Baseball America College Podcast: Rewatching the 1994 CWS Championship
On this episode of the Baseball America College Podcast, Teddy Cahill and Joe Healy break down the 1994 College World Series championship game between the Oklahoma Sooners and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets with former Oklahoma outfielder Aric Thomas.
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Thomas, a catalyst for the Sooners all throughout the 1994 season, came into the game struggling. For all of his team's success in Omaha to that point, he had yet to get a hit. But he came through big when it mattered most and collected three hits.
One of those hits came leading off the game for Oklahoma, and it became clear very quickly that he was looking to make things happen. He drew the attention of Georgia Tech starter Al Gogolin the minute he got on base, eventually using his speed to score on a Darvin Traylor RBI triple to get the Sooners on the board. That was simply things going according to plan for an Oklahoma team that wanted to push the issue on the bases, even with Jason Varitek behind the plate for the Yellow Jackets.
"It didn't take anybody with any kind of baseball intuition to know that Jason Varitek was probably the best catcher in the country and had a good arm behind the plate," Thomas said. "Darvin and I, we were one-two hole hitters, we were best friends in high school, I don't know if a lot of people know that. We knew each other really well. Obviously Coach (Larry) Cochell let us play, turned us loose."
Varitek was just one reason that Georgia Tech was considered a favorite in this game, even in the face of Oklahoma being a 50-win team that had also blown through the postseason to that point. They also boasted a lineup featuring Nomar Garciaparra and Jay Payton, two other players who went on to have lengthy MLB careers. For Thomas and his Sooner teammates, being underrated was just fuel for the fire.
"It's almost like that worked to our advantage," Thomas said. "I think our team kind of had a chip on their shoulder. We kind of felt overlooked, so to speak."
The job to close out the eventual 13-5 win fell to ace reliever Bucky Buckles, who tossed the final 3.2 innings. You can count Thomas among those who were glad to have Buckles on his side, as he already knew all too well how good he was.
"When you hear the name Bucky Buckles, obviously, it's 'okay, how good is this guy really?' He better be really good," Thomas said. "So the first intrasquad game we had, I walk up to the plate, and he's on the mound. The first pitch he throws me is a slider, I take it for a strike. A lot of times I'm going to watch a pitch anyway off of somebody new. I'm like 'okay, first-pitch slider to me? Fine. Whatever.' I step out, I step back in.
"Next pitch he throws me the knuckleball, and my eyes kind of shake, like 'whoa.' Strike two, and I'm like 'okay.' So now I'm down 0-2 and I've seen slider and knuckleball. Of course, he comes with a fastball right in on my hands, whatever it was at that time, probably in the low 90s. Boom. I turn around and walk back to the dugout and Cochell's got a smile on his face and he looks at me (and says) 'pretty good stuff, huh?'"
Last fall, Thomas and his teammate got together again in Norman to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this national title. As much as he enjoyed seeing everyone again, going back was more about sharing it with his family, including his wife, who is also an Oklahoma alum, and his children, who spent some time in Norman when they were young while Aric was on staff for the Sooners.
"The reunion was really cool. For a lot of us, I think, probably most of us, it was more about our kids," Thomas said. "Going back, it was really important for me to take the whole family back, because my wife's an alum at Oklahoma. My son doesn't really remember. When I was there, he wasn't really there, my daughter grew up there a little bit.
"It was really cool, that part of it for me and for a lot of us, I'm sure."