For baseball Bears, a season of grit and magic

David Esquer

Head coach David Esquer (Jean Smith photos)

Cal baseball head coach David Esquer tipped his cap to “a little magic at the end of the year.” But he gave most of the credit for his team’s storybook comeback — from the brink of elimination as a varsity squad to a berth in the College World Series — to the grit and character of student-athletes who persevered under a cloud of existential uncertainty.

“If this was going to be the last team in the history of UC Berkeley,” he told a throng of reporters Tuesday at Edwards Stadium, his exhortation to his players was to “give ’em a hell of a team.”

The Bears rose to the challenge, defeating Dallas Baptist on Sunday in the NCAA super regional to earn their first trip to the College World Series since 1992. (They’ll play top-seed Virginia in Omaha on Sunday.) Win or lose, it’s a stunning achievement for a team that was on the campus chopping block until April, when some $9 million in pledges from private donors secured its future.

Justin Jones

Justin Jones

“We’re playing for them,” said pitcher Justin Jones, “and everyone else that’s been behind us.”

Esquer, who went to the College World Series twice as a player for Stanford — winning it all in 1987 — wasn’t making predictions about this year’s event. But he did liken his squad to last year’s scrappy world-champion San Francisco Giants, calling their fun-loving personalities and team chemistry an “X factor.”

And, as players worked out on the field, the possibility of a fairy-tale finish was definitely in the air.

“If we make it that far,” said Jones, “maybe they’ll make a movie out of it.”