Leaving The Game In Style

Mark Whicker (Daily News/Orange County Register)  —  These are Mike Gillespie’s final weeks at UC Irvine, a three-year gig that turned into 11, with a trip to the College World Series and two excruciating Super Regional losses.

On Tuesday night he makes his final trip to USC, where he won CWSs as a player and a coach, where he took the Trojans to Omaha four times and followed the toughest act in college baseball, Rod Dedeaux.

Gillespie has won 400 games at UCI, won 761 at USC and won 418 at College of the Canyons. The Irvine years were an unforeseen coda. USC fired Gillespie after the 2006 season, which bewildered everyone in baseball. In 2007 he coached the Yankees’ rookie ball team at Staten Island.

He could have done it again in 2008, but Dave Serrano left UCI for Cal State Fullerton.

Gillespie turned 78 last week. He might be remembered as the last 67-year-old to get hired to do anything, especially in college sports, and certainly the last 74-year-old to get a contract extension.

Gillespie was a leftfielder when USC won the 1961 championship. The Trojans walked around like winners and lived like pros.

“You’d walk through the hotel lobby in San Francisco and if Rod saw you, he might buy you a beer,” Gillespie said. “I don’t think that happens today.”

Dedeaux offered Gillespie a job managing warehouses for his trucking company. He also mentioned that coaching was a noble pursuit. When Dedeaux left USC he recommended Gillespie, but the sport was no longer USC’s property. Gillespie went to five regionals before he won his way to Omaha in 1995. He got his championship in 1998.

As Gillespie prepares for whatever awaits, maybe he’ll leave the fungo unpacked.

“I think I could be happy coaching somebody’s JV team,” he said. “There’s still a way to field a ground ball. There’s still a way to bunt.”