Four full days after the UCLA baseball team won its first-ever College World Series title, the national champion Bruins were still hard at work to finish the season right.
The team arrived back in Westwood on Wednesday—fresh off clinching No. 109 after a two-week stay in Omaha—only to be greeted by a crowd of UCLA fans waiting to usher them in. It was an exciting and emotional time for the victors, who had been playing in hostile territory for the majority of their time at TD Ameritrade Park. But back in the friendly confines of Jackie Robinson Stadium, the Bruins were heroes. They had accomplished something that no UCLA team could ever claim since the baseball program was born in 1920.
The Bruins are the champions, and the world best not forget.
The welcoming party was the first step. Photos and videos of the team arriving flooded the internet, and soon enough Twitter was again abuzz with title chatter. The most memorable image was of head coach John Savage stepping off the bus with an ear-to-ear grin and the NCAA hardware hoisted over his head. It was a surreal moment for a team most predicted to fizzle out of the CWS, but it was just the beginning of the celebratory agenda.
After one night of rest and recuperation, the team was back at JRS for a championship rally on Thursday. Fans, alumni, the Bruins marching band and every member of the UCLA baseball family came together to honor the 2013 squad, show off the trophy and unveil the national title banner. Coach Savage and some of the players said a few words, as did UCLA alum and 13-year MLB veteran Eric Karros. Also in attendance was former head coach Gary Adams, the only person other than Jackie Robinson to have his number retired by UCLA baseball.
It was an awesome event for so many reasons, but I’ll personally remember it because nothing beats watching a banner unfurl on a beautiful So Cal summer day while “We Are The Champions” is appropriately blasting in the background. It really was a historic day for UCLA athletics and all the fans who supported this team.
Immediately after the rally, the Bruins held a meet-and-greet autograph session for the fans, then boarded buses bound for Chavez Ravine. As it turns out, the L.A. Dodgers were the next group set to honor the national champions.
For Thursday night’s game against the Phillies, the Dodgers made a point to give notice to LA’s most recent champion by introducing the UCLA players before first pitch. One-by-one, the Bruins lined up to the cheers of the blue-clad crowd, joined by former stars Tim Leary, Todd Zeile and Chase Utley (who was across the field in the Philadelphia dugout). The Bruins also got a chance to meet with pros like Cliff Lee and Yasiel Puig during their stay at Dodger Stadium, capping off what must have been a dream of an evening for any MLB hopeful. But even then, there were still plenty of people who needed to see the champs.
About a dozen Bruins got a chance to audition for future careers in broadcasting, appearing on ESPN’s SportsCenter and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on Friday. Members of the UCLA team filled the stages at ESPN’s LA studio and on Leno’s lot in Hollywood to spread the word of their crowning achievement. Pitchers David Berg and Zack Weiss were the lucky ones chosen to help Stan Verrett with the Top 10 plays, while others like Brian Carroll, Brenton Allen, Pat Gallagher and Cody Regis also got some quality face time.
To start the segment, Verrett asked the Bruins what was better—winning a national title or appearing on the show—to which the team promptly picked the former. Claiming the CWS crown was definitely the highlight of the week, but you can bet SportsCenter and everything else was a very close second.
The whole experience was a whirlwind of adventure that the Bruins earned with their blood, sweat and dedication all season long. And though the hype will eventually fade, no one will ever take away the memories and history made by the 2013 UCLA Bruins.