Spring 2014

The Fortune

It's been 25 years since Shocker baseball brought the national championship to Wichita State. Let's take a look back to 1989.


Greg Brummett and Eric Wedge celebrate the WSU baseball team's College World Series victory in 1989Shocker baseball fans who already know about Mike Wentworth and the bubble gum and the magical College World Series home run will be delighted to learn that, 25 years later, he still has the little piece of paper that foreshadowed one of the greatest moments in Wichita State sports history.

It's framed, hanging in his basement, along with a WSU baseball cap from the 1989 championship season.

For those unfamiliar with this chapter of Shocker sports, prepare yourself for a tale so grand, so very unlikely that it prompted former coach Gene Stephenson to describe Wentworth as the "Paul Bunyan" of WSU baseball.

Of course, our hero is modest, even to this day. "I tell people all the time that I was just a role player," says Wentworth, now a teacher and coach in his hometown of Canton, N.Y. "If it wasn't for injuries, I wouldn't have even been playing. I got lucky at the right time."

Without question, the team had bigger stars. Six Shockers (Jim Audley, Todd Dreifort, Pat Meares, Eric Wedge, Jim Newlin and MVP Greg Brummett) made the all-tournament team, but contributions were expected from each of those players.

From Wentworth, not so much.

Stephenson, an old-school sort, was known for being brutally honest about his players, and time hasn't softened that aspect of his personality, at least when it comes to Wentworth. The hard-nosed coach loved Wentworth's work ethic, but his natural talent? "You've heard about five-tool guys?" Stephenson says during an interview in late May. "Wentworth was a no-tool guy."

Even so, the Shockers were ravaged with injuries — shortstop Mike Lansing and outfielder Jeff Bonacquista were out — so Stephenson turned to Wentworth, no tools and all. Wentworth had seen Wichita State play on ESPN and had relatives living in Wichita, so he decided to join the Shockers as a walk-on.

That he stuck with the nationally prominent program, under the demanding Stephenson, surprises even Wentworth. Nonetheless, he's adamant he brought valuable skills to the ballpark every day. "Honestly, I'm convinced the reason I lasted is because I could catch bullpens, and I was good at throwing batting practice," Wentworth says with a chuckle. "Man, I threw a ton of BP."

Wentworth's rise from obscurity to Shocker legend began in the NCAA's West Regional when he hit a two-run homer — his first of the year — to help the Shockers fight off elimination against Fresno State and advance to their third College World Series.

And did we mention that the home run came on his mother's birthday?

"It's like folklore, but it's true," Stephenson says. "This is a guy who never hit a home run in batting practice, not that I saw."

Had it ended there, the Wentworth story would have still been a satisfying one: light-hitting reserve, batting from the nine spot, goes yard as the Shockers advance to the CWS. But there would be more drama in Omaha.

On June 9, the Shockers, after starting the series 3-1, were set to face top-seeded Florida State for the second straight time in an elimination game. As Stephenson recalls, he was doing a pre-game interview with Brent Musburger when he felt a tug on his jersey. Stephenson ignored it and returned to the Q&A. He felt another pull and turned around, and there was Wentworth, holding a small piece of paper and grinning. "You gotta see this," he told the coach.

Earlier in the day, Wentworth had unwrapped a piece of Bazooka Bubble Gum, which came with a comic and a fortune. Wentworth says he and roommate Pat Cedeno had "chewed gum like crazy" hoping for a good omen, and, finally, there it was: "SOMETHING MAGICAL WILL HAPPEN TODAY."

Wentworth put the fortune in his pocket, and the magic came in the fourth inning with the Shockers trailing Florida State 4-1. With two men on, Wentworth, still batting ninth as the DH, came up against FSU ace Clyde Keller, who entered the game 13-0. "He was a palm baller, slow-pitch guy," Stephenson recalls. "Mike had the slowest bat on the team, and I remember thinking, ‘He might be able to do something against this guy.'"

Says Wentworth, "The first time up, Gene wanted me to bunt, but I messed that up. The second time, Keller got a pitch up I could handle. I didn't get to play that much, so I wasn't going to get cheated up there."

Wentworth drilled a Keller pitch just inside the right-field foul pole — "like a rocket," Stephenson says — for a three-run homer, tying the game and igniting the Shockers, who would go on to a 12-9 victory in front of 15,000 fans at Rosenblatt Stadium. "Unbelievable," Stephenson says. Did we mention the homer came on his dad's birthday?

