Building a legacy: Culture important for perennial powers at World Series
Marc Rardin calls it the monsters people create.
“The San Jacs, the Iowa Westerns and everybody else who are consistently getting to Grand Junction,” the Iowa Western Community College baseball coach said of a couple of well-known monster programs before the Reivers, at 40-12, began their final four-game conference series.
He laughed that people familiar with the program were wondering what was wrong with the Reivers, why have they lost 12 games? They didn’t have to worry — Iowa Western is 50-13 and back in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
“We won 40 games again,” he said at the time. “It’s funny, I do it myself. I don’t know if we’ve got the ‘it’ factor. We’re better this year than we were last year, and last year we won 37 in a row, but I don’t know if we have the ‘it.’ We don’t have bad kids, it could be a million different things. We just keep missing a cylinder now and then.”
The ‘it’ is the intangible, what separates a good team from a national championship caliber team.
And the ‘it’ is hard to come by year after year.
Rardin knows that as well as anyone coaching junior college baseball these days. His club became the first team from the Northern District to win the JUCO World Series title when the Reivers won it in 2010.
They made it back to Grand Junction in 2011, finishing 2-2, then won it again in 2012. After losing in the 2013 district tournament to Kaskaskia Community College (Illinois), Iowa Western returned with a vengeance in 2014, outscoring its World Series opponents 53-11.
“The biggest things my guys every year have to learn is the jersey doesn’t change, the name doesn’t change, but the kids do, the kids who wear them,” Rardin said. “At the junior college level, depending on your roster, you’re losing 50 percent of your roster every year. Every year, 40, 50, even 60 percent is changing.”
That’s one reason there hasn’t been a repeat champion in Grand Junction since Grayson County (Texas) went back-to-back in 1999 and 2000, just after Cowley College (Kansas) won it all in 1997 and 1998.
Roster turnover, though, isn’t the only reason it’s tough to repeat.
There’s more parity throughout the country now, schools have better funding, plus there are higher academic standards.
“So much goes into it now, and I think it’s great,” Rardin said. “There is life after baseball and a big job of the junior colleges is to responsibly govern that the student-athletes are being developed, and not just be in a position to win a damn game.”
And yes, there’s the target those monster teams wear.
That’s one reason Rardin started coining what this year is “Team42.” Two years ago, it was “Team40.” This is the 42nd year of baseball at Iowa Western, and it’s his way of reminding the Reivers that although there is the legacy teams before them have built, this is still their team. Sophomore-laden teams tend to challenge for championships, especially if they have great leadership.
“You’ve got to find something worth selling,” he said. “You can’t just sell it and put lipstick on a hog and sell it as a beauty queen.
“You’ve got to have a product behind it, something they’re going to buy. That’s what we’ve done. Every year we’re challenging them, ‘This is your year.’ ”
Teams that consistently win their district titles often have one thing in common.
“Culture. It isn’t just ability, although in one tournament it can be,” Rardin said.
“If you want to be there consistently and repeat, culture has to be it. You play the game two or three hours and you’ve got 22 or 23 hours left. It’ll be killing you if your culture isn’t right.”
Rardin said he believes the days of a team winning five JUCO World Series titles in a six-year span, as San Jacinto did from 1985-1990 (the Gators didn’t win the 1988 title), are over, but obviously teams like San Jac will qualify year after year.
“It’s a more level playing field where you don’t see a San Jac winning five like years ago,” he said. “Rules were different. Not to take anything away from Coach (Wayne) Graham, but the NJCAA has different rules and they’re governed differently and the NJCAA has done a great job.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence there are so many same schools all the time. Look at the people, the coaches. They know what they’re doing.”
He’s also seen a little bit of complacency set in once a team wins the JUCO World Series.
“It’s easy if a kid wins as a freshman and not as a sophomore, (they’re thinking) ‘I’ve won one.’ Look at it my way, if I make it to the World Series again and actually get to the national championship game and I lose it, what can I say? I’ve won three.
“It’s human nature. You’re fighting, when you’re trying to repeat, a sophomore who says ‘I won a national championship and signed with a DI in the fall of my sophomore year. It’s icing on the cake if we win it again, but if we don’t, look what I accomplished.’ ”