John Rowland, an outfielder on NC State’s 1968 College World Series team, couldn’t contain himself last week when this year’s Wolfpack team beat Rice to clinch a spot in Omaha. His first thought was to get a plane ticket and join the other members of that team traveling west to take in the 2013 College World Series.
But one thing stopped him. He couldn’t leave “Mulie” behind.
“Mulie” is Steve Martin, an All American in 1968 when he led that State team in a number of offensive categories. He lives in Crouse, N.C., and receives dialysis three times a week due to his liver failing him seven years ago. Because of that, he couldn’t make it to Omaha. But Rowland says his former roommate’s is a symbol of that 1968 season.
“Steve epitomizes what our team was like,” Rowland says. “People said, ‘You can’t do it.’ ‘You don’t belong here.’ And we survived.”
So instead of flying to Omaha, Rowland and some of the other members from that team — Gary Yount, Joe Frye and Clem Huffman — made their way to Crouse on Sunday, knocked on Martin’s door as a surprise and watched NC State’s defeat of North Carolina with him. The visit reflects the strong bond that team has shared the last 45 years.
“That’s how our team was,” Rowland says. “We were a band of brothers.”
Martin, who says he was nicknamed “Mulie” when he got to State because of his stories of using a mule to plow on a tobacco farm growing up in Stokes County, was shocked by the visit. He says he spent the afternoon reminiscing with the guys about old teammates like “Chico,” third baseman Chris Cammack, and “Brass,” pitcher Mike Caldwell.
And, he says, he got to talk over the phone to some of his former teammates who made it to Omaha to watch the game. He says he’s stayed so close to the guys because of their North Carolina roots. “We have a good bond,” he says. “I think everybody thought we were underdogs because we didn’t have any out-of-state players. But we stuck together.”
That sticking together picked back up several years ago when the team started meeting once a year for a reunion. And they reflect each year on how they went to NC State’s first CWS as a unit, not as individuals.
“It was more of a team effort,” Martin says. “We went out there and thought nobody would beat us.”
But for Rowland, no player meant more to that squad than Martin, who was the co-captain of that team with pitcher Alex Cheek. Rowland says Martin had the quickest hands he’d ever seen, which equipped him with the skill to be one of the team’s best hitters. But it’s Martin’s victory all these years later off the field that made Rowland pause before he ordered his ticket to Omaha.
“Steve’s the epitome of survival,” he says. “I would love to be out there hollering in Omaha. But this is the game of life.”