Barrera laughs along with Rupp and the crowd. It’s a lighthearted moment that signifies what makes the game unique and fun for both teams.

It is also a time where the former players come together to reminisce on past seasons and play together again. For former Texas outfielder Kevin Keyes, it’s a special event.

“To be able to come back here and play is just amazing,” Keyes, who is now in AAA (one league below the MLB) with the Washington Nationals organization said. “This game has always been a great time to come back and see old friends. I love it.”

In the end, the current Longhorns beat the Alumni 4-0, but the result of the game is almost unimportant to most involved.

What brings fans and players back for this game each year is the camaraderie and ability to reconnect with former players and old teammates.

One of the main reasons for the pure entertainment of the game is because Texas doesn’t shy away from big name guys and the talent pool Texas has to pick from for this game is very rich. Texas is third all-time in producing players to the MLB behind only Arizona State and USC.

Because of this rich talent, the game is viewed as one for both sides to not only come together and have fun, but also get better.

“We goof off and have a good time, but once the first pitch is thrown all of that kind of goes away,” former Longhorn second baseman Brooks Marlow said. “It’s just like any other game where you want to beat the other guy after that.”

The mix of competition and fun makes the game enticing for fans and gets them ready for the regular season, which often starts two weeks after the alumni game.

According to Rupp, the fans are the real reason the game is so fun.

“If it weren’t for the fans this game would be meaningless,” Rupp said. “They meant so much to us when we were here so we make sure we give the love back to them every year. We come back for them, because they were there for us first.”

 

 

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