Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in The Eagle on June 5, 1991.
OMAHA – Live, from Omaha, it’s Late Night with the Wichita State Shockers.
By virtue of bad weather and bad baseball, the Shocks have found themselves working David Letterman’s hours so far in this College World Series. And if Jim Audley had not made The Throw in the 12th inning Monday night against Creighton, they would have bumped into Bob Costas.
Tonight’s guest: Audley, the Man with the Golden Gun.
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He’ll talk about his big play in the 12th, his hits, his runs, the Series, and life its own self, once we get his blood pumping again.
It is less than 24 hours after his team’s 3-2 win over the Bluejays, and Audley says: “I’m totally drained mentally. I’m just dead. I’m like nowhere.” That’s because the previous night, he was like everywhere. Jim was great, Jim. His triple in the fourth drove home WSU’s first run, he scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly, he beat out an infield single to start the Shockers rallying toward their winning run in the top of the 12th, he scored the run himself a few minutes later, and then he made the big play in center field, cutting down a Bluejay who was trying to bring home the tying run from second base on a single by Creighton leadoff man Dax Jones.
In fact, if you’ll watch the studio monitors, we’ll show you a replay of the big play:
Audley, see, is playing Jones deep, near the warning track. Audley and his right fielder, Todd Dreifort, talked about playing Jones even deeper but decided not to change what had worked for them all season. Good thing. See how far Audley has to run when the ball leaves Jones’ bat. Run, Jim, run.
The base runner, Steve Bruns, pinch running for another Jay, apparently doesn’t notice how deep Audley is, because he doesn’t get much of a lead off second base.
Big rule for base runners: Always check the outfielders to find out where they are.
Bruns also helps Audley out by running for third in a straight line, forcing him to swing wide rounding third.
But back to Audley. Here he is, still running, chasing that ball down like a hound after a hare. But Audley is very fast, and he gets there after the ball takes only one conveniently high bounce. “Earlier in the year, Dax had hit a ball with backspin on it, and it held up a little, “ Audley says. “I got a real good jump on it.”
Because he reaches it before it bounces anymore on the damp outfield grass, the ball is dry, and Audley can get a good grip on it. Soon as he feels the ball, he knows he can make the play.
Now watch this. He throws a one-bounce strike to his catcher, Doug Mirabelli. The record 18,000-plus Creighton crowd, cheering Jones’ hit like mad, helps Audley put some oomph on his throw. “I don’t think with five or six thousand people I could’ve made that throw, “ he says. “I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it a lot. ‘’It didn’t have to be a great throw, as long as it was there and got the job done.”
It was, and it did.
Mirabelli, as you can see, helps the play by faking out Bruns with the old possum ploy, where he stands upright at the plate and remains totally impassive, as if the ball is being thrown somewhere else.
But Mirabelli knows exactly where the ball is going.
Let’s bring in Mirabelli as surprise guest and get a comment. “As soon as he let go of it, I knew it was going to be right there, “ Mirabelli says. “It just bounced up right to me. Couldn’t have asked for a better throw.”
All Mirabelli has to do now is catch it and make the tag. Not a cinch. The ball can skip on him on this turf. But let’s slow the tape down and watch what happens: Here’s the ball, here’s the bounce, here’s mitt, here’s the catch, here’s the tag.
Yes, one day later, Bruns is still out.
Audley says he felt giddy and shaky with happiness after the game. “We were beyond being excited. It’s almost like being nervous, “ he says. “You can’t believe you do what you just did.”
So Audley, who hit Long Beach State well in the first game, is off to another great start in the Series. In 1989, when WSU won the championship, he hit a two-run homer in the first game in Omaha to help beat Arkansas 3-1 and played the spacious center field in Rosenblatt Stadium as if it were his own back yard, even though he had a sprained ankle.
“I like the dimensions, “ he says. “I like to go after the ball and run a long way.”
A senior, he has started all of WSU’s NCAA Tournament games since 1988, and he has always excelled in the postseason. Last year he was WSU’s second- leading hitter in the Midwest Regional and top hitter in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. In 1989, he was WSU’s second-leading hitter in the regional, and although he hit only .211 in the Series on his ankle, he led the CWS in walks with eight and finished second on the team in runs scored, with six. In the MVC Tournament that year, he led the team in hitting with a .500 average. In the 1988 CWS, as a freshman, he was third on the team in hitting.
Only 5-foot-10, Audley is very big at crunch time. He is not consistent at the plate over a long season, but he seems to be able to focus himself for a short series.
This year, Audley hit well for the first half of the season and slacked off the last half. As the season wound down, his coach, Gene Stephenson, kept asking him, jokingly, when he’d hit his next homer (he has nine), and Audley replied, semi-jokingly, that he was waiting for the tournaments.
“I take it personally, “ Audley says.
Baltimore drafted Audley somewhere before the 17th round Monday, and he is pleased. Still 30 credit hours shy of a journalism degree at WSU, he plans to leave school and give his best shot at making a career out of baseball.
Speaking as a journalist, let me say he’s making a good choice.
“All I wanted was a chance, “ Audley says. “School will always be there.”
Well, that’s the show for tonight. Let’s give a big hand to the little center fielder and thank him for stopping by.
Next show is Thursday night. Join us for Stupid Hidden-Ball Tricks.
You don’t want to miss it. Set your alarms.