Jason Delay has a sanctuary at home which includes a TD Ameritrade Park sandbag, jersey and a photo of Vanderbilt’s dogpile after winning the 2014 World University Series.
Jared Oliva still has the ball he kicked out of the park for Arizona’s only home run during the team’s appearance at CWS in 2016.
“As cool as playing professional baseball is,” said Delay, “nothing in my minor league career compares to my experience at the College World Series.”
In addition to the memories they share of one of the major NCAA events, Oliva and Delay are minor league teammates in Indianapolis.
They spend every day working toward their ultimate goal of playing consistently at the major league level, but their experiences in Omaha remain the cornerstone of their baseball careers.
They are well aware of what is at stake this weekend when the CWS begins.
A freshman wide receiver for the Vanderbilt team in 2014, which included Dansby Swanson, Delay was 0 in 5 in two of three title games against Virginia, scoring two points in the Game 1 victory. .
Oliva started all eight games at center field in the 2016 CWS and went 7 for 26 with a homerun and eight RBIs.
He was named to the All-Tournament Team after Arizona’s unlikely race to a title failed against Coastal Carolina.
“A magical race would be the end because we haven’t had the best season overall,” said Oliva. “As a team, we got hot a bit late. Our team’s chemistry was through the roof. I think that’s why we’ve been so successful.
Oliva’s personal race to the All-Tournament Team was equally unlikely after joining Arizona as a substitute.
Originally from California, Oliva remembers the details of her home run – a first shot from left field – against UC Santa Barbara. He remembers the roar of the neutral crowd, although his family made it clear that they were among the spectators.
“It was something we could both cherish for a while,” said Oliva. “I was excited, but I knew they were also very excited.”
After playing regional and super-regional at host venues known to have loud crowds – Oliva remembers about 15,000 fans in Mississippi State – the CWS provides a larger crowd of baseball fans.
“It was cool to play in front of so many people because you’re not too used to it in college,” said Oliva. “But it wasn’t as hostile as maybe other environments.”
The format consists of eight teams, split into two double-elimination groups. Win your group and you advance to face the winner of the other group in a best-of-three championship series.
“The games are so mentally exhausting,” said Delay. “It’s so long, and there is so much to ride in each length.”
The intensity makes it difficult to perceive the scale and pageantry of the event, but Delay and Oliva encourage those in this year’s peloton to soak up it.
Oliva and Delay may be teammates this weekend, but they’ll be enemies around clubhouse TV.
Vanderbilt and Arizona meet on Saturday where Oliva and Delay will have to decide what bets are in play between them.
“We will stimulate creativity,” Oliva said.