Greg Hansen: As Zags sag, Cats putting it together

Kevin Parrom and the Wildcats couldn't find many openings against Gonzaga in their 2011 game. Now, the UA is alive and Gonzaga is out.

KEVIN P. CASEY / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS 2011

On the night Arizona won the 1980 College World Series, the Wildcats didn't stop to sleep. They took command of their downtown Omaha hotel, many remaining in uniform until dawn, not wanting to let the moment go.

"We knew that when we got off that early-morning flight to Tucson that we would all scatter," said outfielder Scott Stanley, a Catalina graduate who is now a scout for the Florida Marlins. "I'm constantly amazed at how that one team has become a baseball-for-life kind of thing for so many."

The boys of 1980 have become men, most of them in their 50s now. Incredibly, most of them are still in baseball.

"It's no coincidence and it's probably unheard of," said first baseman Wes Clements, now the manager for the Class AA Corpus Cristi Hooks. "I doubt that any team, at any time, produced so many people who make a living in baseball."

Arizona's 1980 national champion players were a lot of things - but mostly, they were winners.

They developed an enduring nickname, "Cardiac Cats," for a series of compelling comeback victories at the World Series.

They set attendance records in Tucson, launched the spirited career of legendary cheerleader Joe Cavaleri, the "Ooh Aah Man," sent seven players to the major-leagues and did so with style and substance.

"The key component was Jerry Kindall," said shortstop Clark Crist, a Palo Verde grad who is now a Class AAA coach and special assignment scout in the Cincinnati Reds system.

"As I've come to learn from 30 years in baseball, if you came from a Jerry Kindall product, people gave you instant respect. It was a given that you knew the game," Crist said.

Some of the '80 Wildcats returned to Tucson for a 30-year reunion celebration in January. But only Kindall, whose UA teams won NCAA titles in 1976, 1980 and 1986, is attending the ongoing World Series in Omaha, the last to be played at Rosenblatt Stadium.

Upon returning to Tucson on June 7, 1980, the day-old national champions splintered. Eleven players signed pro contracts. That's typical of any college baseball power, but the summer of '80 wasn't typical. Kindall's players didn't just sign to play a few years of minor-league baseball and then find jobs as teachers or plumbers. They began a baseball odyssey that continues today.

"That class of 1980 has made an impact in baseball, amateur and pro," said hitting coach Jerry Stitt, who succeeded Kindall as head coach in 1997, and later coached in the Diamondbacks system. "Top to bottom, they were more prepared than other players when they turned pro. Because of Coach Kindall's system, the learning curve they faced in pro ball wasn't as steep."

In addition to Clements, Stanley, Stitt and Crist, here's the roll-call of 1980 Wildcats and their baseball résumés:

• Terry Francona, the 1980 national player of the year, is the manager of the Boston Red Sox.

• John Moses, an outfielder from Los Angeles, played 11 seasons in the big leagues and is now the hitting coach for Class AAA Albuquerque.

• Craig Lefferts, a left-hander from Florida who won two games at the World Series, pitched 12 seasons in the majors and is now the pitching coach for Class A Vancouver.

• Alan Regier, a reserve outfielder from Northern California, is a super scout, special assignments, for the Chicago White Sox.

• Pat Roessler, a backup third baseman, has coached for the White Sox, Expos, Pirates and Astros, and is now the director of player development for the New York Yankees.

• David Landrith, a backup catcher, has been the head baseball coach at Flowing Wells High School for 18 seasons. His pitching coach is Joey Kellner, a 1980 UA relief pitcher with a killer curveball.

• Casey Candaele, who started at third base as a 1980 freshman, played nine seasons in the big leagues. He is the head baseball coach at San Luis Obispo (Calif.) High School.

• Jeff Morris, a Catalina grad and former Tucson Toros pitcher and UA assistant coach, is a scout for the Cincinnati Reds.

• Ed Vosberg, a lefty from Salpointe Catholic who beat Florida State to avoid elimination in the 1980 World Series, pitched for eight major-league teams and has been a pitching coach for Class A Vancouver and for the independent Tucson Toros.

There are others of note no longer in baseball.

Tucson police detective Greg Bargar, the bullpen closer on Arizona's '80 championship team, pitched for the Montreal Expos. Pitcher Ron Sismondo is a middle school principal in Ohio.

Speedy outfielder Dwight "Fireball" Taylor, who played for the Kansas City Royals, is a manager of a furniture company in Alabama. Bullpen catcher Chuck Hoyack, who helped coach Pima College to second place in the 1985 NJCAA World Series, is the dean of instruction at Cochise College.

"We were coachable and we were willing to listen; we learned so much from Jerry Kindall, Jim Wing and Jerry Stitt," says Crist. "We had good players - Francona is the best college hitter I've ever seen - but it was not just about baseball. It was a learning environment.

"You can see that in the way Terry handles himself with the Red Sox and (1979 UA third baseman) Brad Mills handles himself as manager of the Houston Astros. It's not luck that one team turned out so many successful baseball men."

The network has in many ways become a career employment agency.

When Clements, the 1980 cleanup hitter, completed his seven-year minor-league career (he hit 30 homers for the Toros in the mid '80s), he began a life outside baseball. But soon, itching to get back in uniform, he talked to ex-UA teammate Regier, then a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers.

"Alan helped open the door to get me back in baseball," says Clements, who has been a manager in Class A and now Class AA. "This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. They'll never get the uniform off me now."

And that might be the best way to describe Arizona's 1980 national champs.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or at ghansen@azstarnet.com