Behind Brummett's dominant pitching and a three-run homer from shortstop Meares, the Shockers beat the Texas Longhorns 5-3 the next day for the school's first NCAA championship. Compared to his previous performances, Wentworth had a ho-hum day, collecting two hits and scoring a run.

Today, he has a son playing college baseball and a daughter who stars on her high school softball team. In his basement, the Bazooka fortune is framed, right next to a Sports Illustrated article about Wentworth's heroics and the Shockers' championship. The headline reads, "Chewing Up Their Foes."

"If anyone deserved success, it was him," Stephenson says. "He gave us four years, no scholarship, working hard every day to get better. You want to be around people like that."


Shockers who played in the 1989 College World Series remember the experience remarkably well, recalling specific counts, pitches and lineups. So too for photographer Jeff Tuttle, who snapped the iconic picture from the championship season, and perhaps the most famous photo in WSU sports history. Surely you've seen it: In the shot, taken just seconds after the final pitch of WSU's victory over Texas, catcher Eric Wedge is lifting up winning pitcher Greg Brummett, his right index finger raised in the air, telling the baseball world "We're No. 1."

A Kansas State graduate, Tuttle was only a year out of college and working as a freelancer for WSU Sports Information when he took the picture. Shooting from the first-base side with a Nikon F3 and a 300 mm zoom, he changed his position slightly before the last pitch to avoid signage on the outfield fence. It was before the age of digital cameras, of course, so he wasn't certain if he had captured the moment perfectly. "You didn't know what you had back then until you processed the film," he says. "I was pretty anxious to see how that roll of film came out." He took five pictures of the on-mound celebration sequence. The first shot was out of focus, and in the second Brummett's hand was cut off. The fourth and fifth photos were too busy. The middle shot? Magic.

Brummett has the picture, which ran in the Wichita Eagle, framed in his office at Cloud County Community College, where he coaches. A banner of the photo, which hung in Eck Stadium, dominates Tuttle's basement. "That picture is special to me," he says. "When I'm gone, it will still be there. That's pretty cool."


"Don't you dare lose this game." Although it may cause Bryant Winslow to react with a good-natured grimace these days, the quote is part of the permanent record, right there in the pages of reputable sources like the Omaha World-Herald and Sports Illustrated.

The words were delivered with passion by Winslow, a hard-hitting Shocker infielder, as he was helped off the field in the fifth inning of a one-run game against Texas in the championship of the 1989 College World Series. After battling the pain of a stress fracture in his right leg for weeks, the sophomore first baseman finally succumbed after a collision with a baserunner — a play that broke his fibula and also cracked a bone in his left wrist — in the Shockers' 5-3 victory for the school's first NCAA title. Coach Gene Stephenson and catcher Eric Wedge, both known for their hard-nosed attitudes, said they were choked up and inspired by the scene.

Notre Dame can have "Win one for the Gipper." Wichita State fans will happily take "Don't you dare lose this game" as a memorable part of Shocker lore, even if the modest Winslow is slightly embarrassed by the motivational efforts of the 20-something version of himself.

"Did I really say that?" Winslow, now a family man living in Denver, says with a chuckle. "That sounds pretty dramatic. (We) were the best in the country, and there was no way we were going to lose that game. There was just something special about that team — great guys, great coaches, great stories."

And you can quote him on that.


The Shockers visited the White House on June 16 and were congratulated by President George Bush in the Rose Garden, the first time a college baseball team had been so honored, Gene Stephenson recalls. 

While Bush couldn't resist the obligatory reference to the "Wizard of Oz," his remarks were entertaining as he touched on the personal (Bush played in the first College World Series for Yale in 1947.) and mixed in some humor (The president said he had no hard feelings even though WSU knocked off his home-state Longhorns.).

Bush mentioned seven of the Shockers by name, comparing Greg Brummett to "the fabled Dizzy Dean" and telling the crowd that the passion of injured Bryant Winslow left "tears in our eyes." Although a bit corny, Bush's best line came when he mentioned Pat Meares' homer in the title game: "Called NASA this morning, and that ball's still in orbit." Bush threw a pitch to catcher Eric Wedge, and Brummett presented the president with a Shocker jersey with "Bush" and No. 1 on the back. 


The Greg Brummett story can't be thoroughly told without mentioning the unfortunate nickname he was tagged with early in his Shocker career. The pitching star of the championship team, Brummett laughs about it now, but the label wasn't so amusing when he was an unsteady freshman trying to prove himself.

