Every conversation with Augie Garrido felt like a master class.
Take, for instance, the night of Wednesday, June 25, 2008, sitting somewhere down the first-base line at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium. The then-Texas Longhorns head coach was watching two teams that weren't his team play for a national championship. As he explained what was happening on the field before him -- the keys for either Georgia or his alma mater, Fresno State, to win the title -- he pointed with fingers decorated by College World Series championship rings of his own, two of his five.
"Forget defensive positioning and pitch calls, forget all of that," he preached, pausing to stare deeply into the dugouts. "Show me who is loose. Show me who is tight. These are kids, teenagers. These coaches, they haven't been in this position before. Watch everyone's faces and their body language after the first hit, after the first run is scored, after the first time the shortstop throws a ball away into the damn grandstands. Give me that information and I will know in an instant who is going to win this thing."
"Dammit, I love this game," he finished.
On Thursday afternoon, the faces and psyche of the game Garrido loved were all too easy to read. They were crushed by the news that the sport's all-time wins leader had died at 79, after suffering a massive stroke over the weekend. Less than a month ago, he had joined fellow college baseball Mount Rushmore member Skip Bertman for an entertaining, emotional reunion in Baton Rouge. Augie told stories. He laughed. He flashed his famous sun-baked smile. He was entirely too alive then to be gone now.
This was the man who, as a kid, found his motivation in the form of doubt. Born Feb. 9, 1939, in Vallejo, California, the son of August Edmun Garrido Sr., a man of too many jobs. August Sr. picked peaches and plums at a quarter per box alongside his wife, Lois, then worked as a parts manager at the Mare Island Shipyard, and then worked all night running the community center of their government-projects neighborhood. August Sr. coached the sports teams, and his loyal ball and bat boy was little Augie, eventually growing into the star of the community center's teams and catching the hard criticism of the head coach that came with it.
As Augie approached high school graduation, his father presented him with great news. He had landed his son a job at the marina. He knew his child dreamed of college and a career in coaching, but, he explained, that's not what Garridos do. They get jobs and pay the bills. His son was not pleased. He was, in fact, seething.
"Why had I worked so hard at school and at baseball?" he asked 50 years later. "To not go to college? Really?"
The kid applied the work ethic learned from his father to prove him wrong. He earned his diplomas by diving into the teachings of great philosophers, and he earned the starting job in right field at Fresno State by diving into the teachings of Stan Musial and Ted Williams.
In 1959 he led the Bulldogs to Omaha as the team's best hitter and slugged them into the College World Series semifinals. But after a hitless game with a couple of miscues in the field, Garrido blamed himself for Fresno State's loss to eventual champion Oklahoma State.
That takes us back to that night in 2008, outside Rosenblatt Stadium prior to the game, for another master class.
"You see this spot right here?" he said, pointing to nondescript concrete slab in the ballpark parking lot, only a few paces from the iconic The Road To Omaha statue. "In 1959 this was a curb. Our bus, just an old school bus, was parked right here. I made my whole team sit and wait while I sat on this curb and cried my eyes out. Just sobbing while they watched me. It was the darkest moment of my life. When I finally got on that bus, I looked at this ballpark and said, 'Guess what, you son of a b----, I'll be back to settle this.'"
There, in the middle of a parking lot while thousands of fans streamed around him, Garrido recalled his early life's story. He talked about six years playing in the minor leagues, all while working on advanced college degrees so he could one day coach and teach. He threw himself into the Bible and into "Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success." But as he moved up the coaching ladder from San Francisco State to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to Cal State Fullerton, he found his motivation by keeping his mind on the shipyard.
"People are motivated by fear. Not fear like, 'I'm going to beat you up if you don't do this,' but fear of failure. It's the great internal battle every athlete and coach has to fight. ... 'Does the fear of failure motivate you to do whatever it takes not to fail, or does that fear cause you to fail?' I'm talking about baseball here. But I'm also talking about life."
He won at both, his fuel to do so a sometimes volatile, often confusing mixture of fun, tough love and outright anger. Even during his greatest moments, the seething lurked just below the surface. In 1979 he led then-upstart Fullerton to its first CWS championship. Garrido celebrated by leaving the stadium and walking out to the curb where he'd wept exactly two decades earlier. "I pointed down at the curb, I jumped up and down on it, and I yelled, 'I gotcha!'"
On June 9, 2003, now at Texas, his Longhorns defeated Florida State in the Tallahassee Super Regional to clinch a trip to Omaha, his 11th. It was also his 1,428th victory, setting the all-time record for a college head coach, a mark he would eventually extend to 1,975. During the postgame celebration, he paused and pointed to the heavens with the same snarl he'd aimed at the Omaha curb. This finger was aimed at Augie Sr., shouting, "I told you so!"
The shipyard, his father, lost ballgames, concrete curbs -- whatever Garrido's motivations were, no matter how odd, they worked. He built an empire in Fullerton, winning three College World Series titles and rising to supplant USC's Rod Dedeaux as the game's West Coast kingpin. He then committed college baseball blasphemy, leaving California for its longtime CWS archrival state, Texas. In Austin he revived one of the game's signature programs, reaching Omaha eight times and winning twice, all while employing a decidedly West Coast style of baseball.
Former players have always spoken of Garrido with reverence and just enough respectable fear. His roster of best friends included everyone from Kevin Costner to George W. Bush to members of Rosenblatt Stadium's grounds crew. They rallied to his side during his poorly handled dismissal from Texas in 2016, and Thursday they rallied together to deal with his death.
They all have stories of being yelled at by Garrido, hugged by Garrido and, ultimately, taught by Garrido.
Take, for instance, the morning of Oct. 11, 2008, when a sportswriter needed to follow up on a conversation held along the first-base line in Omaha four months earlier. During the Saturday morning follow-up interview, the sportswriter's 4-year-old daughter interrupted, asking for a refill of her juice.
"Is that your daughter?" the winningest coach in college baseball history asked, already knowing the answer. "Put her on the phone."
For the next 10 minutes, the baseball coach and the little girl talked. For nearly 10 years, the topic of that conversation was unknown. On Thursday afternoon, I asked my daughter if she remembered her chat with Coach Garrido.
"Sure I do," she answered. "He asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I wanted to be a baseball player but I couldn't because I was a girl. He said that you were probably a good dad, but that if you or anyone else ever told me that I couldn't do something, go on and do it anyway. Don't ever let anyone tell me that I can't do whatever it is that I want to do. I have always remembered that."