The UCSB baseball reunion held during this weekend’s Stanford Regional hit the bittersweet spot for former coach Al Ferrer.
A lot of Gaucho hearts have sunk over the years at Stanford’s Sunken Diamond, with Saturday’s 6-4 loss to Sacramento State marking the fourth time that UCSB has been eliminated from NCAA competition at the Cardinal’s stadium.
“I got to see a lot of guys I hadn’t seen in a long time,” said Ferrer, who had playoff runs ended at Stanford in both 1983 and 1987. “There was a lot of hugging going on with a lot of ex-Gauchos like Mike Czarnetski, Ed Landphere, Brian Pace, Scott McKercher, and on and on and on.
“I got to talk to Scott Cerny for a good while,” he added, referring to one of only six Gauchos to ever earn baseball All-America honors.
Many former UCSB staff members and even rooters from the old Hammerhead days also descended upon Sunken Diamond to support the Gauchos’ first league championship team since 1986.
But the bitter-sweetness didn’t completely seize Ferrer until the sixth inning of Friday’s opener against Fresno State. That’s when junior reliever Liam Steigerwald jogged in from the bullpen and pitched 21/3 solid innings, allowing no earned runs in a game that they still lost, 9-2.
“He’d hardly pitched all year,” Ferrer said before explaining the poignancy of the moment:
Steigerwald had the same No. 27 that was once worn by Shawn Loucks — a former Gaucho pitcher who would’ve been there, too, if at all humanly possible.
The last time Ferrer saw Loucks was at his funeral in Petaluma just a few months earlier.
“Shawn died suddenly from a stroke … He was only 52,” he said. “Coach (Andrew) Checketts and I talked about it and had his name put on the back of a jersey … and we were going to mail it to his family tomorrow.”
He had been alerted about Loucks’ passing by Scott Longaker, another pitcher from UCSB’s NCAA Regional team of 1990. When Ferrer arrived at the memorial service in Petaluma, the first thing he noticed was a blown-up photograph of Loucks that had once run in the News-Press.
“It showed him pitching against UCLA in this big game that we won,” he said. “You could see the split-finger grip in his glove … That was his best pitch.”
Ferrer was also struck by the wording on a shirt that was being worn by a 4-year-old girl.
“It had some formal printing on it,” he said. “It must’ve been a Gaucho giveaway from the last couple of years, but written by hand very nicely above it were the words, ‘My grandpa pitched for UCSB.'”
Loucks’ wife Patty and mother Dawn were overcome by emotion when Ferrer approached them after the service.
“They broke down when they saw that somebody representing UCSB baseball would come all that way to honor him,” he said. “He had a nice, good life with what he did, working with youth in the prison system, and also having a successful career in real estate.
“I was sobbing over all the good things that were said about him … Scott Longaker and Jon Gianulias, another one of his teammates, were sobbing, too. But what you never realize until a time like that is how big a part the UCSB experience plays in their lives even though it’s just for a few short years.”
Loucks, a transfer from the College of Marin, won 16 games during his two seasons at UCSB, in 1989 and 1990. He went 9-2 during his senior year of 1990, helping the Gauchos win 40 games and advance to the Arizona State Regional. His 18 starts that season still ranks second in school record books.
He had actually planned a trip to Caesar Uyesaka Stadium this spring to show his family where he had pitched nearly three decades earlier.
Not long after the funeral, Loucks’ niece and nephew, San Luis Obispo residents Ashley and Grant Keeney, made the trek for him, bringing along one of his baseballs.
“They had planned to take a photograph of it atop the pitcher’s mound, but there was a game going on at the time,” Ferrer pointed out.
They shot the picture, instead, through the slats in the fence outside the Gaucho bullpen.
“There was only guy in the bullpen at the time, and he wound up getting in the photograph,” Ferrer said.
The player’s number stunned Loucks’ widow when she saw the photo: No. 27, Liam Steigerwald.
Checketts had honored another late Gaucho, catcher Steve Pratt, by bringing his jersey into UCSB’s dugout at the 2016 College World Series. He had hoped to do that for Loucks, but there will be no trip to Omaha this time around.
“Two-and-outs aren’t fun,” Ferrer said. “We had one of those at ASU.”
That 1990 team lost its tournament opener at Tempe to Oklahoma State, a powerhouse which continued all the way to the College World Series final. The Gauchos were then upset in their next game by Penn.
Pitcher Rodney Boone, the hero of UCSB’s title-clinching shutout of Cal Poly last week, was supposed to start today’s NCAA contest for the Gauchos — a game that will now never be played.
“It was another reminder of Shawn,” Ferrer said.
Loucks would’ve started UCSB’s third game at the 1990 ASU Regional. That big win over UCLA, however, turned out to be his final decision in a Gaucho uniform.
It’s a number, however, that UCSB is sure to wear again some playoff day.