Pitching coach Brent Kemnitz, who can needle, as well as motivate, watched in frustration as Brummett pitched tentatively after arriving from Wichita Northwest High School. Twenty-five years later, Brummett can still hear Kemnitz's challenge: "Are you gonna go out there and pitch like a ‘Fifi' or go out there and be bold and aggressive?"

Fifi. It stuck — but only for a while.

"Kemnitz was all about nicknames and stuff like that," Brummett says from his office at Cloud County Community College, where he is the head baseball coach. "I came in a little timid, and I pitched that way too. I wanted to prove to everybody I could pitch at that level." He left no doubt. By the end of his career, Brummett had earned a more suitable nickname: Spike.

Never was Brummett's bulldog mentality — his "refusal to lose," as he calls it — more evident than during the 1989 College World Series, when he went 3-0 and earned Most Valuable Player honors. Fittingly, he threw a complete game to beat Texas 5-3 in the championship game for his 13th straight victory and 18th of the season.

On that championship team, closer Jim Newlin dominated with an overpowering fastball, while Brummett was primarily a two-pitch pitcher (a slider and a fastball that topped out at 88 mph) who won games with great command. "He wasn't overpowering, didn't have the best stuff, but he painted the corners," teammate Mike Wentworth recalls. "He was the Greg Maddux of the College World Series."

Lost in the heroics of the title game — Pat Meares' homer, the emotional exit of injured Bryant Winslow — was the fact that Brummett survived trouble in the first inning as high-scoring Texas put runners on first and third with no outs. Turning to a play the Shockers were well known for, Brummett faked a throw to third before turning and firing to first to pick off the runner. He struck out the next two hitters, ending an escape that Texas veteran coach Cliff Gustafson described as "the most important play of the game."

Pitching on only three-days rest, Brummett was in danger of tiring, so coach Gene Stephenson had Newlin warming up from the seventh inning on. No relief was necessary, as Brummett, surviving on "pure adrenaline," according to Stephenson, allowed only one base runner the final three innings.

In the ninth, Brummett retired the first two batters before the Longhorns turned to a pinch hitter, right-handed Kevin Pate. Although the lead appeared safe, the Shockers had known heartbreak in a similar situation. In 1988, WSU was one strike away from advancing to the CWS title game but, unable to close out Arizona State, lost in extra innings. So Stephenson remained nervous, even after Brummett put Pate in the hole with two strikes. "I was thinking, ‘Lord, please don't let it happen again,'" Stephenson recalls.

Meanwhile, on the mound, Brummett felt no such uncertainty. His slider had been nearly un-hittable for right-handed batters that afternoon. "I was like, ‘This guy has absolutely no chance,'" says Brummett, who reached the big leagues in 1993. "There were two outs, nobody on, down by two runs, and they bring in a right-handed pinch hitter. I don't really remember the count, but I struck him out on a slider."

The school's first national championship secured, Brummett leaped into the air before doing a self-described "belly flop" near the mound. All-American catcher Eric Wedge joined in the celebration, tossing off his mask and lifting Brummett into the air.  

"Greg was a big-time gamer," Wentworth says. "When the lights came on he turned it up a notch. I remember we used to call him Fifi, but by the end he was Spike. All Spike."


WSU 3, Arkansas 1
Greg Brummett pitched 7 1/3 innings, before giving way to closer Jim Newlin, the national leader in saves. Jim Audley hit a two-run homer in the third.

Florida State 4, WSU 2
FSU shut down the Shockers, who entered the CWS with a .327 team batting average.

WSU 8, Arkansas 4
Coach Gene Stephenson altered the lineup, and WSU's offense rebounded behind the heart of the order.

WSU 7, Florida State 4
After a 56-minute rain delay, Eric Wedge stroked a bases-loaded single to drive in two runs and put WSU up 5-3 in the eighth. Jeff Bluma picked up the win in relief, and Newlin finished up for his national-best 18th save.

WSU 12, Florida State 9
The Shocks trailed 4-1 when Mike Wentworth hit a home run to tie the game 4-4 in the third. WSU took the lead for good in the sixth on doubles by Dreifort and Mark Jones. Newlin struck out two of three hitters in the ninth, sending WSU to its second national championship game. (WSU lost to Miami in 1982.)

WSU 5, Texas 3
Wichita State won in front of 13,000 fans in Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium and a national TV audience. WSU led 3-2 when the red-hot Pat Meares delivered a two-run homer in the sixth. "We were blessed with so many great teams over the years, but this one was special because we overcame so many obstacles," Stephenson says. "The guys never gave up, never quit."


The Fortune

It's been 25 years since Shocker baseball brought the national championship to Wichita State. Let's take a look back to 1989.

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