OMAHA, Neb. -- As if Cal's storybook season couldn't get more sentimental, here comes a touching father-son story -- on Father's Day, no less.
Former Cal baseball star Rod Booker is here to watch his son Austin suit up for the Golden Bears' improbable College World Series debut Sunday against Virginia.
"Following in my dad's footsteps was always my dream," Austin, Cal's staring left fielder, said Saturday.
Rod Booker was an All-American shortstop at Cal, which finished third in the 1980 CWS. Those aren't just memories for him, but also second-generation dreams.
"Before Austin was born, when I found out he was a boy, you start fantasizing: What if he's able to go to Cal, what if he's able to play baseball there, what if he goes to the World Series?" Rod recalled Saturday, while completing the drive from his Virginia home to Omaha's oasis for college baseball. "I've always been one to keep my emotions in check. I'll be consumed by feelings of pride (Sunday)."
That pride extends from not only his son but to Cal's resilient team and even "the school, in not eliminating the team," the elder Booker said.
When Austin called his dad in late September to tell him the program would be disbanded after this season because of budget cuts, Rod asked: "What program?" Neither could believe that Cal baseball's century-plus heritage meant nothing to the bean counters.
After all, that program sold itself to Austin when he saw his
"To hear how the alumni rallied together, that made me really proud to be a part of the Bears' community," Rod said of Cal baseball's April reinstatement, a result of $9 million in donations. "They don't have to do another thing and I'll remember this team for the rest of my life."
Rod played parts of five big-league seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. That was enough to compile a highlight tape that Austin claimed to watch "10 times a day" while growing up in Fairfax, Va.
What will it be like for son to play for a national championship like his dad did in Omaha, albeit in a brand new stadium this weekend?
"It's going to bring everything in perspective," Austin replied. "The whole season, with so many ups and downs, with the program nearly getting cut, then being in Omaha — it makes the whole season worthwhile."
Austin's worth to this team consists of not only being a Cal legacy but also his overall game, including a .319 batting average. He is 10-for-31 (.323) in the postseason with two doubles and two RBIs.
"Most everything I learned was through his technique and experience in the pros," said Austin, alluding to hitting tips his father received from minor-league teammate Terry Pendleton.
Austin's persistence, hard work and upbeat attitude aren't the only traits that fell from the family tree. "He has the distinct ability to come through in the clutch," Rod said.
The modern-day Bears were down to the last strike in the Houston regional before rallying past Baylor, setting up last weekend's two-win sweep of Dallas Baptist in a super regional.
It's been over 30 years since Rod escorted Cal to Omaha, and that journey remains vivid, especially how Cal came out of its regional's losers' bracket to reach Omaha.
"That was icing on the cake. We had achieved our objective," Rod added. "It's the same with today's Bears. There's no pressure. They weren't expected to be here. This isn't something they'll ever forget. I haven't forgotten anything."
This team's rallying cry remains the program's near-death experience, and the ability to overcome that adversity will bode well for Cal if it loses Sunday's opening game against top-ranked Virginia.
Austin certainly knows how to bounce back. This is his first memory of playing catch with his dad with a tennis ball: "I missed and it hit me in the head and bounced 5 feet in the air."
That didn't stop Austin from pursuing his baseball dreams, the best of which finds him on the same stage once occupied by his doting dad.