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Post-retirement benefits

After departure from USC, Saugus resident Mike Gillespie has found a home with dominant UC Irvine

Posted: May 28, 2009 9:43 p.m.
Updated: May 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
On June 2, 2006, the University of Southern California athletic department sent out a press release announcing the retirement of Mike Gillespie.

Yet it wasn’t a retirement.

In his final three seasons between 2004 and 2006, Gillespie’s Trojans baseball teams went 90-87.

For nearly two decades before that, the Saugus resident and legendary former College of the Canyons head coach had his USC teams winning at a .636 clip.

So the change was made and delicately called a “retirement.”

Though Gillespie says today, it was a firing.

But since that June day in 2006, Gillespie has been showing just how not retired he is.

Today, Gillespie’s UC Irvine baseball team, the No. 6 national seed, will host Fresno State at Anteater Ballpark in Irvine in an NCAA Regional.

“I take immense pride in what we’ve done,” Gillespie says.  
The 69-year-old baseball coach admits some of the pride comes from the fact that at least one person thought he was done.

“I suppose wherever I was, I suppose not everybody liked me or thought I was a good coach, but by and large there was only one person that didn’t think I was capable of coaching at SC,” Gillespie says.

That person was athletic director Mike Garrett, he says.

“It was just one guy and he is the guy that had the hammer, in this case the axe,” Gillespie adds.

But in late 2006, Gillespie was given an opportunity by the New York Yankees.

The Yankees hired him as the manager of their Single-A affiliate the Staten Island Yankees. He was also scouting for the New York Yankees and was involved in the Major League Baseball Draft.

“We all know people who get fired. Anybody that has understands it creates difficulty,” Gillespie says. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say that was a difficult time, but I was really lucky. I really got saved by the New York Yankees.

“And so I got this opportunity. I got it fast. It was exciting. It was a lot to learn. It didn’t give me much of a chance to wallow in any self-pity.”

Gillespie says he was offered another year by the Yankees, but the UC Irvine job came up.

UC Irvine became a plum job when Dave Serrano led the Anteaters to the College World Series for the first time in 2007.

But the Cal State Fullerton head coaching position opened up when George Horton left for the University of Oregon.

Serrano went to Fullerton, then Gillespie accepted the job at Irvine.

Last season, Gillespie’s first with the Anteaters, the team went 42-18 and made it to the NCAA Super Regionals.

This season, Irvine won the Big West and now sits at 43-13.

“I’m personally astounded by the consistency of this team,” Gillespie says.

He points to the team’s defense and ability to throw strikes for much of its success.

The team’s top three starting pitchers are a combined 27-3 this year and the Anteaters have made 19 less errors than their opponents this season.

Another piece of the Anteaters’ success is Saugus graduate and former College of the Canyons player Casey Stevenson.

Stevenson is batting .330 with 15 doubles, three home runs and 40 RBIs.

But two of the team’s starting outfielders, Cory Olson (batting .315) and Tommy Reyes (batting .348), are out for this regional.

Gillespie says his team might need some breaks to be successful.

The coach says he’s settled in at Irvine.

As to the question of: Does it feel like home yet?

“Saugus feels like home,” he says with a laugh. “In terms of my baseball work, I’d say, yeah. This is home.”

cosborne@the-signal.com

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