Rardin, Reivers love feel at JUCO

Council Bluffs, Iowa, is less than a 15-minute drive from Omaha, Neb., so baseball players at Iowa Western Community College know all about the College World Series.

A handful of Reivers are from Omaha. Some might play in the CWS the next couple of years.

Every game of the College World Series is on television. Most of the NCAA Division I regional games were on TV as the Junior College World Series was being played. The Super Regionals are just around the corner. They, too, will be all over the ESPN channels.

But today in the heartland, Iowa Western is the baseball story.

And for the Reivers, Grand Junction is the place.

Iowa Western coach Marc Rardin talked about the differences in the two series before the Reivers boarded the bus to make the trip to Grand Junction, saying what a nice stadium TD Ameritrade Park is, but when you walk in, it just feels ... corporate.

He doesn’t get that feeling when he walks into Suplizio Field. Rardin understands the need for a corporate sponsor, game sponsors, team, umpire, grounds crew, official scorer sponsors.

But, he said, in Grand Junction, it’s all about one thing — baseball.

He talked about it again Saturday night after the Reivers won their second JUCO World Series title in three years.

“This is my opinion,” he said. “We’ve been here enough, this place is not a corporate thing. This World Series, it’s about families, the game of baseball, players 18, 19 years old.”

He laughs that he hopes the Reivers, who finished 62-6, never wear out their welcome in Grand Junction, because making the drive from Iowa to Colorado will never get old for his club.

“People want to see you play the game the right way. Over the years I think this place has appreciated my kids playing hard, their attitude to play hard,” he said.

“Win or lose, we leave with respect. It just so happens we won today. Throughout the year we’ve gotten fans that way. We greet them with open arms, make sure kids sign autographs and talk to everybody. We’ve got a fan base. It’s awesome.”

Rardin knows the history of the tournament, and even before we started thumbing through our records to see when a team lost in the first round and won the JUCO title, he knew.

“Southern Nevada. Against them,” he said, nodding toward San Jac’s dugout. “I know the history of this place. You coulda just asked me; I already knew it.”

That rare feat, in 2003, wasn’t lost on Rardin, who also knows it’s tough, but not impossible, to win at the national level from the Northern District.

In December of 2010, not long after his club won its first national title, a turf infield was installed at Doc Ross Field in Council Bluffs. When you play baseball in the spring in Iowa, you’re likely to get weather issues.

And even though it’s cold, by having a turf infield, the Reivers can clear snow and play at home. They caught a break with a mild winter this season and played nearly all of March and some of April at home.

“We work hard in the fall, we don’t waste a day, we don’t waste a moment in the fall because we know in the winter we can fall behind,” he said.

By recruiting kids from the Midwest who don’t know what it’s like to play baseball outside once the calendar says it’s winter, the Reivers have made it work.

“You’ve got to think out of the box and be creative to get them ready,” he said.

“Fortunately we’re able to leave and get to southern Kansas and Oklahoma in late February and get outside playing. We’ve just overcome it.”

And by winning two titles in three years — with a third-place finish in between — the Reivers have broken the barrier.

“It’s like the four-minute mile. No one was ever going to beat the four-minute mile, and once you get over the hump and somebody breaks it, 23 guys do it the next year, or however many it was.

“Well, we got over the hump and got here. It’s the mindset. It’s not about being a Northern team anymore. I put us up there with anyone in the country as a junior college baseball, high-level program.”


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