Making miracles happen overnight isn't easy. And in his first season at Oregon, it didn't come easy for a coach the caliber of George Horton. But in just his second season, Horton finally worked his magic and put the Ducks on the map.
Their place in college baseball isn't expected to lose ground next season and beyond, either. If anything, the Ducks still have plenty of unfinished business and potential to become the program Horton envisioned when he arrived at UO.
"We're accepting the surprises and attaboys from people, so to speak," Horton said. "I guess two things, I didn't expect to be that far away from winning in my first season, but I also was surprised and happy with the wins last year and the way we created a winning culture within this program."
Creating a positive culture wasn't easy. Just two seasons ago, in Oregon's first season back in college baseball since 1981, it struggled immensely and led to rumors that perhaps Horton wasn't happy in Eugene, and that he was might be looking to head back to California sooner rather than later.
It's easy to see why that rumor started. Horton had an amazing amount of success at Cal State Fullerton, capping things off with a national title in 2004. But his struggles at Oregon in Year 1 weren't fully expected.
The Ducks finished the campaign last in the conference with an overall record of 14-42. Even Horton admitted that he was shocked and somewhat rattled.
With a full head of steam and extra motivation, Horton and his coaching staff vowed to turn things around between the end of their first season and the beginning of the '10 campaign. The hard work and motivation certainly showed, as the Ducks finished fifth in the Pac-10 and reached the Norwich, Conn., Regional title game against Florida State last season. They ended the campaign with an impressive 40-24 record.
Just a year before, they lost more games than Horton could've imagined. Now everyone looks back at Year 2 and views it as a turning point for the program.
The real fun now begins for the Ducks.
"We're ready to make a splash during the upcoming season and I'll be pretty disappointed if we don't," Horton said. "We've got some really good kids that worked hard, and now we also have some senior leadership that has been here for a while. We're just like everyone else now, and we're going to have a solid team."
Solid could be an understatement if a few things go their way in the spring.
The Ducks finished Horton's first season with a batting average below .250. But last season, the Ducks made marked improvements and ended the campaign with a .292 average. That mark should improve again next season.
Oregon lost catcher Eddie Rodriguez to the MLB draft this past summer, but welcomes back KC Serna, Danny Pulfer, J.J. Altobelli, Marcus Piazzisi and Jack Marder.
"Pulfer missed some of the fall with a broken hand, but I thought he entered workouts much bigger and stronger," he said. "I really thought Serna, Altobelli and Marder showed vast improvements during fall workouts. They were bigger and stronger and hit well. I also thought Ryan Hambright had a strong fall, too."
Freshmen Stefan Sabol, a 17th-round pick to the Braves this past summer, Tyler Kuresa, an 11th-round pick to the Twins, and Aaron Jones, a 37th-round pick to the Red Sox, are expected to fill in the offensive gaps.
"I think Sabol and Kuresa are really getting the learning curve and are coming on strong right now," he said. "I thought Jones had a very impressive fall at the plate."
While the offense was a question mark entering fall workouts, the Ducks were confident about their pitching staff. The unit has potential to be even better in the spring after finishing last season with a solid 3.29 ERA and returning several quality arms.
Tyler Anderson, who played for Team USA this past summer, Madison Boer, Alex Keudell, Joey Housey and Scott McGough are the household names at the conclusion of fall workouts. However, several young arms are expected to make significant contributions.
Two-way player Brando Tessar is expected to throw significant innings as a freshman, right-hander Jimmy Sherfy continues to improve this fall, two-way player Ryon Healy could earn significant innings if he can make a complete comeback from an injury, right-hander Brandon Brennan has a big-time arm and was a 40th-round pick to the Rockies this past summer, and Porter Clayton, a late addition, is expected to join the program in January.
The Ducks still have work to do between now and the spring, but should be improved after welcoming one of the nation's best recruiting classes to campus.
With that, Horton's grand plan continues to take shape. He made the trek from Orange County to the Pacific Northwest with the idea he would begin, build and ultimately turn the Ducks into a national power.
Some laughed when Horton essentially challenged Oregon State when he was hired by stating the Ducks would take over the state in college baseball.
The Ducks haven't accomplished that goal just yet, but signs point to him being right.
The miracle continues at Oregon.