A group of UCLA baseball seniors sits in the locker room and thinks.
The players look back to June 2013, and try to describe what it was like to win the first College World Series in school history. It takes them a few seconds, but one eventually speaks.
“You try to explain it to people, but they’ll never really fully understand how it went,” said senior second baseman Brett Urabe, who was a freshman on the 2013 title-winning team.
That 2013 team was a bit of an oddity. The Bruins reached the pinnacle of college baseball, yet they didn’t even win their own conference. By the end of the season, UCLA’s team batting average was .250 – the same as it was this season, when the team had a record of 25-31.
“Throughout the whole season, we were by no means the best team at all,” said senior middle infielder Trent Chatterton.
UCLA has definitely produced other baseball seasons with more accolades. The 2010 team started the season 22-0. The 2012 team went 42-14 and won the Pac-12. The 2015 team pitched the program’s first-ever no-hitter and posted a team ERA of 2.15.
But there was just something about that 2013 team.
“There was no panic in that team, ever,” Urabe said.
Added redshirt senior outfielder Christoph Bono: “I think that team had more of a refuse-to-lose mentality than some of the other teams that I was a part of for the last five years.”
The numbers speak for themselves. The Bruins won all 10 games during their NCAA Tournament run in 2013, outscoring their opponents 11-4 in innings six through nine. In their five games in the College World Series that year, the Bruins allowed just four runs overall.
“It was consistent pitching and defense,” Chatterton said. “If we scored four runs, we would win. That was kind of the end of the story.”
Looking back at it three years later, the graduating seniors like Chatterton and Urabe can appreciate just how hard it was to get to that point. They won the ultimate prize as freshmen, then suffered through two losing seasons – in 2014 and 2016 – and a 2015 season that ended in an upset defeat to Maryland in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
“(The past three seasons) gave me such an appreciation for what we accomplished,” Bono said. “It’s a tough thing to do.”
Bono and Urabe said that the main difference between the 2015 team from the 2013 team was the ability to cope with adversity. The 2013 team lost three Pac-12 series, while the 2015 team only lost one – in the last weekend of the regular season.
“At the end of the 2015 regular season, maybe (losing the series) hit a little bit harder because it was the first series we lost really all year,” Bono said. “I guess we maybe let that linger around too much leading into the regionals.”
Though the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons may have been disappointing, they are not the times that Bono and the other seniors will ultimately remember.
“That national championship is definitely something we’ll always have, and I’ll definitely think about it on a daily basis – if not every hour,” Urabe said.
Chatterton and outfielder Eric Filia still wear their 2013 championship rings every day.
Filia even takes it one step further. The redshirt senior walks into J.D. Morgan Center once a week just to watch the commemorative video for the 2013 national championship team.
“I go by there weekly – seriously, weekly – and I sit in there and I watch our video. It’s maybe a minute and a half, two minutes long,” Filia said. “I sit in there, I look at it, and I’m just like, ‘Holy crap, we went through this.’”
The experience is something that will resonate with these seniors long after their baseball careers are over. The words “2013 National Champions” are still displayed in big, bold letters above the right-field wall at Jackie Robinson Stadium, and a picture of the 2013 national championship dogpile resides outside the entrance of the stadium.
“No matter what happens – school, baseball, anything in our lives, we will always have that championship,” Urabe said. “It’s something we’ll always have – forever.”