EDINBURG — As he has done on so many weekends since his 1997 retirement, Al Ogletree will take his customary seat tonight at Edinburg Baseball Stadium.
Like always, the legendary former Pan American baseball coach will share stories and jokes spanning his 29 years at the helm of the Broncs program.
Tonight, though, his tales will focus on the 40th anniversary of his 1971 team’s run to the College World Series. The UTPA athletics department will honor the only team to reach the CWS during tonight’s game against NJIT.
“It got (Rio Grande Valley) fans interested in (baseball),” Ogletree said about ’71. “We were No. 1 in the nation.”
It was success and pressure that was new to many of the players.
If they seemed oblivious to their accomplishments that season, the Broncs probably were. They didn’t see anything above the surface — the huge crowds, the underdog role against Texas in the NCAA District Championships, the travel to Omaha, Neb.
“They were playing so well, I was afraid to wake them,” is a regular Ogletree joke.
Whether it was intentional or not, Ogletree’s calm nature helped ease the overwhelming experience.
“Coach was always a stabilizing force,” the Broncs’ David Armstrong said. “He was just as steady as he could be. I think in the 2 1/2 years that I was around him, I heard him say two curse words. And both times it was because he was extremely upset.
“He was just the same every day. He was very stable and I think that is what helped us more than anything.”
After the team’s 5-4 loss to Southern Illinois in Game 1 of the CWS, it was Ogletree’s wit that lightened the mood.
Wayne Tyrone missed third base on what would have been the tying run in the third inning of the loss. Tyrone apologized to Ogletree on a somber team bus.
According to a Monitor article, after Tyrone said, “I’m sorry, coach,” Ogletree said, “Don’t worry about it — you did your best — your feet weren’t big enough. Forget about it and think about tomorrow.”
The Broncs won their next two games before being eliminated by Southern Illinois 8-6. There was nothing like it before and there hasn’t been anything like it since.
“We accomplished a lot by getting there,” Broncs pitcher Lupe Salinas said. “Getting to the World Series, that is being one of the top eight teams in the nation. … Southern California was in that tournament, they were tough. Tulsa was in that tournament, they were a good hitting team. We played good and fought for it.”
The Broncs finished 44-9 that season. Ogletree was named coach of the year by Sporting News, the Texas Sports Writers’ Association and the South Plains Professional Scouts Association.
Ogletree, who coached Pan American from 1969-1997, went on to win 1,084 games with the Broncs and his 1,217 wins as a coach is 22nd all time.
Current Broncs coach Manny Mantrana, as he does during every game, will look up to the stadium suites tonight to make sure Ogletree is there telling his stories.
“Without Coach Al, there is no UTPA baseball,” Mantrana said. “He is a living legend. As a head coach, I’m extremely fortunate to have a man like Coach Al still around.”
Peter Rasmussen covers UTPA athletics for Valley Freedom Newspapers. You can reach him at (956) 683-4448.