LOS ANGELES — Eric Karros stood in the middle of Jackie Robinson Stadium, just feet away from the national championship trophy. Once a player himself, the former Bruin and Dodger had waited years for this moment.
He gestured toward UCLA head coach John Savage, the man who had brought the Bruins to the mountaintop, guiding them through an undefeated postseason.
“I know a lot of schools will come courting, but gosh darn it, I hope you stay,” Karros said Thursday afternoon. The 800-some fans sitting in the stands likely thought the same.
The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that USC — which finished 20-36 — had interest in Savage, who won the 1998 title there as a pitching coach. Considering UCLA’s now-official powerhouse status, that’s somewhat akin to a teenage boy having interest in Kate Upton.
Over the past nine years, Savage established UCLA as the preeminent program on the West Coast. In the past four, he has more than doubled the program’s all-time trips to the College World Series, going thrice in that span. On Thursday, Collegiate Baseball named him National Coach of the Year.
He has said multiple times over the past few weeks that he wants to retire a Bruin. In December, he signed a contract extension through 2017. Few would be surprised by another.
When he displayed the trophy in Thursday’s public celebration, the baseball program no longer felt left out at a school that already had 108 national titles. Across eras, emotional burdens vanished.
Among the many beneficiaries was Savage’s predecessor, Gary Adams, who coached the Bruins for three decades before retiring in 2004.
“I always felt bad about that because I felt like I was responsible for not getting that,” Adams said. “For 30 years, we tried our best. It just didn’t happen. …
“John’s the guy who finished the job. I think it’s a monkey off his back, a monkey off my back. Everyone who’s ever played for UCLA, it’s a monkey off their back.”
After the new championship banner unfurled behind right field, fans swarmed Savage and the players for photos and autographs. The latest generation of Bruins — still caught up in the whirlwind post-championship celebration — may be the ones who least understand the full meaning of their accomplishment.
Later Thursday, they were introduced at Dodger Stadium to rousing applause. It was a last-minute arrangement, which the players weren’t aware of even 24 hours prior.
“Like Eric Karros said, I don’t think we really realize what we did,” said pitcher Nick Vander Tuig.
“I think it’s sunk in a little bit more since we got back here. … It’s been a blast.”
Click through to a photo gallery of UCLA’s trophy celebration.