ST. LOUIS — Nobody knows more about the subtleties of St. Louis and San Luis than the Wizard of Oz.
Baseball Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, best known as a back-flipping, 13-time Gold Glove Award-winner who played for the St. Louis Cardinals through the mid-1990s, also spent his college career at Cal Poly in the 1970s.
Still residing in the Gateway to the West, Smith came to the No. 16 Mustangs men’s basketball team’s 64-37 loss to No. 1 Wichita State (35-0) in the round of 64 at the NCAA Tournament at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Friday, meeting with players, coaches and representatives from the athletic department in the locker room before the game.
Smith proclaimed the program’s first-ever NCAA berth a triumph regardless of the outcome while handing out some wise words, a few jokes and signing autographs.
“It was a great honor to meet a legend,” Cal Poly senior guard Kyle Odister said. “I talked to him about how it was back when he was at Cal Poly. He said we put Cal Poly on the map just as far as making it here. He said we won the game before it even started.”
Mustangs athletic director Don Oberhelman said he pitched the idea of Smith coming to California to see the nationally ranked Cal Poly baseball team play at Baggett Stadium sometime soon.
Outside of Baggett is a 7-foot-tall bronze statue of Smith erected in 2003, when Smith was on hand to see it unveiled.
“There’s not too many statues on our campus,” Oberhelman said. “There’s a giant statue of Ozzie Smith. You get a statue on campus, you’re big time. It was good to see him come in, and the guys were really excited to see him.”
In the post-game news conference, Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero talked about making a return to the NCAA Tournament. He also talked about the possible returns of a couple of other notable alumni.
“One of the goals next is to get John Madden to come back in the locker room,” Callero said, “and we’re a weird team. Maybe we’ll get ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic to come back here as well.”
A different color
Cal Poly wore black road jerseys all season this year, but when spectators tuned in to CBS to watch the Mustangs on Friday, they were decked out in green apparel.
Apparently, the black jerseys were deemed unsuitable.
Featuring dark green numbers with a gold outline on black fabric, the black uniforms were shelved in favor of green shirts with gold numbers that likely provided better contrast to television viewers.
While some superstitious fans expressed displeasure with the change, the Mustangs didn’t seem too perturbed after the game.
“There was a slight technicality in the numbering of the jerseys,” Callero said, “and Nike was generous enough to send us back a new set that pops a little better on the television and reflects a little better there.
“It was great to have green on. It’s a primary color of Cal Poly. So, it worked out great.”
It was finals week on campus at Cal Poly, and since the Mustangs couldn’t be there, they took their tests on the road.
Philosophy professor and former athletic director Ken Walker traveled with the team and served as a proctor for students taking finals, and they were not limited to athletes.
Twenty-six members of the Cal Poly band, 12 cheerleaders and Musty the Mustang mascot have been along for the ride since the team charter left early Monday.
Of those, more than 10 band members were also with the team during its run through the Big West Tournament last weekend. Those members, as well as the basketball players, have spent just one day out of roughly the past 12 on the Central Coast.
A student journalist was also among those tested in St. Louis.