Click photo to enlarge
Cal coach David Esquer takes time to buy a pre-game hot dog before his Bears took on Virginia Sunday in the College World Series.

Cal baseball coach David Esquer has a master's degree in sociology and is married to a former psychology professor. He played for three major league organizations, won an NCAA championship and owns a Pac-10 Coach of the Year Award.

But nothing prepared him for leading a baseball program marked for extinction -- nothing, that is, except his 7-year-old son, Xavier.

"I thought, 'If he were in the same spot, how would I want the coach to deal with him,' " Esquer said last week as he prepared Cal for Sunday's College World Series opener against Virginia. "What degree of personal attention would (the players) need?"

Over nine harrowing months, as the Bears escaped the guillotine and qualified for their first CWS appearance in 19 years, Esquer was everything and everywhere -- coach and father, recruiter and fundraiser, therapist, promoter and crisis manager.

"We played them in February, and he just made it in time for the game because he'd been in San Francisco with donors trying to raise money," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "Honestly, I don't know how he did everything.

"I have a little bit of a hard time saying this because he's a Cal guy, but the job he did was just unbelievable, incredible. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy."


Advertisement

Marquess should know. He coached Esquer at Stanford -- they won the 1987 College World Series -- and hired him as an assistant following Esquer's pro career, which spanned four years and three organizations.

Esquer worked for Marquess for five years, had a stint at Pepperdine and then took the Cal job in 1999. In his second season, he directed the Bears to the NCAA tournament and was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year.

"The ultimate compliment I can give a coach is when a parent asks where I think their son should go," Marquess said. "It's easy to say: (Play for) Dave Esquer."

When Cal announced in September that the baseball program would be eliminated, Esquer was face-to-face with dozens of concerned players and parents. He had nowhere to turn for advice, nobody to lean on for guidance -- none of his coaching contacts had ever been in the situation.

"I get asked a lot how tough the job is," he said. "Imagine running a program, saving a program and dismantling a program all at the same time."

Esquer worked with the Cal administration, dealt with the media, met with potential donors -- all while guiding the Bears into the NCAA tournament. (One Oregon State fan was so impressed with how the Bears comported themselves on and off the field that, following a series in Corvallis, he handed Esquer a check for the program.)

And in an extraordinary move, Esquer and assistant Dan Hubbs worked tirelessly to arrange transfer options for the Bears in case the program didn't survive. While trying to win games and save the program, they were calling opponents on behalf of their players.

"(Esquer) has been absolutely selfless through the whole thing," Hubbs said. "It has never been about assigning blame; it's been about what to do for the kids."

Even when behind-the-scenes developments gave him reason to be encouraged, he never backed off -- never stopped coaching, never stopped raising money, never stopped lining up transfer options.

Knowing that Esquer was working to secure their futures, the Bears focused on the tasks at hand: Going to school and winning games. After a strong start, they staggered through the second half of conference play before recapturing their momentum in the NCAAs.

"Coach never took a day off, and his mindset never changed," said pitcher Erik Johnson, the Los Altos product who will start in the opener. "This (season) was probably the toughest place you could put somebody. If there's one guy you'd want in this situation, it's Dave Esquer."

For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.