RIVERSIDE, Calif.—It's a feeling very few people get to experience, but for the 1982 UC Riverside Men's Baseball team, each player is able to call themselves a National Champion. That achievement helped the team become one of the 2018 Athletics Hall of Fame inductees.
"Winning the Championship was numbing and so much emotion was involved," said Curt Smith, a member of the '82 team and currently a coach for UCR's Baseball team. "It may have been on a smaller scale since we were in Division II, but it is the same feeling. It was all about unity and the fact that we did it together. Every guy was special."
Along with the '82 team, Larry Cunningham (men's basketball), Melissa Sanchez (softball), David Finley (baseball) and Fred Morawczski (football) received the highest honors during the induction ceremony on Nov. 16 at the Historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in downtown Riverside.
The journey for the '82 team began with its fair share of challenges, including dropping six of its first eight games. However, the team quickly recovered and won 19 of its last 23 games to finish the season with a 36-23 record.
UCR was led by All-Americans Smith and Matt Held, who hit .378 and .341, respectively. On the mound, Scott Wanzer went 13-6 with 17 complete games and Bill Mierzwik had a 10-5 record. Manager Jack Smitheran was also named the Division II Coach of the Year, his second national honor.
"It went beyond the athletic department," Smith said. "The school and the community got involved. This place was packed. 5,000 people would come out and people would even bring their couches from across the street and sit in the outfield."
The team's biggest challenge that season was from Florida Southern, who was big and physical. Back-to-back one run victories over New Haven and Florida Southern set up a Championship game rematch against Florida Southern. The Highlanders routed the Moccasins 10-1, making them the sixth team to go undefeated through CWS play. It also marked the second Championship in program history. The first came in 1977.
"I'm proud that I went here," Smith said. "It means everything. A day doesn't go by where I don't think about that baseball team and that experience."
The team has had a lasting impact on squads that have followed, knowing the bar has been set high.
"I envied the '82 team coming in a few years after the Championship," said fellow inductee David Finley. "I love that I am getting inducted in the same class."
The bond is still strong between many of the players, who still keep in touch and have remained friends 36 years after winning a National Championship.
"That time is so special because we got to play in a World Series," Smith said. "We've always been proud of it. It's something you can't put a price tag on."
Part of what helped the '82 team be so successful was the support from other sports teams on campus. It made the team feel like everyone was behind them, almost like it was one big family.
"Now that I'm back coaching, I wish I could share that feeling with our players," Smith said. "It is hard to describe. We weren't the most talented team, but you don't have to be. We trusted one another and had pride in what we were doing."